I was trained as a math teacher: majored in math, got a masters in math, and then got a masters in math education. So 3 years ago when we moved out here to NM, it was with trepidation that I approached my Chemistry & Physics classes (don’t worry, they let me teach Precalculus for two periods).
I’ve really enjoyed them and I’ve grown as a teacher. However, I have decided this year to stick to a very strict schedule in Chemistry, based on my standards. I’ll explain the schedule, and then I’ll give you the pro’s and con’s of this type of schedule. I hope you’ll help me out by giving me other pro’s and con’s that I missed.
First, our school uses a semi-block schedule. That means for Chemistry, I see students 45 minutes on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, and an hour and 35 minutes on Thursday. Here’s the schedule.
Monday: Start with a small timed prequiz (5 min, 6-10 questions, multiple choice) that doesn’t count for their grade , and write their answers on a Gradecam bubble sheet. When students finish, they scan their bubble sheet and receive immediate feedback: how many they got right/wrong and which ones. After the quiz, they get their guided notes sheet and wait a minute or two for everyone to finish scanning. We take notes, interspersed with practice. If the notes are extensive, they go through to Tuesday.
Tuesday: This is a flexible day. Finishing notes if not done on Monday, do a mini-lab, ,prepare for Thursday’s lab, talk about SBG, students study on their own, etc.
Thursday: We start class with the same preassessment that they took on Monday which still doesn’t count for a grade. This one is loosely timed: they’re to try to finish, but if they don’t finish by the time I need to move on, I tell them to only judge themselves on the ones they get to. I also post the answers in the back of the classroom if they want to go back and look at it. Then we move on to lab, which usually takes the full hour and 35 minutes (which is why I push them to finish the quiz quickly), especially if they haven’t read the lab procedure before coming to class.
Friday: We take a quiz on the standard for the week. Students who needed to retake a previous standard (I often require retakes) will also take those at this time. If students finish with time left in class, I ask them to go to my website and look ahead to next week’s standard, fill out their practice log, or study/sign up for another standard they wish to improve. If everyone finishes the quiz with time left, we’ll discuss the lab (which they turn in with their quiz) and talk about other Chemistry stuff.
I’ve heard it said that students often thrive on a routine. This is about as “we know what to expect” as is out there. Yes, topics and labs change, but students know that on Monday & Thursday they start with a quiz and Tuesday & Friday they start with a warm-up. This helps a ton with classroom management as well, and (most) students arrive to class ready to work.
Frequent assessment. I was reading an article about 53 ways to check for understanding and that’s what motivated me to write this post. Students, twice a week, are receiving instant, specific checks to see how they’re doing. No, binary feedback (right/wrong) isn’t the best, but it’s the fastest and the only way I’d be able to do this so often. They can then use these quizzes to study and I can give more detailed feedback on the Friday quiz.
I’m teaching at a much faster rate than previous years, where the mantra was “we’ll move on when we’re all ready”. Part of this is the guided notes/graphic organizers, which condenses the teacher-led instructional time (a good thing) and helps students organize their own notes (also a good thing). Because I’m moving so much faster, we’re going to have 2-3 weeks at the end of each the semester for students to study (& improve) the standards where they didn’t do well the first time around.
It’s also nice to have the weekend to grade quizzes so I can give appropriate feedback, call parents, etc. Unfortunately that means they have 2 full days to forget what they had on the quiz, but that’s what the earlier non-counting quizzes are for. That and they know they’re going to see the quiz 2-3 weeks later. Oh, and 2-3 months after that.
In the past I’ve made the (huge) mistake of not assessing, moving on to the next topic, and then students doing terrible on the assessment a month later at the end of the unit. This guarantees that I get a picture of how they’re doing at least once a week. Because the Monday/Thursday quizzes are scanned into Gradecam, I can glance at those quizzes and see how a student did during the week.
Is this too much structure? One of the good things about SBG is being able to modify lessons more easily to meet the specific needs of students’ knowledge of the material. If most of my class does terrible on an assessment because I have this “must learn by Friday” rule, will I really take another day or two (or week) to go over the material? Or will it “throw the whole train off”.
One idea with this scheme is “I’m going this speed–if you’re not with us, you need to come to tutoring and/or study more at home.”  I have the advantage that this will be the 4th year of me teaching the class, but every year is different (and every student is different), so perhaps I need to be more flexible and willing to move at the appropriate rate?
Is it possible for students to perform less well with too much structure? Is there such a thing? Might I become bogged down in too much structure and become a less effective teacher?
Do you do something like this? If so, what do you do that works (this is my first year trying it) or what do you do differently? Does this sound like a good idea? A terrible idea? Let me know so I can fix it before the train wreck happens in a few months & I can’t turn it around. Otherwise, I hope this post might have been helpful to you–or at least given you some ideas.
 This is the first year that I’m reusing any of the same material in Physics. I was a terrible physics teacher my first year and only slightly better the following year. It wasn’t until my third year that I was brave/competent enough to try modelling (thank you, Kelly!), and even this year (my 4th) I don’t really have it down.
 They should do terrible because it’s a pre-assessment and the students had to get used to doing badly (and not let it “get them down” as they said).
 I guess this could be a pro because I’ve had classes where I slow down every time a good chunk of the class does poorly on a quiz. But if they start to bomb multiple quizzes, I slow down to the point that my expectations of them outside of class is little to none–we’re just doing all the studying in class. I want them to learn to be responsible, and if that means a tough lesson by me calling home a few times in a row, then so be it. That’s also why I’m having them keep practice logs–if I see they’re practicing lots and not doing well on quizzes, then we can slow down. But if they’re not practicing at all outside of school (that seems to be the “norm” for many students), then they’re going to have to put 2 and 2 together: practice and you’ll do better on the quizzes!
 Notice that I’m not doing this kind of rigorous quiz-all-the-time in Physics and Precalculus. I’m just trying to make sure I assess enough in there (weekly or semi-weekly quizzes). Should I do it in those classes?