Episode #125: Why Diagnostics Should Drive Your Instruction – An Interview With Kat Hendry

Apr 19, 2021 | Podcast | 0 comments


Today we speak to Kat Hendry a teacher from Jon’s hometown of Kingston Ontario! 

Kat has shown her passion for MANY areas of mathematics education, however in particular, she’s very keen on the importance of diagnostics and descriptive feedback in math class and has been digging into why we need to focus more attention in this area. 

Stick around and you’ll learn: how to start your journey to implement diagnostics and descriptive feedback effectively without keeping up at night worried with overwhelm, and the 5 phases of a diagnostic so you can utilize them in your teaching.

You’ll Learn

  • How to start your journey to implement diagnostics and descriptive feedback effectively without keeping up at night worried with overwhelm. 
  • The 5 phases of a diagnostic and how to utilize them in your teaching.
Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


Kat Hendry: Every district usually buys some form of diagnostic for numeracy. I think it's really important that wherever you're starting as an educator, that you take the time to find out what diagnostics are in your building and read the instructions. Because, one of the things like for my own board that every single school has a Prime crosstalk ...

Kyle Pearce: Today, we speak with Kat Hendry, a teacher from Jon's hometown of Kingston, Ontario. Kat has shown her passion for many areas of mathematics education. However, in particular, she's very keen on the importance of diagnostics and descriptive feedback in math class, and has been digging into why we need to focus more attention in this area.

Jon Orr: Stick around and you'll learn how to start your journey to implement diagnostics and descriptive feedback effectively, without keeping you up all night worried with overwhelm, and you'll learn about the five phases of a diagnostic, so you can utilize them in your teaching.

Kyle Pearce: Hey there, cue up that music.
Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: I'm Jon Orr. We are from at Make Math Moments. We are two teachers who together ...

Kyle Pearce: With you the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide, who want to build and deliver problem-based math lessons that spark curiosity ...

Jon Orr: Fuels sense-making...

Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Jon, today, we get the awesome opportunity, the honor to bring in a good friend and colleague, and I guess a neighbor or a former neighbor of yours from Kingston, Ontario. Our friend Kat Hendry is going to be joining us for an awesome discussion. We can't wait to bring this to all you Math Moment Makers out there.

Jon Orr: Yes, I'm super excited. Let's dive right in right away folks. Here we go.
Hey there, Kat. Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast. We are so excited to have you on the show today. We know you from way back and shadow with you many times, but super pumped that you are joining us here. We're going to kick things off, but just how are you doing today in this time? It's kind of a weird time.

Kat Hendry: Thanks. Thanks for having me. I'm doing well. I think we are all about to hit a fun stress level, but I think that's pretty normal.

Kyle Pearce: Absolutely, absolutely. Well Kat, listen, we know you very well, being a fellow Ontario educator and being involved with OAME, we get to chat when we get together for our annual conferences. But some of the others in the Math Moment Maker audience may not know about you, so tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your math teaching story and what got you into this crazy world of math education?

Kat Hendry: For me, I was actually a kid that loved art and I grew up loving art and math wasn't very easy for me. But I actually ended up having this grade six teacher who loved art and math, and he connected them often and he connected them well. Because of that, I started being able to visualize math and it actually helped me a lot, because I ended up like, even now, when I'm thinking about how things connect, I always have the visual in my head and how that's going to interplay with the algebra, and if I can bring that forward for students.
He was a great teacher and it was like, right timing, right place, right concepts that he brought together and so I really appreciated him. That's where my love for math started, because someone connected it to something else that I already loved. I ended up when I went to school, I had applied for a math degree and for Con Ed, but I'd also applied for medical school and other things at the same time, so like crosstalk.

Jon Orr: You're like, "Let's see what my ... where I get in decides where my path is going to lie."

