What To Do With Faster Students

I was recently asked what I do for faster students while I spend time helping students who need more of my help.  This was an easy question to answer as my flipped class addresses this situation beautifully.

Since I no longer lecture in class, this means that the full 90 minutes of class can be used for Algebra activities.  I write a listing of the day’s activities on the board and briefly talk about where students can find each activity and give special instructions as needed.

The order of the list is carefully selected and students know that they are to move to the next activity as they complete the one before.  I plan this list of activities expecting the faster students to accomplish most or all.  I realize that students who work more slowly will probably not get through each activity, so I put the two or three most critical activities early in the list.

We usually begin with a large group activity such as Quiz/Quiz/Trade or a Relay so everyone works together with a group.  Then we might move to a partner activity such as Placemats or Matching followed by a worksheet that is to be completed individually.  I place a red check mark on each correct problem on each student’s individual worksheet.  Because the partners work at different paces, some students will move to the individual worksheet earlier than others.  This staggered pace allows me to spend time with each student as they work on the individual worksheet.  I collect the individual worksheets at the end of each class and give classwork credit in the online grade book.  I do not keep track of or give credit for the group activities.

After the individual worksheet, we often have one or two additional activities such as a Scavenger Hunt or Sum It Up.  This allows individuals or small groups of students additional practice with the new material.  With this plan, the faster students are actively engaged with learning activities for the entire class and the students who work more slowly have time to work through the two or three most important activities of the day with my help.

Giving Points for Watching Homework Videos

Several years ago, before I started flipping my Algebra class, my school district revamped the entire Algebra program for all teachers throughout the district.  We were all required to follow the new program completely.

One part of the new program was a change in how students’ grades were assigned.  The district decided that each student’s grade should reflect their performance on the summative assessments, or chapter tests, only.  While homework, classwork and other formative assessments were to be assigned, no points for these assignments were allowed to be used in calculating students’ final grades for the course.

Obediently, I began that school year by explaining the program changes to my students, including the changes to the grading policy.  What I experienced was a classic example of a breakdown in communication.  The message I sent was not the message my students received.

My message was that homework would be assigned each day and the homework would not count for points.  The students apparently took this to mean that they did not need to do any homework, which is exactly what they did!

The important information I took away from this experience is that fourteen-year-old students will more likely do their homework if value (in this case, points) is given to their efforts and they will likely NOT do their homework if no value is given.

When I first flipped my Algebra class, I knew that I must assign points for watching the homework videos if I wanted the students to actually do the homework.  This has worked very well for me and my students.

We begin class each day with the students working a few warm up problems from the previous day’s topic while I check everyone’s notes from their homework videos.  I give 4 points if their notes are complete.  I do not accept incomplete notes at all, so no partial credit.  I direct students with no notes or incomplete notes to classroom computers to finish their assignment while the rest of us begin the activities for the day.

In the online grade book, I weight the homework category as only 5% of the overall grade.  This still validates homework for students and has little impact on their overall grade.