Grading and Practice in Algebra Support

I was thinking earlier today about how I grade in my Algebra Support (math-intervention-type) class, and reflecting on how I think it was really effective for the kids last semester. So I figured I’ll write a quick post about what I wound up doing.

I used a standards-based system in that class, although I’ve had to implement it in a school that uses a traditional (percent-based) grade book. In my grade book, the quizzes category is worth 60% of their grade. In that category, the only “assignments” are the standards that I assess on. Every time we assess a standard, I overwrite their previous score for the standard (even if it goes down). This means that, with practice and effort, it’s very easy for a student’s grade to drastically change in my class from one quiz to the next.

We basically go through a teach-practice-assess-practice-reassess-practice-reassess…etc. cycle for each standard. This means we spend a lot of time practicing skills during class, which is basically ungraded (sometimes I’ll enter assignments as a completion grade in the In-Class Work category, but not often). However, as the kids complete each practice worksheet, I do check each problem for correctness. I highlight the ones that are correct and give it back to them to fix. They don’t get to turn in a page until all the problems are highlighted.

This method of checking practice worksheets has a few advantages:

  • Immediate feedback
  • Kids have a chance to see what kinds of mistakes they are making and fix them right away
  • Kids can work at their own pace, and ask me to check at whatever interval makes them comfortable
  • Emphasizes the idea that with practice, they can “get” anything (growth mindset rather than fixed)
  • Emphasizes the idea that they are not done with practicing until they are 100% solid (I don’t let them stop assessing on a standard until they’ve earned three 5s in a row)

Last semester, I know that their skills with integers improved drastically over the course of the semester. (We’re doing polynomials right now and I can ask them what -3x and -7x are and they say -10x!!! It’s amazing!) One of our Algebra 1 teachers says that she sees a difference in her class as well, so I’m pretty excited.

This semester, I’m going to do the same thing with my class structure and grading, but the standards we’ll be focusing on are the same as they’ll be doing in Algebra 1. Right now we’re representing, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing polynomials using Algebra Tiles, and then we’ll get to factoring and completing the square (with tiles and on paper), and using the quadratic formula.

I’m looking forward to seeing the same kinds of progress that I saw last semester. I’m also really enjoying teaching actual Algebra 1 content – I love teaching factoring. So much.

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