Kat Hendry: Yeah. I totally like was like, "Let's see what sticks." But it's funny because my goal when I had applied to university was to become a math and physics teacher. I got into a bunch of different things and then it was like, "Okay, now I have to decide." I thought the whole process was going to happen, because somebody else was going to make me decide. Then it was like, "Oh God, I really have to think about this." I think it was like because I had this one teacher and I had several other teachers right after that teacher that really helped me to fall in love with science and math, and the visual side of all of that, that I was just really, really lucky, I think.
But when I decided on Con Ed and I decided on ... I went to Queens. I ended up teaching internationally for a few years, and just a lot of things clicked for me when I was teaching internationally. I started to take my ESL specialist and I thought, "There's a lot behind language and mathematics that is often unexplored." Then when I moved back to Canada, I lived in Bellville and then I started having more questions about language and mathematics, and I ended up bouncing around for a couple of different boards before I landed in Kingston again.
The really interesting piece is that, I ended up moving to Limestone District at the same time as I started my master's in math education, and I ended up working on ... My master's was all about those questions that were coming out from language, from visual cues. I had been working in Bellville for three years where I taught, it was grade nine applied twice a day for three years, and I loved that program and I loved those kids. The things that you watched as they grew, it was so powerful, but there was always this piece about language that really held the kids back.
I didn't know how to improve it. I was working on a course in special education at the time, and the instructor of the course was like, "You have a lot of questions, and I think you should actually think about doing a research project or research program because some of your questions, you might be able to find strategies and programs that would help you address those." Anyway, it was a lot of like the right time in the right place thing. But I ended up doing a master's totally based on linguistics transference from the teacher to students.
It was really cool because it came like, what I had discovered, I guess, is that it takes about three days for the academic language that we have as educators to transfer to students. If we're not using that academic language, then students won't use it, won't pick it up and then they can't fall into their highest potential for their use of academic language.

Jon Orr: Right. Yeah. That's super interesting. I didn't know that stat, and it makes sense. When you said three days before it transfers, it just immediately reminded me, I don't know if this is going to sound silly, but it immediately reminded me of trying to get my kids, my own personal kids to eat food when they were young. You have to try, in order for them to ...

Kyle Pearce: They didn't eat any food, Jon?

Jon Orr: You know what I mean? You're trying to get them to like carrots or something, and it's the first time they eat it. They spit it out when they're a toddler or younger, and you're like, "Well, yeah ..." You read this study. You have to introduce food 15 times before they're going to like it, and I'm like, "Okay, well that just registered as a memory to me for what you just said about language," and it makes total sense. If you're going to use the language, the first time you hear that word or phrase or a connection to what you're teaching, kids are just going to be like, "I don't have to think about that because they just said it."
But if you continually use it, it makes a lot of sense. What I really enjoyed about your story was that, you said you were in the right place at the right time, but it was like, it seemed to be you followed so many of your passions. They all connected together. You're talking about your art background that connected into going over and using it in this place, and then that sparked this interest in language. I feel this all flowed in this nice, almost like destined way to where you are now and maybe even further.
I found your story very interesting. I'd never heard all that before Kat. We do want to connect it back to your teacher too, because we often ask or always ask our guests on the show to talk about a memorable math moment. It sounds like you had one from that teacher, but I want to give you a chance to articulate that, or maybe talk about a different one. Maybe there was more to that, but is there anything else you'd like to add about your most memorable math moment before we dive into some of the discussion here today that we're going to continue with?

Kat Hendry: Yeah, probably I might talk about the grade six teacher just for a minute more, but there's actually another teacher that really sparked my career I think. But my grade six teacher, one of the things that he did is he transformed fractions for me. He did it through art club. Do you remember ... I don't know if this is like something everybody did when we were kids, but when you're trying to draw a picture, but you're trying to blow it up, that you would make a grid and you would section it off ...

Jon Orr: I do remember that.

Kat Hendry: ... and you'd transfer it over bit by bit? My grade six art club was, we would do large scale paintings from small drawings that we had done. This teacher had shown me how to enlarge everything, and that to me, it was like an immediate connection to fractions. I understood them. I could apply my multiplication tables to something real. A whole bunch of things clicked for me, and it was all because of that visual.

Kyle Pearce: I wonder as well, and I don't know if this teacher was explicit about the math there, or if that was just a connection that sort of ... I often say it's very easy for us in education, especially we Jon and I, and I know you as well, we promote this idea of investigation of inquiry before students are, or rather than students just being told how to do things. One of the downfalls or one of the pitfalls is that, oftentimes we can give students an experience and in our minds, we just assume that they got it.
We assume that they would pick up what we're throwing down, but that's only happening for some students. Some students make that connection. It seems very obvious to them. Then for this other group, they may not and oftentimes they don't say anything. I'm curious, just throwing it back to you, was this something that, that particular teacher was explicit about to draw that out and ensure that everyone in the room could make that connection?
Or was that something that, I guess we'll call you a lucky one, you were lucky to have that epiphany and go, "Wow, this is fractions," and the teacher's probably thinking like, "Yeah, of course it is?" How did that happen if you ... I don't know if you recall, or if you can explain?

