Sunday, January 8, 2017

Soft Skills: Building Confidence

Happy New Year! I am jumping onto #MTBoSBlogsplosion Week 2

Survival week, the week before winter break is always a daunting week for any teacher--to keep a classroom of teenagers engaged for 80 minutes per day for an entire week while they were dreaming about two weeks of video gaming, vacationing in the Caribbean, or the Friday Star Wars Field Trip. 

Nevertheless, the thoughtful cards from my students during this time help remind me why I teach. This card below summarizes what I strive to do in my classroom everyday for all of my students. 

To add more context to this card, I teach two courses of Algebra 1 and an Algebra 8 course. What is the difference? Well curriculum wise, everything is the same: textbook-CMP3, homework, lessons, activities. The difference is that students who score higher on the MAP scores are placed in Algebra 1 and students who do not make the cut-off score are placed in Algebra 8. As students are separated by test score, the classroom dynamics are drastically altered based on race and socioeconomic status as well. I am curious to know what other school districts are doing about tracking--does your school still track or have gotten rid of it?

Various factors due to the nature of Algebra 1 could have made this student feel uncomfortable at first. I have many predictors but do not want to pinpoint. I can speculate that Algebra 1 due to its composition of students who scored higher produces more competition among the students in the class. Many of these students based on my observation grasp concepts more quickly; however not as deeply and generally identify themselves as liking mathematics. This can be quite intimidating for students who do not always grasp concepts as quickly but are deep thinkers. Another possibility is the racial dynamics of the classroom. There are very few minority students in Algebra 1; perhaps 1-2 students per class.  The student who wrote the card was the only African American girl in my class and she shared that most of her friends were in Algebra 8.

Beyond the systemic issues of schooling, I would like to share some things that possibly contributed to a positive learning environment for students to feel confident. I cannot take full credit for these strategies as I have picked them up from colleagues and scholars.

1. Distributing Authority through Student Jobs: Students take ownership of their own classroom. Letting go of certain jobs in the classroom was one of the hardest things I learned to do this year. I enjoyed leading the warm-up discussion and walking around to check student's homework notebooks to see whether they did a problem correctly. However, my colleague convinced me to try some of her jobs this year to a greater extent and so I did.   I currently have the following jobs: HW Checker, HW Reviewer, Warm-up Leader, Paper Passer, PBIS Leader, Job Manager, Timer, Teacher Helper. Students change jobs each month and everyone is required to have a job at least once. Every Fridays, we do celebrations and students honor one another; the Job Manager praises the students with jobs, and students without a job yet have the opportunity to highlight one good thing their peer did for them for the week.

2. Open Ended Warm-ups : I used to print half sheets of practice problems pertaining to skills students previously learned to do for 5 minutes at the beginning of class. I felt that it was necessary for them to see the skills again to practice more. Students would certainly do them; they would come up to the board and share correct answers, but something was missing. If you haven't read @viemath 's  Daily Warm-up Routine, you definitely should because I adopted my warm-ups from her. I was first weary about using these warm-ups at first, wondering how will students get practice out of them. But I can't stress how powerful these warm-ups are by simply asking a student, What do you Notice and Wonder? rather than... What is the Answer? Sometimes the depth of discussion and students using their reasoning and justifications--arguing with one another needs to be cut off because they are so engaged in the warm-up.  I also noticed that students who would never participate or have lower confidence in their mathematical abilities started to raise their hands and share out their ideas.

3. My Favorite Mistake/ Error Analysis: I first learned about My Favorite No from the teaching channel. Since then I have adopted other methods teachers in my district have shared in regards to analyzing mistakes from quizzes or tests.  One of the main things when students get their quizzes back is we will discuss Favorite Mistakes. I would post underneath the document camera the problem and the work with mistakes. Ask the students to think about: 1. What did this individual understand? 2. What was their mistake?  My hope is that by opening the discussion for what understanding was there first allows students to realize that mistakes are part of learning.


  1. waoo nice post about Soft Skills: Building Confidence


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