kitchen table math, the sequel: Allison on professional development

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Allison on professional development

The example of differentiated instruction grading given in the talk I saw was stuff like "draw the floorplan for a house" with points for decorating, which equaled the same number of points you could get by calculating the area of the rooms.

In another example, you gave a sheet of 15 problems, assigning a variety of points to each, and told them "do enough problems to get 20 points." There were, say, 10 1 point problems, 4 2 points, 3 5 points, 2 10s, 1 20.

The top example is exactly the kind of thing I worry about with tiered homework in differentiated instruction classrooms.

What do you think of the second?

Again, what worries me is hidden tracking inside a classroom, where the bottom kids simply carry on doing the easiest problems year after year without ever advancing to more difficult work.


Barry Garelick said...

Right; it's differentiated homework and differentiated scoring. Then how do you differentiate one student's "A" from another one, if one student does easy problems and the other does hard, and both get 20 points?

I like the idea of extra credit homework and extra credit problems on tests. I particularly like it when in order to get the extra credit on a test you have to have a minimum score on the test.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting in Georgia how much of the PD is not about teaching content or improving skills.

It's about getting teachers excited about the activity classroom by making the inquiry approach the method for instructing the teachers math and science- both in ed school and then PD.

In Ga's RTT application, the participating districts had to commit to "fidelity of Implementation" of the discovery oriented state frameworks.

They also had to commit to basing their PD on using the instructional frameworks.

Not a word about the academic content.

In the 21st century, content is just something you insert into "standards" to get political support. It's disconnected from the desired reality of the K-12 classroom.

Exo said...

We recently had a PD which was called "Differentiated Use of Textbook". The presenter, former elementary school teacher from PA, started withe following: "The textbooks are boring, they contain too much dry information and too littl pictures and connections to technology".

Mind you, she presented to a high school teachers. Especially in math and science, it's common among us to be annoyed with extremely heavy textbooks with TOO MANY pictures and TOO LITTLE of information so we rarely request that kids carry textbooks to class relying on lectures and for homeworks they use online versions.

Now, this whole differentiated textbook talk can be summarized a s foowing: sorry, kids can't read. So let's group them together and do this activity, and that activity, and this one activity so they will not need a textbook at all! And everyone will feel better, because stronger kids can go and research more online! And weaker kids can be assigned points for participation!

lgm said...

To differentiate one student's A from another, one looks at the grade level of the work and uses Bloom's Taxonomy.

The example given in elementary is spelling. A 100 on test is a '3' on a 1 to 4 scale. A '4' cannot be obtained because a '4' is reserved for above grade level work, which the student wll never have an opportunity to perform. In Math,85-100% on the word problems is considered a '4' (via Bloom), but same score on the rest is a '3'. Under an 85% moves you down the scale. Anyone qualifying for rTi rates as a '2' even if they get a 100%, b/c the work is below grade level.

In middle school and high school, the teams are sorted ostensibly by learning style and grades but the higher level activities are rarely done on some teams and in some classes. It is impossible to earn a top grade in some classes. The name of the course is the differentiator. As guidance puts it, a 100 in regular SS would equate to a 95 in honors and a 90 in AP.

Barry Garelick said...


The heavy textbooks that are loaded with pictures have what Catherine calls "page splatter". That is, a page contains so much info (sidebars, pictures, some text) that it is difficult to know what it is you're supposed to be reading. When I tutor students and they have such books, I waste a couple minutes trying to figure out where and what the content is and where the problems are. So if that's what teachers are complaining about, they're right. But it sounds like they're complaining that there's not ENOUGH page splatter in some of the text books.

Tex said...

I like the idea of extra credit homework and extra credit problems on tests.

Thinking of my kids’ experience, I’ve come to dislike extra credit.

One extra credit assignment for 6th grade math was earned by assembling intricate, 1-inch geometric paper models, essentially origami of dodecahedrons and other polyhedrons. Many students, especially boys, lacked the fine motor skills (not to mention the interest or the patience) to put together any such model. My own kid’s creations came out looking like misshapen lumps of clay. The teacher told me that these extra credit assignments were used to help raise the grades for students who, and I’ll paraphrase here, couldn’t do the real math. I hadn't thought of it in this way before, but it sure looks like hidden tracking to me.

And I strongly suspect that boys are less likely to tackle extra credit than girls are. Does this punish boys for their immaturity? Possibly.

Tex said...

What about middle school writing assignments were the rubric shows more credit is given for the decorative covers than for grammar and spelling? I would imagine in this case, not all the B grades are equal in measuring writing skills. This is another case of hidden tracking inside a classroom.

And then down the line, either in high school or in college, kids get slammed because the tracking is no longer hidden. All of a sudden, it becomes clear which kids are on the academic fast track and which are pulling up the rear. To me, this is far crueler than performance level grouping starting in elementary school, a practice that educators claim irreparably harms “the children”.

momof4 said...

When I was in school and when my kids were, it never took more than a couple of weeks for the kids to know the academic pecking order; which kids read the best/worst, were best/worst at math, spelling etc. I can't imagine that's really changed, despite lots of smoke and mirrors.

