Using Personal Progress Checks in AP Classroom

Today I ventured into new territory with my AP Literature students: online practice testing. Until today I’ve resisted online assessments in favor of pencil and paper, mostly because I’ve found it too hard to monitor for cheating. However, with College Board rolling out their new AP Classroom feature, I decided to give it a shot by assigning a multiple choice progress check. Overall, although the website takes some exploring to fully understand, I found the process very rewarding in terms of the data it provided.

I used these resources in combination with the tools on AP Classroom for this lesson.

*Disclaimer: The College Board does not recommend using the assessments on AP classroom for any kind of grade. In fact, if teachers use these assessments for any kind of recorded formative or summative grade, they can risk their class’ status as an AP class. Instead of assessing skills for your gradebook, use these tools to prepare your students for the AP Exam.

Step 1 – Prepare Yourself

Before even beginning to introduce AP Classroom to your students, I suggest spending some time navigating the site yourself. In my attempt to fully understand it, I ended up creating a fake student’s name and registering myself in my class (big mistake, as I believe I also ended up registering for the AP Lit exam in May!). But between my blunder and your time exploring, you should be able to understand its features.

This is what my home page looks like when I log into AP Planner. You’ll see the link for AP Classroom on the bottom right.

To get to AP Classroom you’ll need to log into AP Planner first, which is a web page run by College Board. Use your College Board login info here, which you should have already from a course audit. If you are a first-year teacher or one who has not ever used College Board, you should be able to create your own login information. However I would suggest letting your AP Coordinator know that you did this just to be safe.

Another thing to talk to your AP Coordinator about is getting your AP Classroom code. Chances are, he or she has set up your course for you. If they have, simply get your code (it should be 6 random letters) and enter it to claim your class. If they haven’t, or you have no AP Coordinator, you can create your own class. Once you do, a code will be provided. You’ll need this later to enroll your students.

Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be shown a home page with important dates for AP teachers and coordinators. Scroll down a little and click AP Classroom (on the right). Fun fact, if you look to the top right you’ll see a button that says Student View. I did not know this when I created my phony student page, but it shows you what a sample AP Classroom looks like to students. Click around and explore the features of the site, but maybe avoid assigning a unit until you’re sure you are ready. I’ve heard of people having a hard time “unassigning” a unit.

If you’re unfamiliar with the site, you’ll want to learn about the different Personal Progress Checks, or PPCs, that you can assign students to track their progress. You can assign PPCs in multiple choice form (MCQs) or free response questions (FRQs). AP Classroom also has a growing list of questions in a Question Bank which can be targeted towards specific skills. However, some of those questions are still under construction. If you’re a newbie or still easing into this online testing thing, I’d keep your eye on those but don’t touch them for now. The PPCs are great to use as-is and shouldn’t need customization.

Step 2 – Prepare Your Students

On a day before you give your first Personal Progress Check, walk your students through registering with AP Classroom. When I did this, many of my students already had a login with College Board due to previous AP tests (the login link is the same as the teachers’). However, some did not, and more had forgotten their credentials. Give them at least 5 minutes to register with College Board, and make sure they save their credentials to their computer (and even write them down) so the process can be quick the next time. Once registered, all they need to use AP Classroom is your course code, available on your teacher page. Their login screen will look similar to the teacher’s screen. Again, ask them to scroll down and click on AP Classroom. When I did this, I had not yet assigned any PPCs to my students. However, they were still able to navigate the different tabs and see where units would show up once they were assigned. I made sure that each student not only logged in, but clicked on AP Classroom, found the tab that said Units to see the different PPCs that were currently locked. Altogether, this registration process took us about 10 minutes. I’d budget for longer time with a bigger group, as some other classes experienced wifi issues.

I want to emphasize again the importance of doing this step on a day before you intend to assign it. Many teachers lost a full day because they ran into technical difficulties, or a student fell behind because of login issues. I did this two days before I needed it to be cautious and it led to a pain-free PPC during our scheduled time.

Step 3 – Assign & Take the Personal Progress Check

To assign a PPC, click on the Progress Checks tab on the top.

