Too Early to Think Spring?

Welcome back, everyone!  I trust that each of you enjoyed some quality time and found reasons to celebrate with family and neighbors.  I think we all love a good blizzard, but I know my kids and I were all eager to back to school.

As we officially open the third quarter and welcome students back from snow days’ vacation, it is the perfect time to regroup and reinforce classroom expectations.  Don’t let your seniors (or underclassmen, for that matter) begin the spring slide.  A few days off and out of routine can break a work-ethic.  Talk to your students about their third and fourth quarter goals and the steps they need to take each day to reach them.  Keep them focused and on target.  While it may be too early to think spring, it’s always the right time to push perseverance.

For tips on building a can-do culture in your classroom, check out this article by Angela Campbell:

Turning “I Can’t” Into “I Can” in a High-School Chemistry Class

In this Edutopia article, high-school science teacher Angela Campbell says that “Chemistry seems to inspire a ‘D’ mentality. A significant number of students just want to pass the class, meet their graduation requirement, and do it with as little effort as possible… Many students will avoid working hard in a class that they see as challenging because of the risk involved. If they work hard and fail, then they’ve proven their inadequacy. But if they don’t work hard and manage to get a ‘D,’ then their pride remains intact and they haven’t lost anything. That’s the reason why, in my class, I make failing harder work than passing.”

That’s how Evelyn, a junior in her class, boosted her grade from 60 percent to 85. As the course began, Evelyn didn’t see chemistry as relevant to her present or future life, kept her head low in class, was absent one day a week, and aspired to scrape by with a D. How was this girl transformed to sitting in the front row, volunteering to solve problems, working hard, taking risks, and showing real annoyance when she didn’t get an A? Here’s Campbell’s method:

  • Clear objectives – She presents students with a concise list of “I can” learning objectives up front. In a unit on dimensional analysis of the mole, here’s what it looks like:
  • I can identify the mole as the unit used to count particles, and use Avogadro’s number to convert between moles and particles.
  • I can calculate the molar mass of an element or compound.
  • I can perform molar conversions.   • Checks for understanding – After a period of guided practice, students take a short assessment, get feedback, and review for the summative assessment, which carries the most weight in final grades. This puts the incentive on understanding the material and preparing for the type of question that the final test will contain.   • Differentiation and incentives – All students can shoot for a higher percentage on summative assessments, and Campbell reports that a significant number of students who scored in the 70-89 range choose to study the intervention worksheets to retake the test. “Students who are content to score at or below 60 percent are faced with extra work that they would not have to do if they were scoring just ten points higher,” she says. “The cycle helps students begin to understand that, if they can do the work required to get 70 percent, it’s not much more work to get an even higher grade. And the progress is addictive.”
  • Campbell creates her own tests, quizzes, test maps, intervention worksheets, homework assignments, and labs, using state tests as a guide for rigor and content. “I do all of the grading and fill out the test maps by hand,” she says. “It’s time-consuming, and I have to take work home with me every single day. I do my grading while my own children do their homework.” But she says her students’ results make it all worthwhile.
  •    • Summative assessments – The passing grade on these is 70 percent, and students who don’t clear the bar get feedback on which items they didn’t master, an “intervention worksheet” to get them up to speed, and are required to take the assessment again.
  • Guided practice – Each of these objectives has do-able work activities and formative assessments (homework, quizzes, or labs) that count for very little in the overall grade. “The point of these assessments is to give kids a lot of practice with the material in a low-risk environment,” says Campbell, “and to provide feedback on their progress toward mastering the objectives.”

“Making Failure Harder Work Than Passing” by Angela Campbell in Edutopia, September 30, 2015,

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