Kat Hendry: I actually remember him leaving the large paper with us or the canvas and saying, "You have to figure how to enlarge this. I've shown you on this previous drawing, so I'm going to leave and you have to figure out how to scale it." I can remember being like, "I don't even know what scaling is."

Kyle Pearce: Hey, give me three more days, right?

Kat Hendry: Yeah.

Kyle Pearce: inaudible that.

Kat Hendry: Yeah. That was the whole thing though, is that it took a couple of days to figure out how to scale that piece. Then I can remember going back and I was like, "I think I've got the numbers worked out and I want to make sure that I've got this before I draw the whole picture out and find out that I'm a whole section short." I went over things with him, and then I can remember saying, "This reminds me of working with my dad in construction, or this reminds me when we're doing flooring and we're putting in tiles."
You know what I mean? I remember putting in a whole bunch of connections for my own home life. I can remember having a conversation about fractions and being like, "Oh, it reminds me of fractions and fraction tiles," but I don't remember us explicitly saying, "Yeah, this is a 100% fractions." But I can remember we danced around it.

Jon Orr: This makes me more curious Kat in the sense that, oftentimes people tell us their memorable math moment, and it relates to something that sparked a change. But you've clearly articulated this connection that drove you through this path, of connecting math and art and visual. I know that many of us, including you are huge proponents of visuals in math class. I'm wondering, how have you used this experience or maybe you haven't thought about it back then, but how is this influenced your teaching method, your teaching style, what you value in your math class in your practice today?

Kat Hendry: One of the things that actually happened is, when I went through school and I went through my faculty of Ed year and did my practicum inaudible to teaching like I was taught, my first few years I definitely was teaching more rote skill sets, et cetera. There was one point when I had moved back to Canada, that I ended up teaching art class and I did that for about a year and a half. I had this reawakening of why am I not teaching math like an art class? Why am I not getting kids to do activities where they can see themselves in the activity?
It's funny, because once I had this thought process, I actually thought about how I was teaching art class and why am I not incorporating math into the art class, and why am I not incorporating science into the art class? Because we would do things like cyanotypes in photography, and you have dark rooms. Why am I not talking about the chemistry of it? Anyway, it just made me realize how interconnected all of our curriculum really is, and it made me think about to be more thoughtful in the process of developing my projects or my questions or my activities in class.
When I was teaching the art classes, I started thinking more about what I was doing, how I was teaching it and how I could connect it, because I'd have classes of 32 grade nines in a studio. With those 32 kids, why am I not taking advantage of this to practice any math skills that I can, because every kid can use the practice.

Kyle Pearce: That's such an interesting realization. I wonder, I was reflecting and I was actually picturing you as if you were a teacher in my first school, Bell River District High School, when I was a teacher in my first five years teaching. I was picturing you in that school, because I was reflecting on, I guess, how limited my own experience was because I only taught math. I didn't get a chance to see what learning looked like in other subject areas. It makes me wonder if that's something that where there's drawbacks, there's pros and cons to every model, but that subject specific model of typically the math teacher only teaches math.
I wonder if that holds us back at all. I know for me, that might be something that I was missing early on and it took me what I feel a lot longer to get out of that gradual release of responsibility approach, where I was doing all the telling and the kids were sitting there just listening. As we continue shifting this conversation along, I really liked your piece about new terminology, new language. In math class, something that I find is a struggle for teachers moving or shifting or slowly transitioning away from more of a lecture format in a math classes, there's this worry of maybe losing rigor.
The word rigor gets used a lot and they worry about things like math facts and they worry about the things that you'll lose if we change. I think there's a valid point for why teachers feel that way, because I think it's really easy for us to swing all the way to the other side and say, "Math is only exploration." That's why I asked you about the intentionality in that art class. Was it explicit that there was a math connection, or are only some going to pick up on it?
Something that really, I think what I really like about your work is that, you have a focus on the importance of the use of diagnostics and descriptive feedback and math class. I think, especially if you are shifting from say a more lecture format, I say more because there's always a variance of how much people do one mode versus another. But if that's heavily note driven in a high school class, and then you want to shift to more of a problem-based methodology, it easy for some of those things to slip through the cracks.
This is where I think your focus on diagnostics and descriptive feedback really can help ensure that we don't lose those things. I'm wondering, what got you honing in on those pieces? Let's start with diagnostics, and why do you think it's so important for you in your classroom for your students?