Once your students are registered with AP Classroom, you can assign your first PPC. Simply log in to AP Classroom and click on the tab that says Progress Checks. Select your unit and question type and click Assign. A box will show up. Make sure you check each class that you want to take the PPC. You can also toggle Unlock the assessment now (or do it later if you want), as well as give a time limit, a due date, and whether or not you want students to see their results. I’m indifferent on time limits, but I strongly suggest you allow students to see their results. They won’t be able to see them until you mark the assignment complete, and the data they collect from their scores will be useful later.

You can assign the PPC to be completed outside of class or provide time in class. I gave students time during our block period and they all finished in 30 minutes. I highly recommend printing out the passages for our MCQ so students can annotate the text. Printed passages also make it easier to refer back to the text when discussing it later. You may not want to, but I chose to take the assessment with the students by reading the questions from the Preview button. We spend at least 30 minutes of every Thursday doing independent reading, so as they read I looked over the data.

Step 4 – Study the Data Yourself

Once my students were finished and off to independent reading, I marked the PPC as complete. This populated the student data so I could see it. First of all, you see an overview of your class’ performance (see below). You can also click on your individual students to see how each student fared.

The Progress Check Dashboard once a PPC is finished

I clicked on View Results to the right of the colored bar and I was able to see my students’ individual scores on each question. It only took a few minutes to sort my students into three groups based on their weakest standard. I then accessed the questions listed below each skill on the new AP Lit CED, selecting one central question for my student groups to review. These questions are paired with the essential skill on my AP Lit Task Cards, for sale in my TpT store. You can see how we used them in the pictures below.

Step 5 – Guide the Students Through Data Study and Goal-Setting

For the last 20 minutes of class, I passed out forms that I created to track data from the PPC. These forms go beyond the data tracking done on AP Classroom as they ask students to reflect on their data and create goals. These forms are available in my TpT store for free, just click here!

A student tracking her scores on our data tracking sheet. She later used this data to create goals for our next PPC.
This student group scored lower on Setting 2.A, so the red task card asked a standard-based question for them to re-approach their most troublesome text.

Students got into groups based on their data and reflected on weak spots in the assessment. I asked each group to reflect on the question included in their standard’s task card and apply it to one of the texts from the PPC. These group discussions helped students compare their interpretations of the text and the questions with their peers in order to look at them in a different light. Finally, students returned to their data sheets and created goals for their next PPC. The forms are being stored in my classroom for them to access anytime.

Overall, I was very pleased with the overall assessment process of AP Classroom. I’ve always struggled with multiple choice practice tests in my own classes because I wasn’t able to provide much for feedback or ideas to build off in our lessons. I like how the PPC brings each question back to a focused skill and that those skills are easy to track.

I plan on using these forms and the PPC data to gauge our progress at the semester break. If certain skills are testing lower than others I can adjust my lessons to strengthen these weaknesses for the second half of the year.

Teacher Appreciation & TpT Gift Card Giveaway

Teacher apprecitation giveaway blog post

My first memory of having a distinctly attentive teacher goes back to when I was in fourth grade. Our class was learning about fractions and for whatever reason (let’s be honest, it’s probably because I am terrible at math), I just couldn’t get it. My teacher spent several lessons working with me while everyone was moving forward with their homework and I got more frustrated and embarrassed as the week moved on. One day, she asked me to arrange to stay late so she could see me after school. I thought for sure that I was in trouble, or at worst I would be “demoted” to third grade because I couldn’t understand fractions.

But instead, my teacher spent an extra hour after school with me and we played with beans.

My breakthrough happened when she explained how fractions worked using dried beans and we arranged them into full figures. I still vividly remember that “aha” moment as my 4th-grade brain finally understood fractions. And good news: I still understand them!

These are the stories that teachers live for. However, in the nature of our profession, my fourth-grade teacher probably has no idea that she made that impression on me.

I have been blessed with many amazing teachers over the years:

