Helping Freshmen Transition: Advocating Forms and Grade Tracker


I teach mostly freshmen. The junior highs have this program where anyone with certain low grades is mandated to this after school study program. Last year, I had the lowest grades overall that I ever had first semester and when I talked to the rest of my teaching team, they were dealing with the same things. There were many teachers starting to play the blame game (including myself), but one thing I’ve learned from the #MTBoS is that we need to teach our learners the behaviors and procedures we want them to use. So second semester I started to add Sara’s Advocating Forms to my Algebra I class. My thought was that I had to teach these freshmen that they need to advocate for themselves in high school. The ones that really needed it had been told when and where to get help up until now.

The way I introduced it was that I was giving my classes a super easy way to not only get points but also to help them help themselves. I told them that there were many of them who didn’t need this assignment because they already did everything they needed to do to get help for themselves. So the only thing they needed to change about what they did was to bring the form and get it signed. Other learners needed to make an extra effort to come in to me or another teacher for help outside of class. I really stressed the outside of class, and that they could only do one in each time frame (like they could do one in Pride Time and one after school that same day, but couldn’t do two in Pride Time in the same day). But I also added a little bit to it that Sara didn’t mention. My Algebra I classes are so mixed in ability levels that I know there are also students that needed challenges that I just wasn’t reaching enough. So I also added that I knew there were learners that didn’t need help at all outside of class, so it was time for them to advocate for themselves that they needed challenges. Those challenges could only come from me, and it was the only advocating form they could work on during class (if it was an acceptable time to do so). Sometimes I had a challenge made up on a printout, sometimes I just asked them a verbal extension question that they would then write down.

I am so happy to say that this Advocating Form assignment helped so much for every single one of my students. I am for sure introducing this again very soon for my Algebra I learners this year. (I didn’t see the need to do this in my Honors Geometry class last year, but will re-evaluate if I need to do it for them after the first unit.)

Here are the files I modified for my use from Sara:

Advocating Form Assignment and Forms (docx)

Advocating Forms (pdf)     Advocating Form Assignment (pdf)

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I was so pleased that my learners did not just come to me for help. I had the football players asking the two math teachers that were football coaches because they already hung out in their rooms. I had learners asking their science and social studies teachers because that was who stayed after school that day (and those teachers came to me later saying they enjoyed realizing that they still knew some high school math!). But mostly, I had students coming to me during Pride Time or after school. We have a 25-minute Advisory period in the middle of the day where 3 days a week the learners can choose what teacher they want to meet with using a website called FlexiShed. Every teacher offers help, but the sessions fill up quickly because only 20 seats are available unless teachers raise the limits. First semester, this time in my class was maybe 50% productive. Second semester, it was 110%. I would have some Pride Times where I’d barely get to everyone for help, and I started to sign off on when I saw them ask other students in my Pride Time while they were waiting for me. Also, in my school all teachers are required to stay until 3:30, but the last bell rings at 3:18. First semester, I spent those twelve minutes monitoring the hallway for a few minutes while learners packed up, and then just went into my room and got work done/packed up. Second semester, I’d still spend those first few minutes in the hallways, but then I had usually 2-5 students come to my room. And they’d rarely be there past 3:30. My learners started to understand that asking a question doesn’t take more than a few minutes! And sure, I had some learners that waited until the last minute to get help and some that didn’t complete the assignment in the end, but overall it made a noticeable difference in attitude and (perhaps more importantly) grades. I had comments from my learners and parents that they really appreciated the little push to get in the habit of asking questions. Their other teachers saw a difference, too!

Another thing that my team did to help motivate learners was to have them track grades. I chose to do this every Friday (or end of the week). I made this Grade Tracker for my team:

Grade Tracker (docx) and  Grade Tracker (pdf)

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I would say that the grade tracker really helped my freshmen who were coming from Standards Based Grading and not being able to fail a class to a traditional grading system really understand their grades more. There were no surprises anymore.

When I first joined the Freshman Academy at my school, I’ll admit that I didn’t quite buy into the belief that the transition from junior high to high school was important to acknowledge. I understand more now that there’s way more to teaching freshmen than just algebra.

