Changes for 2019-2020

I went into the school year knowing I wanted to be purposeful about making some changes in my classroom so that I didn’t go through the year on autopilot repeating everything I did last year.  However, when the year started, I didn’t have a clear idea of what those changes would be.  A few weeks into the year, I’ve found my “thing” for the year.

Change 1:  Feedback on Tests

While going through my master’s program, I started grading review worksheets and quizzes by highlighting students mistakes after seeing this on the Teaching Channel.  I didn’t feel ready to grade tests that way at that time.  That was two school years ago, and last year, since I was no longer doing action research for my master’s, I only graded the review worksheets that way.  I’ve always dreaded handing back tests in class.  Students didn’t look over them how I hoped they would, and it became something I put off doing.

During a conversation with my department, one of my colleagues talked about how she gives feedback on tests by highlighting student mistakes.  As a result of that conversation, I decided to go back to giving feedback that way this year, including tests.

I know it will take a few times of going through the process to work out a system that works for both my students and me, but after going through it once with most of my classes, I truly feel this is a better system than what I was doing in the past.  I was hesitant to try because I couldn’t picture exactly how the process would work or that I could get buy in from all of my students.  Ultimately, I decided that even if my students even gain one thing from looking more closely at their mistakes, it is worth it.

Change 2:  Non-Math Test Question

I’ve used Sara Van Der Werf’s name tents the last several years, and I’ve wanted to try to find ways to keep the conversation going throughout the school year.  I want to be a student of my students all year long.

I decided to add a place for this on all of my tests.  I’m asking students a non-math/school question and respond to each student the way I do on the name tents.  So far I’ve pulled the questions from this Chat Pack, something I picked up at a thrift store years ago.  The first question I asked was, “What event or activity in the next few months are you looking forward to more than anything else?”  Some of my students assumed the question meant in math or in school, so next year I may ask something that is more obvious that it doesn’t need to relate to school at all.  The next question I asked was what state they would choose to live in and why.  I loved getting a glimpse into the thinking of middle schoolers!

On the name tents, I don’t typically ask students questions or give them prompts, as I want to conversation to be more organic and for them to share with me whatever they want.  So far, the questions on the tests have been much more direct.  I may change that in the future so that it’s more open ended.

Here are a few other small changes or classroom hacks I’ve been using this year.

Random Grouping

I noticed last year that when I would number students off for groups, I continually heard, “I’m always with_____.”  Even though I tried to be “random” about how I numbered students, I obviously didn’t do a very good job of it.  I know this is NOTHING new, but I finally started using cards to put students in pairs.  I use two different colored decks (blue and red) and students are partners with the same card of the other deck.  One of my classes has struggled to stay focused and work during work time.  A student suggested that I pair boys with girls to help keep them focused.  Because I have two different colored decks, I now give girls one color and boys the other.

I can also somewhat rig the partners if I need to.  I got this idea from somewhere online.  If I need to, when I’m getting the cards ready, I find one pair of matching cards and put them so I know where those two cards are as I’m passing the cards out.  If I have two students who cannot handle working together, I make sure to give one of them the “rigged” card and make sure the other student doesn’t get the other rigged card.  I’ve also used this when I have a student who struggles to work with a partner.  As much as I work with my students on how to work together in groups regardless of who their partner is, sometimes I just need a certain student to participate in what we are doing that day.  I will ask the student prior to putting the groups together if there is a student that would be a good partner for them that day or someone they shouldn’t be paired up with that day.  I make sure to give the student I talked to one of the “rigged” cards and pass out the other card according to the conversation I had with the student.

Class Sizes

This is something I can’t believe has taken me 6 years to start doing.  In the front of my planner where I write down the names of absent students, I put a post it with how many students are in each of my classes.  I use this to figure out how to have students number off for groups.  I’ve found this to make putting students in groups go more efficiently.  For example, if it’s 3rd hour and 2 students are absent, I check the post it to see that I have 21 students, so with 2 gone, I have 19 and count off accordingly.


I give students several short 1 to 2 question quizzes throughout each unit.  When I gave the first one, I told my students that I would grade one of the two questions.  Honestly, I did this sort of for selfish reasons, I was looking to cut down the time it took to grade them after school.  However, I realized that I actually learned a lot more by allowing students to pick the problem I graded.  I noticed which problem students avoided.  Some students attempted both and then picked one for me to grade, so I learned which problem students felt more confident in.

Cable Organizer

I put this cable organizer on my desk to keep my laptop charger in place when my computer isn’t at my desk.  It’s a small thing, but it’s so nice to keep it in place so it doesn’t fall down.  I also used to pull out the cable on accident as I’d be working at my desk, and now I don’t do that.

Whiteboard Posters

I’ve also really been enjoying these whiteboard posters and am looking forward to continuing to use them throughout the year.

4 thoughts on “Changes for 2019-2020

  1. I am a senior at the University of Cincinnati and am getting my degree in Middle Childhood Education with my focus in Math and Science. I really like reading your articles and seeing the different activities and tools you have found to be useful in the classroom. With this article in particular, I liked how you put into detail the changes that you have implemented so far this school year into your classroom. When you were discussing the first change that you did with your students, with having feedback on test, I was wondering how your students responded to this change. Were they happy to receive different feedback on test and quizzes? Did you see test scores rise from this feedback? What did you see being a benefit from doing this again? What made you feel ready to implement this, this school year and not the two school years past.


    • I don’t know that the feedback students receive on their tests seems any “different” to them because that’s how I give them feedback on some of their weekly assignments as well. I don’t really think it seemed like much of a change for students because my 8th graders were used to it because our 7th grade teacher does this as well, and my 6th graders didn’t know any different. I love that by giving feedback in this way my students are actually looking at the feedback and their mistakes and trying to learn from them. Is it perfect and do all students take their time on their corrections? No. But it’s definitely a huge improvement from what I was doing last year with this. If I’m being honest, I don’t really know that I felt ready to implement this this school year; however, I decided to go for it because I wanted to improve this area of my classroom. I didn’t make the leap the previous two school years because of several other new initiatives or other outside factors (grad school, etc.). I didn’t have those things going on this year and decided to just go for it!


    • I also really liked about how you talked about the changes that you made in your classroom in detail. One that stood out to me was the concept of highlighting student mistakes. I think this is a great way for students to be drawn to the mistakes you want them to do. One of my professors does this and I think it helps me personally see what she wants me to correct. I would also be curious to see how middle school students respond to this kind of grading.


      • Thank you! They are used to this type of grading from other assignments they get back from me. Like anything new, it takes a little bit of time at the start to get them used to it. However, I think the time is well spent as they focus on learning from their mistakes as a result of it.


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