  • My fifth-grade teacher, who used three distinctively creative and motivating rewards systems, including “lunch bunch,” choosing prizes from buckets (which I’m sure he paid for out of pocket), and the privilege of choosing the next month’s seating chart. His civil competition strategies no doubt fed into my love for competing for tiny tin-foil stars in my own classroom. 
  • My eighth-grade teacher, who held up my short story about a mouse in front of the whole class. Rather than ridiculing it, as I was expecting, he read it aloud and praised my brilliant narrative choices (which I still maintain were purely done out of luck). That was the first time I realized I was a gifted writer, and that I enjoyed using my writing to explain things to others.
  • My freshman Spanish teacher, who let me hang out in her classroom long after everyone had gone home because I was often waiting for a ride home into the evening hours. Even though I pestered her about stories about college, drew all over her whiteboard, and almost never did anything to actually assist her in grading or prep work, she still happily tolerated my presence. This taught me to be intentionally relational with my students, and that sometimes just an open classroom door is an important invitation to a lonely student. 
  • My art teacher, who fed into my creativity, even when I had absolutely no idea how to apply it. She let me dabble in everything–with very mixed results. I never excelled in art, but I learned that my imagination can apply to many parts of life, and that you don’t need to be an artist to be creative. 
  • My sophomore English teacher who ultimately inspired me to follow my subject matter, instilling a love of Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, William Shakespeare, and a hatred for The Old Man and the Sea, which we still argue about over Facebook. His attitude and antics taught me that students learn more when they stay engaged, and you don’t have to like it, but you do have to read it. 

My list could go on and on, including some wonderful college professors, my mentors and colleagues at my first high school placement, and the professional “family” that I’ve found at my current school. I truly have been blessed to be surrounded by teachers.

As a gift to any educator who reads this, I’m offering a giveaway for a $10 Teachers Pay Teachers gift card. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post, or e-mail me at aplitandmore@gmail.com if you’d prefer, by 11:59 pm CST on Friday, May 11. 

Thank you to all educators out there, both in the classroom and beyond, including office staff, cafeteria workers, custodians, homeschool teachers, stay-at-home mamas, daycare employees, Sunday School teachers, administrators, professors, and anyone else who helps shape the minds and hearts of young people. I hope someone gives you an idea of how much your actions can touch a life.

And to Mrs. Dykes, Mr. Block, Mr. Timm, Señora Hutchins, Miss Sohn, and Mr. Chilman, thank you for shaping my life and inspiring me to teach. This one is dedicated to you.

In case you haven’t heard, the Teachers Appreciation Sale is going on at Teachers Pay Teachers from now until Wednesday, May 9. All items in my store are 25% with the code THANKYOU18.

My Journey Toward a Writing Center – Part Three

WC blog post 3

After four months of observation, preparation, and prayer, the day arrived to open our school’s writing center. And despite our modest beginnings, we had six different visitors on our first day alone!

We opened at the beginning of January, and in the four months we’ve been open we have had over 150 different appointments. For a school with only 325 secondary students, that is astounding!

Here are some pics of our coaches in action.

 

So much of our success is due to our amazing faculty members. Several teachers have offered extra credit for visiting the writing center, which is a wonderful promotion, as long as we know ahead of time! We learned quickly that when students are given this incentive oftentimes we have more visitors than writing coaches. But if I know to expect many students ahead of schedule, I am able to schedule extra coaches on for that day, and everyone is taken care of. So far this semester we have had 3 different “all-staff” days, where almost every coach was utilized due to our flood of traffic.

Some ways I’ve kept the writing center a well-oiled machine are through organized binders containing writing resources.

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I have a file box containing writing handouts given out in our school’s ELA classrooms, including quote integration, italicization vs. quotation marks, MLA formatting, and more. When a writing coach is stumped or I see them struggling to remember a concept, I can easily grab a handout from this box and bring it over to them. Receptionists often do this on their shifts as well.

 

All of our writing center resources are contained in these two locations: a shelf at the entrance of my room and a wooden organizer on a table near the entrance. The shelf holds the writing resource box (see above), binders containing assignment details and rubrics, sample essays, dictionaries, thesauruses, and other resources. Oftentimes the receptionist on shift will distribute these resources once visitors are checked in, and they know to re-file them when students leave.

The other container holds highlighters, post-it notes, a list of all writing coaches and skills (for receptionist use), scratch paper, and most importantly, the tutoring session form.

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This document is the most important in Writing Center success, in my opinion. It tells me what brought a student into the writing center, and gives feedback on each individual experience. The coach notes at the bottom are also very valuable. For example, one visitor gave positive feedback, but the writing coach noted that the student sat back and seemed to expect the writing coach to make all of the changes for her, which directly contradicts our policy. She even became angry when asked to do the work herself. This feedback was very useful to share with the assigning teacher, who was able to speak to the student directly about taking more initiative over her own assignment, rather than asking others to do the work for her.