Quelquefois, je pense que ces jeunes étudiants sont extraterrestres.



How I’ve Been Doing HW This Year

My biggest complaint from students is that I give too much homework/never give class time for homework. My second biggest complaint from students is that I don’t grade enough homework. Guys, come on, make up your mind!


So here’s what I’ve been doing (things have been adjusted over time but I’ve been doing it this way since the semester started):


  • Assign up to 10 HW problems per class (which means every other school day since I’m on A-B block scheduling)
  • Have told students that they should never spend more than 30 minutes on homework
  • Use a HW packet for the unit (new this semester)
  • At least 3 problems are from the section they were working on that day and at least 3 problems are from previous sections/units (my attempt at spiraling homework – new this semester)
  • Answers are always provided in the packet


  • Roll a dice (or a student rolls it if they want to) at the beginning of class and do whatever the result says to do:
    • Even: No Grade
    • 6: Reward (I’ll pass around my bag of treats)
    • Odd: Grade (completion)
    • 1: Collect (grade for accuracy)
  • ALSO, 1-3 HW problems are written on the board before class starts and before the warm up is done for the day, students sign up to present those problems to the class
    • Students must present 4 HW problems in the semester
    • Presentation points are only given if the presenter talks through how they solved the problem
    • Presentation points can be given if the student answered the question incorrectly, but is able to work out how to get the correct answer from class participation
  • I always accept homework late for a 10% deduction
  • Even if I’m not putting a grade on the homework that day, I still put it into the gradebook as an assignment that doesn’t count toward their grade so I can track who’s doing/not doing it consistently. I just started this this semester along with the caveat of having 75% of homework complete before being able to do a reassessment.

My reasoning:

  • Homework helps retention so it should be assigned and (hopefully) completed
  • Students spend enough time during school working in class, so the time they spend on math outside of class should be meaningful (short and spiraled)
  • Homework is practice and there’s no way for me to know who’s really doing it, so shouldn’t be part of the grade, but I have to have it be a grade so I make it minimal
  • Students benefit from speaking in front of their peers and also their peers benefit from seeing math be explained by other students

I like this and I dislike this.

Ok after this point this post turns really long (as if it wasn’t already) and kinda emotional so really what it comes down to is how do you do homework in your class? Comment or tweet if you want to share.

If I was really doing what I wanted, I’d have no grade for homework but I already get enough push back from barely having homework as part of the grade. Last semester it turned out to be about 10% in each class. I would DEFINITELY keep the presentation part (which I totally stole from my old Physics teacher) because it’s honestly awesome. It’s something I can tell parents about and kids can be proud of and I also let my really shy students just come in and do it for me only but then they’re guaranteed to get questions about it from me. That’s the tradeoff. But honestly the presentation part is great.

I was a student that always did my homework because, to me, it was my job as a student to get it done. Math homework was always the easiest for me to do because it was usually just a bunch of exercises on one or two topics I just saw in class that day. In my classes now, the feeling I get from my students is that homework should be done in class and should be part of their grade so that they can get good grades just by attempting/writing anything for their homework. I actually got this as a response from a student in my first unit reflection at the beginning of the year:

Im actually getting all good grades in all of my classes, and I take this stuff seriously. Having one F or D and the rest are all A’s doesnt look that great. And like coming in this year i was super confident about math because i got AN A in math class last yearrr and I literally had no idea what was going on in that class and what the teacher was talking about but I still did well somehow. I always did my hw, which is why it so valid to always grade hw, for kids like me. And I always got good grades on my tests. I dont remember the last time I got a D or an F. Or really, to be honest, even a C ! So hm. I know I could be doing so much better… but really, I just dont understand the concept of most maths and thats just all there is to it. Some teachers are better at understanding that than others, I guess

And that was rough for me to see at the beginning of the year. And it wasn’t just this student saying it, she was just the one that wrote it out. I had a parent who is an elementary school teacher tell me that she would never “do this” to her students. However, what the kids didn’t realize at the beginning of the year is the power of reassessments.

