Saturday, March 7, 2015

Back to the Future - Guided Notes Work Time

Group Work Update

After two months of explicitly teaching group work, I feel like we are on a pretty good trajectory. In order to stay on this trajectory, I think I need to continue to in-detail plan at least one group work task a week. When planning group work, here is what I am seeing as the essential elements:
  •  An individual doing-math element and a group doing-math element, both with accountability.
  • A focus for the process part of the group work that is taught/discussed at the beginning and assessed with evidence from the student and/or teacher. This is even more powerful if it is continuously reinforced by me throughout group work and if there is a discussion about it at the end.
  • Giving reminders/specific directions to particular roles during the task. This requires thinking through the particulars of what each of the group roles will do for this particular task.

Guided Notes Work Time

With group work going pretty well, I would now like to turn my attention to maximizing productivity during work time where students are not working on group-worthy tasks. Most of this time, this work comes after I do a mini-lesson and while students are working on problems in a guided notes packet. Depending on the day, these problems fall somewhere on the continuum from low cognitive demand skills practice to high cognitive demand procedures with connections. In order to start planning how I will modify and explicitly teach this structure, I did a modified form of the Back to the Future protocol. This protocol is a way to identify and address obstacles in getting from where you are to where you want to be.

Back to the Future Protocol

My goal: Students will productively use work time to think through problems that help them meet the day's learning objective. They will be self-motivated by a sense of urgency/importance about what we are doing.

Project into future (Describe in present tense what it looks like when you have achieved your goal):
As I finish the mini-lesson/launch, students ask any last questions that they have about the notes and/or the directions. I then tell them to get started working with a couple minutes of private think time. I am standing in the front of the room and I see all of the students pick up their pencil, read the first problem, and start independently working. No one raises their hand because they know that questions need to wait until after private think time. After a minute or so, I start circulating, and I can see that students are marking up the first problem, flipping back to their notes, writing down key information, or any of the other strategies we have talked about. Once I can see that everyone has gotten started, I let them know that now is a time to check in with their partners and keep working. Still no hands go up. I hear several students ask someone else at their table a specific question and the person looks at the other person’s paper and answers, even if it means pausing in what they are doing. I see several students continue to work independently but know that when they get to a point where they have a question or need to check their answers, they will ask their classmates. The students continue to work through the packet. All conversations are about math and they are building on each other’s ideas and challenging each other in a respectful way if they disagree. When a question comes up that a whole table gets stuck on, they call me over and show me what they have done so far. They have a specific question that everyone can articulate. This continues for about twenty minutes. Sometimes students are working independently, sometimes they are talking with each other about the math. While they work with a sense of urgency, the goal is not just to simply complete the assigned problems. Instead, students are trying to truly understand the big idea from the day.

“Look back” from future (Describe in past tense where are you starting from aka what my classroom looks like now):
Before I really started focusing on guided notes work time, I often had a slow start to students reading and working on the questions. Instead, they would be talking about whatever was on their minds--sometimes the math at hand, but sometimes the basketball game from the day before, or the weather outside, or what happened at lunch. When I would redirect them to get back on task and focus on the math, they would tell me that they were working and talking. While this was true--most of the time, some math work would get down on the page--there was no sense of urgency in terms of completing it. Many students would call me over with individual questions and be frustrated that their group members wouldn’t talk to them about their question. Some students would also start really productively and then get distracted and start chatting either with people at their table or across the room.

Connect and Obstacles (Describe in past tense how how you got from the past to the future):
Obstacle #1: Lack of a sense of urgency about meeting the day’s objective. 
Students and I had a discussion about the purpose of doing practice problems after the mini-lesson/launch.  They talked about having a sense of urgency not necessarily in finishing, but in gaining the understanding/skills of the day. This goal for the day was obviously communicated through the objectives and also in terms of me verbally setting goals based on time frames.
Obstacle #2: Slow start and lack of stamina in keeping focused on the work. 
I had students get into the habit of always starting with several minutes of PTT. I publically tracked who immediately got to work in starting with PTT and continued to publically track at random intervals for who is on task. Students defined what “on task” looked like and set up weekly goals.
Obstacle #3: Individual questions/Not asking each other questions/Not using their resources. 
I went back to really reinforcing the question protocol (see the Other Days section of this post) and explicitly taught the strategies that it mentions.
Obstacle #4: Whatever math students were supposed to be doing was less interesting than the other things they wanted to talk about. 
I figured out how to hook them better when we started a topic. Also, even if they were doing practice, the renewed sense of urgency from a firm deadline and learning goal helped them stay focused.

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