Creating confident, competent learners

At one point in last night’s #Eduread conversation on “A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching” the topic turned to choice–with a particular focus on homework problems, tasks, and assessments. After some pondering, I’m now thinking we just scratched the surface when talking about choice.



There’s another type of choice  that Miss Calcul8 pointed out in her intervention post. We’re now below the surface, but that still doesn’t include all the other choices students make throughout the day.

What does choice afford us?

Choice empowers us.

My point is that if we want our students to become confident, competent learners we  must allow them to develop a sense personal power–providing them with the resources, the opportunity, and the capability to influence the circumstances of their own life.

So how do we empower students to believe they can:

  1. do what they set out to do
  2. handle what’s ahead of them
  3. get whatever they need in order to do what they must
  4. feel they are in charge of their life, can make decisions, and solve their own problems

Certainly we can’t do it alone, but we can do our part to help students build a positive mental model of themselves. A model where the student feels he has a mission and purpose, knows where he’s headed, knows how to organize himself, etc.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing how I’m applying particular strategies in my classroom as I attempt to create confident, competent learners.



Students learn to give feedback with a growth mindset

Yesterday Algebra’s Friend introduced me to a new professional development blog Read…Chat…Reflect…Learn! While I enjoy reading blogs for lesson ideas, I also love reading journal and magazine articles, books, research studies, etc. as another way to stay current. I’m glad I found this blog and I’m thrilled to see that it’s in its infancy, only because it makes me feel that I haven’t missed out on too much!

The current topic is feedback. The article for discussion was How Am I Doing? It offered a good overview, but what was missing was how to provide feedback using a growth mindset. This excerpt, Types of Feedback and Their Purposes,  gives clear examples. One type of feedback I tend to focus on is descriptive as opposed to judgmental feedback.

When examining student work for feedback I’ve collected their work in progress, and provided descriptive feedback. I won’t kid you. It’s time consuming. But an idea was floating in my head. What if I taught students to give each other feedback with a growth mindset?  I don’t want you to think I am shirking my responsibilities, but could math students offer feedback similar to students who participate in peer editing compositions?

After reading Algebra’s Friend post I thought I would give it a try. Yesterday and today I showed my students this Would You Rather problem. They were to work in groups of four to solve.

After the groups worked for about 10-15 minutes, I collected their work, redistributed them to different groups and asked the new group to provide feedback. Here’s an example:


Kids being kids, their feedback was somewhat judgmental and not of a growth mindset. Had they rephrased their wording to questions such as, “How could labeling help explain your thinking?” or a statement such as “The final answer is not clear,” would definitely put them on the track towards feedback with a growth mindset.

Doing this activity in groups made it quite manageable as only six responses were being critiqued. While I monitored each group I asked them what questions they had about the other group’s work. I also asked them to be positive with their feedback. Each problem was circulated twice. Doing so also gave groups the opportunity to see how others approached the problem and perhaps revamp their thinking.

Here’s how the above group implemented the feedback:



The next time I see them we’ll continue the conversation of how to offer feedback with a growth mindset. With more practice they’ll get better at it.

I should have thought of this at the start of the year.




Ending the Magic 8 Ball approach to RtI

When your building’s schedule doesn’t include an intervention block, about the only tool in the teacher’s toolbox is ask the Magic 8 Ball.


The great oracle is helpful, but it has its limits. It is only able to provide advice. We need to provide students on our team an intervention plan.

Our team has identified nearly 25 students who would benefit from an intervention program that currently does not exist. These students are not necessarily at risk. They are students who demonstrate difficulty completing work that demonstrates effective effort on a regular basis. While the criteria may be broad, we created three tiers of intervention for a three week after school program:

  • Level 1:
    • Independent after-school work time. Students will be asked to report to the library for quiet work time. Students will sign in and out for that day.
  • Level 2:
    • Supervised work time. Students will be asked to report to a teacher’s room after school for a supervised work time.
  • Level 3:
    • Study Skills. Students will be assigned to an after school study skills program. Skills will include: Agenda use, assignment prioritizing, time management (1-2 hours of out-of-school work time each and every day), resourcefulness, and strategies. The program will spend 15 minutes a day working on a study skill and 30 minutes for supportive work time. Entry in and exit from the group will be based on the following:
      • Regular, proper use of the Agenda
      • Ability to prioritize assignments on a daily basis
      • Regularly complete work that demonstrates effective effort with a minimum of support, in and out of school
      • Demonstrate academic progress (learning!)

