Goal setting, unit plans in action, and the mapping assignment from last week

I’m still getting a handle on when and how much assessing to do, and the kids are still figuring out that they have to go back to their old work. But I’ve got some cautiously good news on the unit planning front.

Last Wednesday I introduced the new unit plan form. (It’s the same as the screen cap from another entry, only I took out the Common Core stuff and moved Resources there.) We took about 20 minutes to go over it and then I told my students, “you may now choose what you want to do – reading, vocabulary, or starting on the map.” I reminded them that the map was due Monday the 22nd and most of them started on the map.

Thursday I introduced something new, and we went over it again at the beginning of class. Under the unit plan I created, students have a choice and some direction for what they’re doing, but they’re doing it at their seats with no lecture, no teacher standing there telling them what to do, etc. I knew I had to find a way of helping them figure out what it was they were going to do. You don’t tell a 3 year old to wear whatever they can scavenge, and you don’t drop an entire unit’s-worth of assignments on an adolescent and tell them “hand it all in by X date.” They need a little direction.

So I created the Goals Sheet.


Like everything I make, this was done at the last minute. We’re trying it out and if I need to, I’ll make updates.

But I wanted something simple and easy to use. So I did this, then I explained it to my students. That meant going over what a spreadsheet is, what a table is, and what a cell is. I used the Battleship game as my entrance to knowledge kind of thing. Kids who have played Battleship (about half my students) understand how B-4 is different from F-8, so navigating a table will be easy for them. They can help the kids who might struggle a bit. I like enlisting student expertise.

Column B is now their “Do Now” and Column C is now their “Exit Ticket.” This thrills me, because I hate grading Do Nows and Exit Tickets. I told them that nothing about this would be graded, but I would be reading through it every Friday and it would make up part of their record of work.

And I said, when making a goal you want to be simple, direct, and concrete. No “I will finish my map” unless they were very close to finishing. I said they’d have about 30 minutes to work, so they had to pick something that would fit. “I will define five vocabulary words.” “I will outline all of the countries on the map.” “I will read pages 179, 180, and 182.” Those are goals.

At the end of the period we opened up the computers and they reflected on whether they met their goals. If so, why? By how much did they exceed their goal? If not, why?

And I modeled reasons why they might not meet their goals, which is a factor in why I’m not “grading” whether they’ve met their goals. “I didn’t meet my goal because some kid pulled the fire alarm and we had to evacuate for ten minutes.” Perfectly understandable. “I didn’t meet my goal because my mom came to get me early.” They’re 12-13 years old and have to do what their parents say, so that, too, is understandable.

The second example happened twice last week. When the attendance office called me, I told them the kid would be there just as soon as she’d done her Exit Ticket. I overheard that student mutter, “I have to tell my mom to stop picking me up early” as she realized how leaving school impacted her goal for the period.

We will have to have the “your goal is too easy” conversation at some point, but for now I’m just easing them into it.

I had one kid write, “at least start my map.” This was from a kid who needs a lot of help in the classroom. He has trouble doing any work at all without someone there to help him. I stopped by to check his goal (I spot-check during the first 10 minutes of the period) and agreed it was a good goal for him, though I wouldn’t have accepted it from most of my students. And he did meet his goal.

Some students aren’t using the sheet. I will be addressing that soon.

Now back to the unit plan.

The kids love the unit plans. I know this, because 95% of my students still have their unit plans. They refrained from ripping them out of their binders when they used them. They take the unit plans with them when they leave class. And some of them have even told me they like the unit plans.

So we did a map of parts of Asia. I didn’t tell the kids how to make the map, so some kids were drawing it free-hand and others found a map online and traced it on their Chromebook screens (we had a talk about doing that without hurting the machines). Kids were told to color their maps, but I didn’t tell them what colors to use, only that some colors would overlap. Size restrictions were based on how much information they could include. One student drew her map too small and realized that when she didn’t have enough room to trace the Tang and Song dynasties. I did tell another student that I didn’t want more than 8.5×14″ paper.

The lesson went really well – the goal is to produce an item that demonstrates that the student knows where China is in relation to other countries/regions in Asia, know where the Tang and Song boundaries of China were, and list the years the Tang and Song dynasties were in effect. The secondary goal is to give the kids a map they can refer to while doing the rest of their work.

