Archive for August, 2011

A few updates/thoughts on how the SBG has been going in my classroom.


1. Mini-quizzes and score cards: First of all, I have been giving lots of “mini” quizzes using quia and google docs on the information we are learning in class. The students immediately get feedback and record their scores on their “Score card” which is a piece of paper where they are keeping track of their own progress in their binders. The advantage of the score card is that it gives students a tangible way of evaluating whether or not they should come to tutorial and why. Instead of having to guess for themselves whether or not they know something, they KNOW if they understand, and can come talk to me if they don’t. Scores are intended to be out of 4 points, but for an 8pt quiz for example, they are just recording their score out of 8.

2. Homework: I am keeping track of homework completion on a clipboard. I walk around the room, check every student’s homework, and mark their name with a “check” if they have it, a “circle” if they don’t, a check through a circle once they do have it completed (after school or the next day) and an “ab” if they were absent. I have noticed that even though these don’t count as “grades”, the students are still completing their homework. My daily act of walking around the room seems to be enough to encourage them to avoid classroom humiliation by being the one with no homework that day, which is good. On the other hand, they are relieved to know that their grade will not suffer if they “forgot”. So far, I’m pleased with this progress.

3. The Parent Test: We had parent’s night last Thursday, and my approach passed with FLYING COLORS. They loved it- many of the parents seemed happy to know that they would have more information about what their students were learning, that quizzes would be used as a marker of progress rather than a “pre-test” grade, and students would focus more on learning. They wanted to know if more teachers were doing this and if not, why not, because it seemed like a great idea. I encouraged them to send me feedback this year about the new system. I hope they do, but I was relieved to know that they are so far, supportive.


Grading time: this is coming up in a few weeks, and with our only test quickly approaching, I am thinking through how I plan to send home feedback. I am going to have students write out a detailed description about what they have learned, how well they have learned it, and what their “progress” scores are so far. I think that this way, students will reflect on their progress and parents will have a much clearer picture of how their student is doing, unlike the number they normally get. I’m looking forward to hearing back from them. Maybe I’ll give the parents some homework too!


Finally, this is a picture of my white board after our “group work skills” class. I had students take the Kiersey Personality test and we made a visual of the breakdown. Most were Guardians, which they thought was interesting!




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If you have read earlier posts, you will see that I have planned to completely restructure my grading this year. It has gone through many edits so far and will most likely continue to do so. I’m not even sure that I can actually give you a “summary” only because it will be changed and tweaked as the year goes on. Here is a brief synopsis of my latest “strategy”.

1) I have divided the fall semester into five “units” (note: I teach 8th grade physical science). Scientific Method, Energy, Dimensional Analysis, Motion and Optics. Each unit is weighted as a percentage of their overall grade. So in other words, rather than saying tests = 15%, I am now saying that Energy = 15%. Percentages approximately reflect the amount of time we spend on the unit/relevance of the unit.

2) For each unit, I have created a list of “objectives” or standards if you want. In other words, skills/content that I would expect my students to master by the end of the unit. I plan to give this to them when we start each unit, and explicitly explain in notes which objectives we are learning about.

3) Daily assessments will be given to students, but they will not count as grades. I will instead rank them (probably not ALL of them, but as many as I can) on a scale of 1-4, 4= master and 1= not yet. Those scores will be recorded, but will not be averaged into their grade. The purpose is to provide feedback to the students on where they are with the learning process. I plan to have them record this somewhere as well.

4) Summative assessments will be given in the forms of tests, projects, lab reports. I will score these according to standards and pass them back to students. If they do not earn the maximum number of points for a standard, they will have one more opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and earn those points back. I will still have to record the initial grade to show progress, but the additional work they do will be listed as “recovery” points. Students that score a 75 or below MUST complete recovery points but all students are allowed to if they want.

If I pretend that you are the student, I will tell you what I’ve told them: students will learn more and have better grades this year. Most of them seemed ok with that. I am still checking homework on a daily basis, but not recording the grade (they don’t know that yet). I have also shown them the distribution of percentages across the units, but that’s about it. If I start saying that “yes, you will have quizzes, but they don’t count”, I fear they will sit back and do nothing, so we’re not quite there yet. I’ll keep you posted!

Throw any hints or advice my way! Lord knows I’ll need it!

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This was quite an unusual start to a new school year. Today, our students returned to kick off the 11-12 school year, and aside from the advisory meetings and all school meetings, I did have a chance to meet with each class for approximately 30 minutes. Usually, I take the time to set the tone for my class on the first day, but this year was different. I happen to be teaching many of the same students as last year, and if I didn’t teach them, I knew them from field trips, sports, or just passing by in the halls. So establishing my classroom policies did not seem as important today as it has in the past since I already know these kids and they know me for the most part as well.

A few things I did establish:

1) I offered to at least one class today (presumably the class I am most comfortable with) to refer to me as Mrs. Murphy, Coach Murphy, or Mrs. Coach Murphy 😉 The reasons for that are as follows. First, I feel that I want my role in the classroom to resemble that of a coach and less as a dictator (!), and also, I have noticed that in our middle school, no female teachers are ever referred to as “Coach”, yet many of the male teachers are. My girls class appeared to be in support of this, so I will gently suggest it to my other classes tomorrow as well. We shall see.

2) We are starting our trash a thon tomorrow in an effort to trace how much trash we produce and what types of trash. Over the next few days, I hope to build awareness of trash production, recycling, and how we can make our school a better place with regards to waste management.

So far, I am really pleased with my classes and I am looking forward to a great year. They are smaller, more mature, and hopefully, will enjoy our class content this year. I hope that I continue to prioritize my class planning and put everything else after that, unlike last year when logistics always seem to take precedence.

I will admit…I need a nap.

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Training Linchpins

For my summer reading book at school, I read “Linchpin” by Seth Godin. We had an interesting discussion yesterday, mostly filled with positive comments. Teachers had a chance to express how this book in small but important ways will influence the ways they approach their classes this year. Here are a few of the lessons learned:

1) What are we preparing our students for? Are we training them to be factory workers or linchpins? And keep in mind that you can still be a linchpin even when your job is something like serving as  a cashier at Starbucks or a Flight Attendant- you find delight in the work you do and bring that delight with you each day, not because you are paid for it, but because your job is important to you.

2) Do we cultivate creativity and differences? Are we training our students to all be the same cookie cutter student by the time they finish our class. Or are we encouraging them to go beyond what we ask of them and create? As he mentions, standing in the edge of the box looking in, as opposed to thinking outside the box.

3) What is it all for? What is the point? Some of our creating has no point, but it is still purposeful and valuable. We learn and we should enjoy it for what it is.

4) Being a linchpin does not mean creating and inventing 24/7. It may be 5 minutes of brilliance followed by hours or days of mundane tasks in order to make it happen. But that five minutes is still indispensable, and that is the point.


More to come- still a lot to digest about this book.


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