Kat Hendry: I'm just trying to think about what got me hooked with the diagnostics. I think part of it is, one of the things that I was always strong at, and this started because of something that happened in high school. Do you remember when you're in grade 12 or OIC, you always had to do like independent studies?

Jon Orr: Yes, ISU.

Kyle Pearce: ISU, yeah.

Kat Hendry: We had an ISU in my grade 12 math class, that it was a really different style. You could learn maple, you could tutor a grade nine kid, or you could go and volunteer at the elementary school across the road. I actually went and did the volunteering at the elementary school and I was in a grade four class. When I did that, I actually did a withdrawal support for these grade fours that were struggling. They weren't struggling with the concepts in the math. They were struggling understanding what they were reading.
Most of my time was actually reading the word problems with them, and asking them to rephrase the problem and asking them, "What does it mean to you? Why does it mean that?" What I ended up getting out of it is, I felt like I got this really unique perspective on these kids because I got to see the best. I got to see the best of those kids, because they got all my attention for 20 minutes and it was just them, and they got to tell me everything they knew about math and they knew it. I think that's the thing with the opportunity for diagnostics is, whether it's an interview or a written paper diagnostic is, you're getting to know your kids and getting to know your kids is building a relationship.
You're telling them that you care about their academic success, which in turn means that you care about their futures. I think that that's something that teachers do. We all care about our students' success and their futures. But I think that we don't always say it and we don't always have these things that show it per se. I think that doing the diagnostics, you get to see who your kids are as individuals, how they think. You get a little bit of, if you're doing interviews, you get something LIKE alone time with them.
But even if you don't do the interviews and you do the paper-based diagnostics, then when you're going over that data with them, once you've checked them over and you're talking to the kids about their skills or their skill gaps, you're developing a relationship that's telling them, "I really care about you, and I want to see these gaps closed." I think that that development of that relationship, what it does in the long run is, when you go back to that and you reassess them later on and you can show them your growth, the growth that they're going to have, and you're going to feel pride.
They're going to feel success. Even if they're not where they should be in terms of their grade level, they're going to feel so good about all the accomplishments that they have had through that time that you've been together.

Jon Orr: I wanted to get a visual here, because I think when people say diagnostic or diagnostic assessment, I think a lot of teachers are going like, "Is it a quiz that I give them? Is it a test that I give them on paper?" Or like, "Is it a math test?" The way you're talking Kat, it sounds a little bit like that, but a little bit maybe different. I'm wondering, what does your best or your good practices in designing these things? I know that it does make a lot of sense to say, you're trying to get to know the students.
Some people will argue that I don't need a test to kind of; I just listen to them during an assignment or their work period. What is a best practices look for you so that we can get a good picture of what you think it is good? Because people are going to be like, "Well, she's talking about diagnostic. I'm just going to go give them a little quiz right now."

Kat Hendry: Yeah. When I'm talking about diagnostics, a loose definition of them would be something that is a standardized, diagnostic, test assessment that has been developed by a source that is grade level appropriate, or checking for skills that lead to the grade level that I'm working in. Most schools have bought diagnostic packages. Over the last few years or in the past few years, I had worked as a consultant. One of the diagnostics that I work with was the Prime number and operations diagnostics, through, they're inaudible developed.
I personally really like that one, but I like it, I think because of how strand particular it is. I like it because I can see where it's going. I can see its connection to the curriculum and it works all the way through elementary. When I get kids in grade nine, I can actually use the last end of the diagnostic test because they have parts like ABC through to F and G sorry, G I think. I guess I'm just going to continue to list off alphabetical turns. Then the last section of the diagnostic, you can use it just to check, to see where students are with decimals, fractions, percentages.
That's usually a big hit for grade nines when they come in is that, they don't really understand rates and they don't understand fractions and decimals and percentages truly.

Kyle Pearce: I can totally relate because in my district we also have Prime. In particular we generally focus on number and operations. It's interesting because I'm so happy you described, well, first of all, one that I know, because now I'm like, "Okay, we're on the same page here." It was going to be a question I'd asked later about trying to clarify, because sometimes when people hear us talk about certain terms, they have a vision in mind of what that might be, what it might look like and sound like.
When using the Prime Diagnostics, sometimes I think teachers feel maybe overwhelmed when they hear the term diagnostic, and they think that before every single lesson thou shall do a diagnostic assessment on the area of a trapezoid, or whatever the topic may be, almost niching down to the point where it becomes overwhelming and probably not that helpful. Do you mind giving just a broad sense of one of these, they call them tools? Then maybe we could talk a little bit about the phases, the five phases that are shared through Prime, because that might give people a better idea of like, "Okay.
This is, I guess, how often I would be using this particular diagnostic," not suggesting they can't use others, but just to give them a sense of what that looks like, sounds like.