Kids were really into the map. I had one kid who (like the novice goal setter above) rarely does any work, and he was first to finish in his period. I made him an “expert” and had him help other students. Reactions from everyone were surprised and pleasant. Some of my smart kids who get good grades on everything had trouble with the map, so we had to talk about being careful with your work. (They tend to steamroll their work with their intelligence instead of being diligent.)

And past that, they taught themselves this:

  1. Maps are different, based on different needs. Whether the latitudinal and longitudinal lines curve matters
  2. How to transfer a scale from a small map to a larger map without sacrificing accuracy. (To be fair, I’d teach this to one student and then have that student teach it to everyone else who asked)
  3. How to pay attention to where countries stop and start in relation to one another. I.e, Mongolia is not due north of India
  4. That country sizes and borders change depending on year, and that there was, until recently, land that belonged to no country
  5. That China has occupied land that belongs to other countries now.
  6. That they can, with a little diligence, solve their own problems

One thing didn’t happen. Kids still had trouble reading the Unit Plan to determine if they were done with their project. A lot of them thought they were completely done with their maps once they finished Step 1, which was outlining the countries. Some of that’s due to my unit plan being a trifle poorly-written. The rest is due to a problem my students have always had: they don’t read all the directions. They never have. Even if I read all the directions to them, their brains tune out. Reading and following all the directions will be something I hammer in next year.

I made them show me their “rough drafts” — all the penciled stuff, including boundaries, cities, names, years, etc. — before they could “ink” or “shade” in any of their work. That way I was reasonably certain their outlines were proficient before they turned them in. When they felt they were done, they photographed their work into Seesaw and gave it to me. I have about 130 students. Roughly 10 turned in their work by the end of Friday, including students who usually don’t finish anything early. They all know they have until the end of Monday to complete their work, and I confidently expect to get at least 100 maps by then. I know exactly where they are in the process and how much they have to go.

I spent the whole two days (Thurs and Fri) monitoring my class, answering questions, and helping individual students. This made it possible to target the learning to each kid. They stayed on task because they knew what they wanted to accomplish for the day and they worked toward their own goals. And they’re doing excellent work on their maps because they know they’re working toward proficiency at the skill of accurately mapping a part of the world. No grade needed.

Next week they have a paragraph due on Friday, and they have a slide show due Tuesday, May 30. I don’t think they understand all they have to accomplish by then – reading all the assigned pages, completing the vocabulary, writing and revising the paragraph, making the slide show. That’s a huge amount of work. I will have a little heart to heart with them on Monday, but they still won’t fully grok the situation because they have zero experience.

But I do have kids who have already started the vocabulary. They’re making definitions on white lined paper, except for one group of kids who shared a google doc and put the definitions there. I reminded those kids that the point wasn’t to turn in the vocabulary for a grade, but to actually learn it, which I would know by how they used it in their paragraphs and slide shows. Still, any definitions they’re doing now will help them understand what they read next week.

They all also know that they’re going to be providing feedback on the work of students from other periods. At first I thought about giving them a scoring sheet, but now I think I might make it a hybrid, or a single point rubric, or something.

I am working a full day, not sitting on my butt. Actually, doing it this way is more tiring than direct instruction. And I still have work to do at home, like checking those goals. But I know I’m on the right track, and I have plans to shift writing feedback to the students next year, which will clear a lot of work off my plate. I anticipate with some confidence that by the time I figure all this out it will cut down on a lot of the work I bring home, and I’m okay with being tired after a day of on-site work, especially if it means not having to work at home. I’m spending less timeĀ on classroom management, the majority of the voices in my class are student voices, etc. So I’m much less stressed.

About writing feedback: I write fiction. I have several crit partners who give me their work to critique. I give mine to them. Over two years of doing this I’ve discovered that I learn the most about writing when I’m trying to put into words what my feedback on someone else’s piece is. This is one of the big reasons why I want to shift feedback onto their shoulders. Giving feedback means reflecting on what makes work good or in need of improvement, which is rightfully the job of the students, not the teacher.


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