Saturday, March 23, 2013


It is the first weekend of spring break, and having administered the first test of the new trimester last Thursday, I'm honestly feeling really good about the way things are going this trimester.  No, not everyone is the class earned an "A" on the test, but from the standpoint of the daily discussions, the students seem to have a solid feel for what is expected and how to get the most out of the them.  The mistakes on the test were more along the lines of not reading directions or making other sorts of careless mistakes, as opposed to not having any idea what is going on.  And in general, the students who did not participate as much in the discussions were the ones with the lower scores (although I seem to have a couple kids with test anxiety - those who are great during the discussions and just can't seem to put it together on the test).

Beyond the fact that the students are more experienced with Harkness at this point in the year, I did something subtle late last week in my classroom that I think the kids have noticed.  On the side wall of the room, I put the following "guidelines" for the Harkness discussions - one each on six separate pieces of paper, with the font size large enough to be read from most parts of the room:

Synergetic - the discussion is team-oriented and one in which each member participates equally

Practiced - the concepts and skills learned during the discussion are practiced by the students as they review the material and as they prepare for future discussions

Independent - students run the discussion, questions and analyze possible solutions, and summarize results

Developed - the discussion gets deep and builds on itself and on previous discussions; individual questions, worksheets, and discussions do not stand in isolation, but are inter-related

Explored - more than simply a discussion, it is a discussion-based exploration of a topic through the exercises on the worksheets

Reflective - students evaluate their participation in the discussions and look for ways to improve their contribution to the class in order to improve their understanding of the material

The "S.P.I.D.E.R." acronym is stolen from Alexis Wiggins (, though I tweaked it slightly for the purposes of teaching math and of being in a classroom with 30 students instead of 15.  

I plan on giving the students a handout with the expectations on it when we return from the break, not so much to inform them of what is expected - as I said above, they really seem to have a good feel for this - but more to quickly refocus them and get them back into "school mode".

Beyond that, there's not really much to report this week.  Things are good, and hopefully they will remain that way.

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