The Snare of Comparison

Anne Schwartz has started a  , and while I’m not promising to blog every day, I will attempt to be more consistent in my blogging agin.

Reflection is a two edged sword. It is important to do, pause, reflect, evaluate, make changes, repeat. This is the process of life and learning. The problems come when we insert “look at what someone else is doing” into the process. On one hand, it is important to observe others at work and think about what makes their practice theirs, the trouble comes when what we are doing is measured against what they are doing, and graded accordingly.

Every time I present at a conference, I do this. I started submitting proposals and presenting in 2014, my first being CMC North in Asilomar, CA. That presentation went very well, it was a high school level presentation, and I had been teaching HS for 10 years before doing that. I felt confident about what I was presenting, it was something I had worked on in my own classroom for quite a while, and was excited to share it.

I have since become a district level elementary math specialist, and have been presenting the last two years at the elementary level. I’m struggling with this a little bit, because I haven’t tested some of these ideas in my own classroom. I do work with teachers, and do model in their classrooms periodically, but it’s not the same as being able to try something, evaluate it’s effectiveness, and try again. I feel like I’m flying somewhat blind here.

I had a conversation on twitter last night about submitting a proposal to NCTM Annual in San Antonio, TX for next year. I did finally submit one, but I’m a little trepidatious about it. Tina reminded me that trying again is how we get better.  I know this, I’m fearful of wasting teachers’ time while I work on figuring this out. With the students, if I made a mistake I could correct it the next day or the next week. In presenting at conferences, I don’t get that chance, they see something that doesn’t help or they don’t like and make up their minds to “never see that speaker again”.

This is where I begin the comparison. I look at some of the “tried and true” speakers, the ones who’s sessions everyone loves to attend, who always have something valuable to say, do it with flair and can make you laugh at the same time, and think, “I’m just not like that”. And, I’m not.

I was very successful in my HS classroom. My students succeeded regularly, I saw test scores increase consistently, I heard students speaking the language of mathematics and feeling confident about what they knew, and taking risks with things they hadn’t seen before. Colleagues would tell me, “I can tell which students came from you, they are able to think critically”.

I have seen some wonderful changes in the elementary classrooms in the last two years, and have had discussions with teachers and principals that help me to believe that I am making a difference at this level,  I just don’t have the classroom and the direct connection to students that allows me to gauge the growth like I did in the past. This causes me to question my effect at this level, and hence, my right to present at conferences at this level, and yet, it is something in which I hope to become proficient. Is that enough reason to continue, and hope that I am not wasting anyone’s time? I hope so.

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Coherence

Monday I facilitated a meeting of elementary teachers. We are meeting to discuss assessment, pacing and piloting new curriculum resources for our district. Our discussion Monday was regarding the coherence of the K-5 CCSSM and we started looking at assessment. We’ll continue that discussion next month, but the coherence discussion brought up some great comments. I started by giving each group a copy of the K-5 math standards on a page. I’ve linked them into CCSS Math Standards on this blog.

We then took this Coherence activity from Achieve the Core and in groups began the work of looking at how the fraction standards relate in grades 3 to 5. A couple of minutes into this activity, one group had an “ah ha” moment, and started back at the Kindergarten standards. The discussions that occurred after this activity were amazing and exciting. One teacher commented, “If I teach 1st grade, I need to know what the Kindergarten and 2nd grade standards say.” Other teachers began to discuss how this could help with creating differentiated activities, creating a lower entry point and extending ideas for students who catch on quickly. A coach’s dream.

The assessment discussion didn’t go as well as I had hoped, often bring up assessment causes many teachers to become defensive, and talk about “bad” assessments, rather than the work of looking at how to create better assessments. We started looking at the 3rd grade practice exam for Smarter Balanced, and tried to concentrate on, “What are kids being asked to do, and how are they being asked to do it?” We’ll dive into this discussion more next month at our next meeting, with two more assessments. I’m hoping we can start to have the conversation about how assessments should be created, and what we are hoping they will tell us about what our kids know and don’t know.

Another conversation we will soon be having is piloting curriculum resources. I am beginning to preview materials along with another teacher, and we are working on creating spreadsheets to compare materials and look at what might be non-negotiable for teachers. I really want the focus to be on how to teach the standards, and not about the materials, however, we have a large contingent of teachers who are not there. It will be interesting and quite a learning experience I’m sure.

More to come on this journey.