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IN PRACTICE


Ms. Palmer’s Algebra Class Ms. Palmer is a highly regarded fifth-year teacher currently serving as the mathematics department chair in a large high school. She is a firm believer that anyone can be successful at math when it is explained clearly and when there is enough practice with the concepts. To that end, she begins each of her algebra classes with a set of warm-up problems related to previously taught content. However, she is unsure if her students are actually completing the warm-ups because the class always goes over the answers together and students are not required to turn in their work. Ms. Palmer decides she wants to hold students accountable for the exercises and use them as formative assessments. She develops a weekly warm-up template for students to fill in each day and collects their work on Fridays. Each week, she chooses three problems to check and provides students with written feedback on their work. When she finds that several students have had difficulties with the same problem, she spends time reviewing it in class and addressing common issues and misconceptions.


After a month using her template, she reflects upon the situation. The template has worked well for holding students accountable, but Ms. Palmer, who has a young daughter at home, is beginning to feel overwhelmed by the paper load she brings home in the evenings and on weekends. In addition to the warm-ups, she also collects nightly homework and checks it for accuracy before returning it to students one or two days later.


Ms. Palmer’s approach to her work seems potentially unsustainable. She has noble intentions, and on the surface, it seems as though she has considered the three questions above. Ms. Palmer is gathering data to determine if students are moving towards learning goals, she is holding students accountable for their work in class, and she has begun utilizing a renewable resource in the form of a warm-up template. Yet she still feels buried under the paper load. How might she modify her practices in order to cultivate a more sustainable stance towards her work?


An initial solution might be to collect fewer papers from students. Because both the homework and the warm-ups provide students with practice opportunities and allow Ms. Palmer to gather formative assessment data, she is possibly collecting redundant information. Perhaps she could cut back on her assessment of either the homework or the warm-ups in order to lighten her paper load. She could also consider circulating around the classroom to check students’ work on the warm-ups during class rather than waiting until Friday to see how they did, which could result in more immediate and powerful feedback for students. Another solution would be to engage students in the review process through self- or peer-assessment procedures. Developing a system for students to assess their own or peers’ work would be a valuable expenditure of time that could ultimately benefit students


Spring 2011 Vol. 8 No. 1 Virginia Educational Leadership 49


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