Overall, the experience was grueling but incredibly rewarding. Our attendance is strong and so much of the work is done to implement an even stronger writing center program next year.

One benefit of going through this process is the ability to share what I’ve learned. I am so grateful to anyone who has taken the time to read this, especially if you read all three posts! To any teachers or administrators interested in forming their own writing center I have bundled all of my resources for training and running our writing center into a Writing Center Starter Kit, available at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Click here to read Part One or Part Two of this post series. Special shout-out to Nicole Case for some of the photography in this post 🙂

My Journey Toward a Writing Center – Part Two

Writing Center title part 2

So to recap from Part One of this posting, I had become overwhelmed by the needs of my students when it came to one-on-one writing help. I was inspired by a wonderful Writing Center at a nearby public school. I was quickly approved by my administrator to start a center at our own school and word began to go out. The Writing Center was a go!

But I had no budget. No stipend. And no idea where to start.

Ok, I wasn’t completely clueless. But I was definitely feeling overwhelmed. Luckily, around the same time as my observation at Minnetonka, I began drafting a survey to give out to the student body on how (and if) they would use the Writing Center. I didn’t want to be completely disappointed if we opened and no one showed up.

Here are main results of my survey, and thanks to Survey Monkey for their free survey tools to help me in this process!

 

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The first question showed that over 80% of those surveyed would attend the Writing Center at least once, and more than 30% would be repeat visitors. That was great news for me!

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This question was to help me decide how to train my staff and to give me an idea of how students felt about writing at our school. Being the department head, this information was useful on many levels.

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We had several write-ins for this question, many being requests for help with lab reports. It turns out many students need help writing about science. I never knew!

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So far our staff hasn’t been able to help with any college prep sessions, but the Writing Center staff at the school I observed puts on regular coaching sessions in preparation for the ACT. It is a goal of mine to integrate these sessions in the next few years.

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This was to answer my biggest question: How on earth could I convince students to spend their precious free time tutoring other students, when I can’t really offer them anything? Naturally, several students suggested we pay them, but as I wasn’t getting paid that was definitely not an option. I was surprised at how many students were willing to do it for the sake of volunteer work and service hours. It really reaffirmed that we have such great kids at my school!

After the data was in, I was convinced: our school was ready for a Writing Center, and I was pretty sure our students would use it.

I also created a faculty survey to assess what kinds of writing was being assigned, and how many “big” projects we needed to prepare for. Later I presented the Writing Center concept to the staff at a faculty meeting and explained how they could help get the word out in preparation for our opening. I love my colleagues, and they were obviously very supportive.

Now on to the next step: finding a staff.

After talking with our guidance counselors, I decided that to start out the Writing Center in our “beta-testing mode,” the best staff would be comprised of our National Honors Society students. The NHS students are generally among the most gifted writers and are usually student leaders at the school, which might make them natural writing coaches. They also have a tutoring requirement, which the guidance counselors were actually struggling to meet for each tutor. I sent out some e-mails, scheduled a training, and boom, I had a staff!

Over Christmas break, I was tasked to create the training in preparation for a 3-hour session on the third day of the second semester. The writing coordinator at Minnetonka had sent me with a few articles to help me train the staff, so I figured that wouldn’t be too hard to sort out. I spent the majority of my time shopping for supplies and researching best practices in Writing Centers (both in high school and college).

As it usually does, Christmas break was over instantaneously, and before I knew it the training was upon me. The night before, I set out to finalize the powerpoint and organize the training presentation. At least, that was the goal. For almost an hour I simply moved papers around and stared at a blank screen.

My husband walked past me, making an innocuous comment on what was on tv. His presence was enough to push me over the edge and I broke out in ridiculous, almost infantile sobs. As my husband rushed over, I repeated over and over, “I can’t do this.”

It wasn’t that I couldn’t create the training. I knew I could, and I had the materials to do so. What seemed impossible to me was the actual likelihood that I would be able to get such a big program off the ground, and in just a short amount of time. Also, I was doing this almost entirely by myself.

I’ve had a lot of experience leading things, but never ideas that were 100% my own. I’ve led drama productions before, but usually in an assistant role. The best part about being an assistant is that when something goes wrong, the “blame” is never on me. But this Writing Center was my baby. I had the idea, I sought out the answers, I created the workspace, I organized the staff and the training, and I was responsible for the results.