Kat Hendry: Yeah, I am just going to mention like, so every district usually buys some form of diagnostic for numeracy. I think it's really important that wherever you're starting as an educator, that you take the time to find out what diagnostics are in your building and read the instructions. Like first off, just read the instructions.

Kyle Pearce: That's important, yes.

Kat Hendry: Yes, because one of the things for my own board that every single school has a Prime kit for a number and operations, and there's also leaps and bounds, et cetera. There's a few other kits that are around by different publishers. I think that it's important just to know what your school has and where it's kept, if you need to copy things because having those copies ready to go actually makes it a much smoother process. Anyway, I just think it's really important for us to know what you have in your building, because you shouldn't ...
They are expensive kits, and they should be used because they're often very, very well developed. They've been well thought out of, or at least like you can see parts of what you would need from them. One of the things that I did two years ago, a couple of years ago, I guess that was really exciting for me was, I did a diagnostic project with a school that we took diagnostics with Prime for both number and operation for all students grade one through four. We did this at one site, and there's about 20 to 25 kids in each class that we worked with.
One of the things that we did is, our goal was to learn about the Prime diagnostic for the year, and to see if using a diagnostic would impact our teaching focus. Surprise, surprise, it really did. It was actually shocking how much it impacted, how we thought about the students, what their skills were and what we would do. The first thing we did is, we broke down the Prime package. We looked to see what it was. We saw that there was the five phases.
We looked to see what it meant to be pre-phase, what the curriculum grade levels were that were associated with the phases, so that we had a good idea of when kids were at appropriate ages. We just got used to what the kit looked like and the packaging, and then I went and for primary it's pretty heavily interview-based. You either would need a couple of days as a teacher just to do all the interviews, or you'd have to space it out over a couple of weeks and just to do them one by one. You know what I mean?
It takes about two days just to get all the kids through. That was the one thing about our primary diagnostic project that was beautiful is that, there was somebody attached to be able to do that that could read the data. Once we took the data, all the scores, you either get two or one or zero on each question. What we did is we color coded them on a spreadsheet, and we had every kid entered into a class list and we coded it, so that green was, you got two points on a question and yellow was one point and zero was red.
But what it did is, it automatically switched all of those values so that it was color coded, and you could see in our grade one class, when we looked at it, there was a hard line of red for every student, because they couldn't bond to five. When we have kids entering in grade one and they don't know that one finger and four fingers make five, and it's a really clear hard line, that's your first thing you're going to work on with your class, because that's something that they should already have, or should be working on in the first couple of months.
That it bonds to five, they should have by the end of senior kindergarten, and so that was something we referenced the curriculum. We'd check back against what should kids already have and what should we be learning through the year? When we got to the operations diagnostic and they couldn't add past, I think one of the questions like seven plus four or something, that's age level appropriate, because getting over the 10 is something they're learning to do in grade one. When you see that first test A that they hit a wall really quickly in operations that makes sense for grade one, because they haven't learned a lot of operations.
But for number sense, half of that first one should be green, but you would of course expect, or you would expect certain things the positioning and ordinal numbers, you expect them to have a certain amount of ordinal numbers already before moving on. The thing that was great about the diagnostics is that, you had this whole class list and your whole class would be read on one question. You would go and think about like, "What are all the questions that are like this one? What's the curriculum stand?

Kyle Pearce: What do we need to do here, right?

Kat Hendry: Yeah. Then we would have our curriculum out and we would go, "Okay, let's cross reference." Then we'd highlight everything in the curriculum, all the way through all the strands that was related to that question, and they're like, "Okay, so when we're teaching this, we have to come back and hit this harder every time." Then one of the things that we did that this is actually really neat is so, we used one of the books called Taking Shape and What to Look For.
We took all the games out of those books and we related them back to wherever there was an issue in the whole class problems, so on the diagnostic anywhere there was majority of the class was red on a question, and we took those games and used them as gap closure methods. We took all of our daily number talks and we used them to gap close. Then once we closed the gap, then we'd use those number talks to start to promote new curriculum.