I did start the year off with some not-so-awesome grades. Part of that had to do with my school’s grading scale:

That grading scale has since been removed by my principal. So my grades went up but still weren’t awesome. Apparently my class was hard. The (lack of a lot of) homework part of my grade took most of the blame. I blamed it on me not preparing my students well for assessments. Looking back, it think the blame should go to both me and my students not really being ready for each other.

So last semester for all of my classes, things ended ok. Students were starting to see that reassessments were good for them and also helped them with final exams in the end. This semester, students are doing their homework more. I’ve heard/seen comments about the fact that they realize the homework helps them be prepared for assessments, the packets help because they can do the homework at school during study hall and then ask me questions before they go home or get to class, and that me choosing which ones are being presented has helped them get their presentations done earlier (I used to have it just be presentations if anyone had a question on a problem). I have noticed more homework completion and I thought it may be because the students still see every assignment in the gradebook, so I’m getting more late work turned in. Homework presentations have been so much better, probably because of the higher completion.

But in the end, should it really be about how much homework gets completed? I should be more worried about how much students are learning. I think that on an A-B block schedule, homework is essential practice because my students have to regularly go 2-3 days without seeing the material and sometimes (like this week or if they’re absent) go up to 6 days before being back in class. I struggled with retention last semester and I’m struggling with it less this semester. But it’s still a struggle.

This post went in a lot of different directions and is probably hardly coherent but I’m not gonna proofread it at this point so I’m just gonna post it. Can you tell me how you do homework? I’m very intrigued by Jonathan’s post on Infinite Sums about his homework structure in his calculus class. I plan on adjusting my homework policy as I move more and more towards SBG, as well.

Pourquoi les devoirs? Je veux savoir la solution à ce problème mais je n’ai pas de grille de réponses.

Day 4: Bingo Review and First Test

Today started by continuing to look at basic composite area/perimeter problems. All that was used was circles, rectangles, and triangles. I gave students one of those Geo Joke worksheets with the corny jokes. The students loved it! I remember loving them too, even though the jokes are so bad. I feel like it has something to do with the answers being there so they can immediately check if their answer was correct or not.

We then started looking at special angle pairs – vertical, supplementary, complementary. We did our first proof to prove that angles supp to the same angles are congruent and I didn’t force a 2-column proof on them. I actually like the 2-column proof because it is very clear that every statement needs a reason, but I also went through four years of being a math major and if you did a two-column proof in a 400-level math class you would just get laughed at. So I accept paragraphs or bullets as long as each statement has a clear reason.

I also handed back their first quiz and didn’t have a score or any points on it a la Ashli Black. I saw this video last summer and was absolutely amazed at this concept of not putting down a grade for the student, but was way too scared to try it in my school. In summer school I have a little less stress from administration and parents. In this district they want it to be clear to students how many points each question is worth, so the students could figure out probably what their grade approximately was, but I just wrote a lot of feedback. Even with the quiz only being 2 pages, 6 questions and me only having 17 quizzes to grade, it still took me a solid hour to finish them all. I wish I had a stamp for the commonly used feedback items. I will admit, I was a little bummed by the lack of shock and response from my students. I know it’s summer school but they were still just silent getting them back. A kid asked if their grade was in the gradebook and I had to say that it would be. Maybe it won’t make such a positive shift away from grades. Maybe it was just because it was the first assessment. Maybe it was because it was 9am on a summer day. We will see how they react when they get their test back tomorrow with no grade. This time, I will not go over the answers to the test – that also could have been why there was little reaction.

We did our first review game – Math Bingo. I would share but it was pretty bad. I mean the kids were all over it – once again, it’s like an answer bank given to them. But I totally messed up their answer bank. I had made copies of an old bingo sheet I had from last year without remembering that I had changed it so only about half the answers were the same. I still had a few bingos but it stressed kids out that their answers weren’t showing up and ultimately might have hurt more than helped some of them. Oh well…I can’t beat myself up over it.

Quelquefois, ca ne va pas comme tu t’attends, mais tu apprends de ces moments.