The bottom line was this: If this Writing Center failed, it meant that I failed. 

After a good cry and some bucking up from my husband, I finally (somehow) finished preparing the training. The next morning I got some help from some students I had identified as my best leaders in the Writing Center and we began.

Our short training consisted of the following agenda:
– Purpose and Functions of the Writing Center
– Coaching Training (tips on peer reviewing, step-by-step guide for conferencing)
– MLA Research Review
– Sophomore paper brainstorming

During the MLA review, half of the students were taken aside and asked to fill out some writing coach biography cards I had created, which are available for download on my TpT store (they’re free!). Our photography teacher was also gracious enough to take quick headshots of each coach to accompany the cards.

The last thing we did was go into my sophomore English classes and work on coaching. I wanted students to learn how to conference about writing, in a way that was beyond simple peer review. My students were just beginning writing a pretty extensive research project called position papers, and they had just chosen their topics. The great thing about having upperclassmen writing coaches is that every student had written this paper before. This meant that they were able to relate to the journey the sophomores were beginning and could give tips from experience as well as general writing advice. The sophomores reported later that this conference was very useful, as it made them talk through their choice of topic and bounce ideas off of another student.

The Writing Center was set to open in just a week and there were two things left to do: prepare our workspace and inform the school community.

I’ll be honest, the decorating was my favorite part. Because we had literally zero budget, the Writing Center would be operating out of my classroom. But I still wanted it to have a special space that we could call our own. Over break I had bought a chalkboard calendar, a corner bookshelf, and some desktop organizers. With the coach bio cards finished and the headshots printed, I decorated the entryway of my classroom and organized some writing resources for coaches to access. It didn’t take long for our Writing Center to look cute, even though it wasn’t technically a “center.”

 

Writing Center pic 5

I put out some e-mails to the faculty and made some postings on Schoology to get the word out. I had also asked a student to design a logo for us (see below) and I blew it up and had it posted on my door. It also serves as our watermark and logo on our paperwork.

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Finally, I had to face it: there was nothing left to do. It was time to see if the Writing Center would be successful.

Here’s a quick recap of the process to opening a Writing Center, for anyone else interested in starting one at their own school. Feel free to message me for resources and training materials mentioned in this post.

Writing Center Infographic

This is the second post in a three-part series. Stay tuned for the final installment on how I integrated a Writing Center at my school.

Word of the Week – A Year-Long Vocabulary Strategy

Word of the Week

I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of the cardinal sin of English teachers.

I have given out a list of vocabulary words, told students to define the words, and given out a quiz the following week. Most English teachers have. It’s not because we’re trying to be lazy, I’m sure. It’s just that between bell-ringers, learning targets, taking attendance, engaging mini-lessons, ongoing lessons that focus on content that align with the common core, and homework that engages critical thinking, sometimes it can be hard to find time to teach vocabulary.

I do include vocabulary in several of my literature units, but those words are not based on age but on the content it’s being pulled from. Over the years I had been looking into ways to incorporate more vocabulary, preferably based on suggested words from the SAT list, but it always seemed to get put on the backburner.

An idea struck me one year when teaching Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. I was trying to explain how Brutus was a stoic, and I wrote the word and definition on the board behind me. It stayed up there all week and we referred to it a few times.

The next week, we discussed the very topical (for the time) discussion of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric. I told him that he was the definition of “bombastic,” and that word made it up on the whiteboard. As we discussed it later in the week, students attempted to use the word “bombastic” in a sentence to earn a star (a silly sticker reward in my class). And from there, Word of the Week became a regular fixture in my classroom.

It’s not a complicated procedure. Every week I choose a word from an SAT list, such as this one. I write the word on a small whiteboard in the front of my classroom. Monday mornings start with a quick review of the definition and some example sentences. Starting Tuesday, students can attempt to use the word in a sentence in class, and if they do so correctly, I give them a star.

I do not give any quizzes or require any homework with the words of the week. However, I do collect the words and definitions on a Quizlet list and include the Word of the Week words on our final exam.

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It may not be preparing my students to ace the ACT, but each week my students learn an age-appropriate word, learn how to apply it in a sentence, and hopefully, most of them make it into their long-term memory. It’s certainly better than my previous method of vocabulary…which was basically nothing.

Please follow me for more updates on quick and simple teaching strategies, or visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store for freebies and other resources for ELA teachers.