Last week each tier of students was called in for a brief meeting with the teachers before lunch. On Monday we met with the tier one students, on Tuesday we briefed the tier two students, and on Wednesday we met with the tier three students. At the end of each meeting the students received a  letter and were to obtain a parent signature. The tier assigned to the student was circled on the letter.


We felt it would be more effective if we met the students as a team of teachers. That way it wouldn’t appear to the student that, “Mrs. Dooms wants me to stay after.” It would be, “My teachers want me to stay.” We also felt it necessary for the students to see the three levels of intervention, not just their assigned intervention. We established a three week, Monday through Thursday time period for commitment and consistency. After three weeks students will either be exited or they will stay on for another three week session.

Only one parent returned the letter with a note saying the intervention will be handled at home. The remaining 22 students are on board for starting Monday.


Progress reports

Even though parents and students have 24/7 access to grades, missing assignments etc. the two 7th grade teams in our building generate paper progress reports. It’s our way of making sure both kids and families are informed. We can’t rely on Eschool as the only form of communication because for whatever reason some kids or parents don’t check it. So twice a quarter–at the 4th and 8th week, students are required to check Home Access, write down the percentage and letter grade for each of the core subjects, note the number of missing assignments and obtain a parent signature.

Our team has done some soul searching of late, and we came to the conclusion the kids were treating the progress report task as just another assignment to be checked off.  We never bothered to ask students to reflect on student skills and learning. You see we have several students with weak student skills, some with strong student skills, and some are somewhere in between. It can be a cause for celebration, or a cause for concern. In any case it is something that parents and students should discuss. So for the past three weeks our team meetings have focused on what a new progress report should include. We now have something much more reflective.

Progress report

One of my teammates, who prefers to leave no trace of a digital footprint, designed the new progress report. We’ve increased the number of reports from two to three for the fourth quarter. The front side of the tri-fold will capture student reflections and the reverse side will be used for students to graph the academic progress for each of their core subjects.

In a future post I’ll describe the after school intervention program our team is launching at the start of the fourth quarter.

SMART goal—raising students’ self-efficacy

I’m placing a bet on a pony named Self-efficacy. I got the tip from Boaler, Dweck, Hattie, and Marzano. It may come out of the starting gate slow, and it’s a long distance race, but it has incredibly good odds. Take a look at the graphic below. As a rule of thumb any strategy that has an effect size of d > 0.40 is worth considering.

self efficacy

There are so many components to increasing self-efficacy:  providing timely, constructive feedback, fostering a growth mindset, creating a classroom culture where mistakes are encouraged—all of this should sound familiar to those who are taking Boaler’s course How to Learn Math. But the puzzle piece I want to focus on is building self-efficacy through challenging, individual and group problem solving tasks.

I wanted to see what this goal looks like as a SMART goal so I downloaded a template. Here’s what I have so far. I have never written a SMART goal so I would appreciate your feedback. I am NOT crazy about measuring success using MAP scores, and I’m not even sure I am using it accurately, but here’s the draft:

Mary will raise students’ self-efficacy in math by providing rich, problem solving activities. She will build into her plan book a minimum of 4 challenging, individual and/or group tasks per quarter. At least one of the tasks will be non-routine or where the problem is not directly linked to the current unit of study. Results will be measured using spring to spring MAP RIT scores. The quantifiable goal is for 80%  students to exceed the average growth by one or more points.

What do I need to do to take this draft to final form?  I appreciate your feedback.

BTW: Thanks, Julie for selecting this MS Sunday Funday topic. I probably spent too much time on it; then again, it was well worth it 🙂

Getting kids and parents to focus on the learning–the grade will come. Trust me.

Open House idea. I’m trying to think of a subtle way to impress upon parents that the focus is on the learning not on the grade. Maybe for some the focus is on the grade. However I think parents and students would agree that if we focus on the learning the grade will come.

