15 December 2007

The Mastery Plan

I work with teachers who are of a mind that after a unit of study is done...it's done. If the kid understands things later, well that's just too bad. And if a kid never gets it, then that's entirely the kid's fault. Although this is not my current state of mind, I have to admit that it was for many years. I understand where these teachers are coming from, even if I don't agree with it at this point in my career. But what's a Goddess to do when she knows there are various holes in individual student learning...and no support for intervention/remediation other than what she designs herself during her class time?

Well, I have a plan. I think it might be an okay one, but I'm looking for the edusphere at large to "push back" against it.

My bio kids and I have one more unit of study, which we'll do the first two weeks in January...and then the semester wraps up at the end of the month. In the interim, here is what I propose:

Day One: Setting the Stage
  • Preview of Final Grade Determination (some version of my previous post)
  • Have students individually review and reflect on their scores over the semester. What are their strengths? What areas still need to show evidence of learning?
  • Goal setting: What would students like to accomplish in terms of learning between now and the end of the semester? We will have five days of intense review, so each kid can choose up to five topics.
  • Review a timeline of opportunities and important dates.
  • Planning: Have students sign up for scheduled review opportunities (more on this below) and the evidence they will provide (Take a final test? Do an alternative assessment?)
  • Contract: Sign a statement as to their intents.
I haven't developed the paperwork for this yet, but it will include the boldfaced information.

Day Two: Procedures for Review

Some of the sessions will be study groups, and I know that my kids don't know how to operate one. So, we'll talk about the expectations and do some practice on a short topic. I'll show kids the schedule and talk about how the rotations will work. The basic idea is shown below. Each student will be assigned to an A, B, or C group for the day. Each group has a different topic of study. There will be some independent reading, a study group session, and a mini-lesson with me on a study skills topic. Each session will last ~15 minutes.

I know that 15 minutes is not enough time to go in depth with a topic, but keep in mind that we have already spent 16 weeks on the information. As much as I would like to personally work with each and every kid (and I have 120 bio kids) to get them up to standard, I can't. I will, however, put some tools in their hands and get them set up for some independent study. Fifteen minutes is about the maximum amount of time a 15-year old brain can focus on any one idea, as it is. I have to keep them engaged and moving.

Will there be some kids who don't need five different topics because they have achieved mastery in nearly everything? They can work on the few areas they still need and have some independent time to work on alternative assessments, or they can sign up to study things twice. Kids who need more than five areas of intense review will have to take on some more out of class work.

Days 3 - 7: Review

There were 8 major targets this semester. I've chosen three per day for grouping kids (so that I can keep groups to no more than 10 kids...and keep things productive) and rotated things so that kids should be able to have a schedule which meets as many needs for learning as possible:

For each of the eight, I will have a sheet with the target, relevant resources (e.g. pages in text), a series of "I can..." statements in the form of a checklist so students can inventory their needs for the target, a reading activity, and reflection. I will also list one (or perhaps two) acceptable alternative assessments (in place of the final exam). I'm all for kids having varied ways to show what they know, but I'm not going to kill myself in the process. Students will work on this during their "independent" time.

I'm not done with the design of the study group format yet, but I am modeling it off of Jim Burke's Literature Circle idea. I will provide a few guiding questions for their discussion, and perhaps a very, very brief activity for them to do. Whatever this is, it needs to be something they can be fairly independent with, since I will be at the "mini-lesson" station with another group.

As for the mini-lessons, here is what I'm planning: Brainology (learning to learn), Informational Text Strategies, Note-taking Strategies, Vocabulary Strategies, and Test-taking Strategies. Yes, we've modeled and talked about these throughout the semester, but I want to formalize it. I want to give them something to hang onto for their other courses.

Day 8: Whole Class Review/Wrap-Up

Day 9: Final Exam

I know that all of this looks like a huge amount of work---and it will be. But it's all front-loaded. Once I have the review sheets for each target prepared, work out the study group mechanics, and write my 15-minute mini-lessons, I'm good to go for two weeks of class time. In the meantime, there will be no grading for me to do or other "regular" classroom tasks. Kids will take care of the scheduling by signing up for their topics of choice. I worry about only having one day for each topic for a kid to study---I know it's not optimal for recalling whatever knowledge is in there and building on it, but I'm struggling to find away around that. There's only 1 of me, 120 of them, and 4 hours a day for us to accomplish 8 different targets together. If someone has a better way to structure things, please do let me know.

So, that's it. Whaddya think?


Clix said...

Whaddya think?

I am, quite simply, amazed. This looks awesome. I hope I continue to improve my methods and skills so that one day I will be as good a teacher as you are!

You know your students better than I do. Will they work if they're in groups, and not just goof off and/or mess around? Will they use the individual time to study and not laze about? My difficulty (well, one of them) with the workshop model is keeping the students I'm not talking to on task.

The Science Goddess said...

I have one class for which I have some real concerns about their ability to independently stay on task; but, I'll give this a try. It's different for them, and maybe that will be appealing.

I am also hoping that the 15 minute rotations will eliminate/keep down the goof off factor. There's not going to be time to get bored, because we'll be moving on in just a few moments.

We'll see how things go. I'm working on drafting up a few of the tools to see if this is actually workable.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Push, smush. That's a noble plan, SG.

Do the shakedown cruise and note where improvements can be made.

Altogether, I'd have to say it's sound. I'll be most interested to hear how it went.

Hugh aka Repairman

The Science Goddess said...

I'll see if I can make a few refinements before then. I know I'll learn things along the way, but it is always better to anticipate than react.

Beth Dunton said...

Holy Cow! I have been reading yor blog for a few weeks - you are what I a aspire to! I am a 4th year science teacher at the middle school level and every year I get closer and closer to my goal of a student driven classroom.

Kudos to you! Your plan sounds fantastic.

The Science Goddess said...

Welcome to my blog---and thanks for your kind comments!

Trust me, I make plenty of mistakes in the classroom (even after 17 years) and never seem to get all of the plates spinning at the same time. I wish I could say that every lesson engages and reaches every child...that units are always planned with the end in mind and differentiated to support achievement...that I consistently use best practices for brain-based learning, literacy, and so on. I do those things---but not all at once. :) Maybe someday I'll get it all figured out!

Barry Onishenko said...

I like the "I can" statements as a means for identifying the "known knowns. Having the students then identify the "known unknowns" and then setting learning goals to focus on those "unknowns" could be a very effective strategy and provide motivation to increase one's knowledge - fill in the gaps.

I hope you might tell us more in the future about the alternative assessment(s)

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I really like that! I shall have to adapt it for my own science classroom. Thank you for sharing it with us,