When my eldest arrived in junior high (7-8), he commented that the grade curve had changed. Many of the kids (mostly girls) who always had As in ES were struggling to get Bs and lots of kids (mostly boys) who had a pattern of Bs and Cs were now getting As. The difference was SUBJECT CONTENT AND WRITING MECHANICS; no longer did artsy-crafty presentation count enough to balance weak content, grammar or spelling. Sadly, by the time my youngest kids arrived at the school, it had become a MS (despite overwhelming community objections), and the former HS-type structure and orientation had been replaced by artsy-crafty, touchy-feely stuff that was just as bad as it had been in ES. Making it pretty was just as important as getting the right answer. Sigh...

My experience has been that not only is extra-credit homework used to justify raising grades for those who can't really do the work but homework in general can do the same thing, if it counts heavily enough. I've seen regular homework (done by whom?) count enough to bring a D average on tests/quizzes up to an A (in honors algebra II!), while a high A on tests/quizzes wasn't enough to balance some missing homework, resulting in a B+. That's dishonest.

I agree with Barry on the extra-credit on tests, though, but kids who get the hard ones right should get higher grades. Just like on the GMAT, you can't get a high score without getting hard questions right; the computer only feeds hard questions to those who get right answers on gateway questions. Effort should never trump content and skills.

Barry Garelick said...

I didn't mean frivolous extra credit assignments. I meant harder problems that are not scored on neatness and/or creativity. And as in tests, extra credit should be contingent on doing the regular assigned homework satisfactorily. I've seen good extra credit problems assigned in math classes.

Exo said...

I haven't met a teacher yet complaining of "not enough page splatter". Rather, I know that in my department, we all have some old textbooks under the table (with no page splatters at all) that we copy sometimes to give to our students. Many of us also write our own summaries of the units (text + some hand-drawn diagrams)to give to students.
Unfortunately, even when the teachers select the textbooks - there's not much choice. Plus, the admins, obviously, look for attractive pictures more than for content. (Well, the same goes for observations - student engagemeng and active "buzzing" in classroom count for more than carefully crafted lecture-practice lesson)

Barry Garelick said...


I agree. And this is the problem with the so-called dichotomy about "traditional" vs "reform" math. The textbooks that are more in the traditional camp than reform, contain elements of reform, and there's all this page splatter and multi-cultural nonsense. My favorite in that regard was in a section on rhombuses there was a picture of a chain link fence and the caption said that the links are in the shape of rhombuses. Then it went on about an Hispanic many who owned a chain link fence company. Good thing that guy knew a thing or two about rhombuses!

Catherine Johnson said...

I want carefully crafted lecture-practice lesson


Catherine Johnson said...

Then it went on about an Hispanic many who owned a chain link fence company. Good thing that guy knew a thing or two about rhombuses!

you just made my day

gosh, I wish I could remember all the "differentiation!!" tips in the Glencoe books.

I may have to look those things up when after I pick up the kids.

The one illustration I will NEVER forget was the middle-school girl with the cute bottom writing stuff on the blackboard. She was wearing jeans that emphasized her tush.

Every time I saw that illustration - did the book keep falling open to that place (probably!) - I'd think: how in the heck are the boys supposed to pay attention to math with this big four-color photo of a cute girl's fanny popping off the page?

I ask you.

Catherine Johnson said...

Georgia sounds like he**.

Catherine Johnson said...

Georgia standards, I mean!

Barry Garelick said...

Of course, in the olden days when books were thin, there were funny things in the books that were in there because somebody sneaked it past the editor--maybe even the author sneaked it be the editor. I recall a science book in sixth grade, which was part of the Singer Science Series. The unit was on meteorology and in the discussion on wind speed it had a chart with pictures of a flag doing various things at various wind speeds. So at 0-5 mph, it flapped occasionally; at 6-10 it would unfurl, and so on, with more dramatic actions at higher wind speeds until at 60+ mph the description was "Better take flag in." This always caused me uncontrollable giggles.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh that's cute!

Anonymous said...

Georgia is a precautionary tale that solid content can be meaningless in practice if it's combined with an inquiry approach.

That's why so many of us are worried that the Common Core Standards will end up being a comparable shell game.

Once again Fordham's advocacy will be used to give cover for whatever implementation suits the preferences of the ed powers in charge.

It's all that "understand" language in the math standards and how well the LA standards weave into the group activities of a Balanced Literacy classroom.

Catherine Johnson said...

Where are the Georgia standards?


And, yes, I'd like to see the 'understand' language banished.

Let's go back to "know and be able to do."

While we're at it, let's revive "scope and sequence."

ChemProf said...

There's another problem with extra credit in project form. It trains students to expect to pull up grades at the last moment. I have had struggling students ask for extra credit and am always tempted to ask them why more C work should raise their grade. Extra credit is really not helping them prepare for college.

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to the frameworks for math.

You can click around to see the recommended learning tasks for K-5, 6-8, or 9-12 .

Be sure and read the Parent Letter. Frequently not used in districts with college educated parents who would feel patronized.

You can compare to the actual standards by clicking Georgia Performance Standards at top of link page.

But remember the state tests are on the framework tasks.

Also remember the state's RTT app doesn't obligate districts to teach the GPS. They must instead agree to use the frameworks and train teachers to use the frameworks.

Which appears to be the true state mandated curriculum?