Since I’m bored, I created two GoAnimate videos that I might use at Open House.  The first is a 30 second discussion about grades.

This one is less than a minute long and focuses on the learning.

This will lead into a nice segue where I can talk about the success students had  last year when they set goals and monitored their progress. I constantly tweak this document so you may notice that it’s not exactly like what’s represented in the image below. Maybe I’ll show the parents what progress monitoring looks like.

progress monitoring
This student needed to be assessed 3 times before she achieved mastery. As you can see the student was honest with respect to the amount of effort she put forth.

My assessments are designed in a standards based grading format (that’s why you see Scores 1-4). Students set a goal of either 3.0, 3.5 or 4.0. Three is the target. My formative assessments are ongoing and students can reassess as long as they complete and follow through on a study plan which is their evidence of study.

I cringe when I hear, “What can I do to raise my grade?” or, “Is there extra credit?”

I want to work with parents and students to reframe those questions to be more like, “What can I do to improve?”

Maybe Open House is the place to start.

Insane idea? Growth mindset memes!

Jo Boaler’s course is like a good book that can’t be put down. I finished session 4 and the last task is to create an activity in which we, “Think of ways to communicate positive messages. Be creative. Don’t just think of things to say.”

I got to thinking about other ways we communicate and I thought of hand gestures–Thumbs up, fist bump, etc.  I found images and threw them into a Google presentation. The idea is for students to talk about what those non verbal messages communicate, then they could create memes. We’ll print out a few for the classroom and students can select their favorite to print out and keep in their binder or glue it on the cover of their math notebook.

If you stumble upon an image that you’d like to add, feel free to do so.

Our school librarian will go nuts over the use of color copier!

Math, Mindset, and Attribution Retraining

If you dig the growth mindset and Jo Boaler’s course, this post is for you.  Here are a few activities to get students thinking about their mindset. The ideas are derived from Carol Dweck’s work which is referenced extensively in Jo Boaler’s course How to Learn Math. With more than 20,000 enrolled chances are you are taking the course with me, but I thought it would be helpful to share a few activities on mindset and attribution retraining—a fancy phrase for how to move students from a fixed to growth mindset.

Since 2011, the district I work in has offered a graduate level course called The Skillful Teacher. I’ve taken the class and I’m finding strong similarities between the two courses with respect to mindset and feedback. The Skillful Teacher required extensive “homework” so that’s given me an opportunity to share a few activities that you can use, abuse, or refuse.

By the way, Algebra’s Friend has written a fine overview of Session 1 on Boaler’s course. I would appreciate everyone who’s taking the course to chime in there and here so we can learn even more.

As promised:

Activity #1 Mindset Quiz

Here’s a Mindset Quiz I retyped from this document. It’s a  self assessment that students score themselves.


Activity #2 Fixed vs. growth mindset card sort

The card sort activity introduces students to growth and fixed mindsets. Cut the statements into strips. Mix them up for students to sort into two categories.

growth mindset

Activity #3 Attribution Theory

“The basic principle of attribution theory as it applies to motivation is that a person’s own perceptions or attributions for success or failure determine the amount of effort the person will expend on that activity in the future.”– via 

Using a T-chart, students will brainstorm what makes a successful and unsuccessful student. From the list the teacher will frame the rest of the period doing 4 corners—asking who thinks success is due to effort; who thinks success is due to luck, who thinks success is due to ability, who thinks success is due to how easy or hard the task was.

Assign a Think-Pair-Share activity to create situations where only effort was needed to complete the task, only luck, only ability, only the difficulty of the task at hand. Students share scenarios and agree or disagree using a human continuum.

This handout is a related activity. Note: it doesn’t get into stable or unstable causes of success or failure.


Activity #4 You Can Grow Your Own Intelligence

This brief article from Health and Science News You Can Use can be used for a class discussion on how the brain learns. Here are some comprehension questions as well.

Activity #5 Math Attitude Scale

To be honest I haven’t used this. It is something I stumbled upon a couple of years ago. The intent was to give it to students and score it using Mastery Manager.

Math attitudes

If you have resources to share I would love to hear about them.