Kyle Pearce: Love it, love it. That's a great rundown of Prime. I know we've got a boatload of additional questions to dive into. I know in our district actually, Prime was introduced to our district by Anne Pigeon. She was a student success officer at the ministry, and now is back in the classroom in Thames Valley is the district that she was coming from. Anne helped our district, helped expose us to Prime. We've done a lot of work with the number and operations kit. And like you've described here, it's so important that it's not an assessment where it's like, you want all your kids to be green necessarily.
Depending on the tool that you use, they might be exactly where you're hoping based on the curriculum and developmentally, and you'll still see some red because those were concepts that you'll either be dressing that year or maybe in future years. It really gives you just a, we'll call it a bird's eye view of where students are. The questions are very simple. For example, one that I'm going to throw out, I can't remember which tool. Sometimes the questions appear on more than once, like on one tool and on another tool.
It was written in standard form for fractions. I believe it was nine over 10, is it closer to zero or one? Or it was something along those lines or it might have been a decimal, zero, decimal nine.

Kat Hendry: Is one tenth closer to zero.

Kyle Pearce: One tenth.

Kat Hendry: Then it's like, is zero decimal nine or nine tenths, closer but it would ...

Kyle Pearce: And you can always ask them how they know, which is great if you're actually doing interview style or ask them to model it. But how many students will say one tenth is closer to one, because there's a one in the fraction or at least that's the assumption you might make, or you ask them why, and it is shocking. Or when they ask it to place a fraction on a number line between zero and one, very telling of what's happening here. I'm right with you. I'm connected, but I know Jon's there and I know Jon is less familiar with Prime.
Jon, I think has a couple of questions, some clarifying questions for you. Hit us, Jon with a question that you or someone who's listening might have, who aren't familiar with Prime?

Jon Orr: That's me. I was going to think of the alternate angle here, but Kat I'm wondering, Kyle being, you both have had consultant experience and also high school teaching experience. I'm just a high school teacher, not a consultant. I don't have a lot of elementary experience in this with what Kyle said about Prime and other diagnostic packages. But I'm wondering first is, this diagnostic assessment is iterative, like every strand or is this something you do at the beginning of the year, and then you keep track of it over time?
Or is this like you had alluded to earlier, every lesson or every couple of lessons? Can you give me a timeframe on what this looks like, just so listeners also know what we're getting into?

Kat Hendry: Yeah, no. Perfect. What I usually do with diagnostics is, so in high school I give ... For grade nines, I would do the diagnostic the first week, but intermingled with other activities. We might be doing an activity from the imagination or not the imagination week, from one of inaudible activities.

Kyle Pearce: Inspirational Math.

Kat Hendry: Thank you, that's what it is. But once we've worked on an activity for a little while, then we take a portion of the class and work on a diagnostic for part of the class, just to have calm, quiet before we leave the room. Then to get one of the diagnostics sets, it'll take about an hour. If I've split it across a couple of days, I'll only give them a certain number of the pages and then check them as I go. But then what I can do is, I mark them and then come back to the kids, so if there was a student that did particularly low on just the fractions, but they were fine with the decimals, when I call them up to go over the diagnostics, I have them all set of goal.
I'll talk to them first before I set the goal is just about, like, "I noticed that you did this, but you were fine when it was in decimal form. I'm just curious, how do you feel about fractions? What do you think about them? Is it something that you feel really strong? It's a skill set that you have, or is it something that sometimes you feel you know what you're doing or sometimes you struggle with it or whatever?" I let them talk. Usually what happens is, if they have something like that, where it's like one form they're really strong and one they're not, they've been using a calculator since the introduction of fractions, and they've just associated the decimal number with that fraction, and they've never learned how to deal with a fraction, so they actually have a huge gap of what fractions are.
It's something that when you're talking about fractions, you have to go back and remediate all the time, all the way through the course. When you realize that that's so important for the instructional practice for the rest of the semester, but it's making sure that that's a clear note in your planning documents, that for maybe five kids have that happen when you come into grade nine. That always happens within the first two weeks, where I get the number diagnostic side done and the operation done.
Then what I do with that is, I have the kids make individual learning goals. Some kids will be like, they'll cap out and there'll be fine. Their diagnostic says that they're right at the grade level for all topics. I'll have those kids create independent goals based on communication. Like, what's your communication goal for math this year? How will we communicate to other people orally, with diagrams or with my written work? What's your goal? The kids who need the more specialized gap closure goals, we go through and we find things in their diagnostics and those diagnostic pieces will inform what their goal is.
I had one student last year, whose goal was to be able to move between fractions and decimals more fluently. What they did is, their parents wanted to support, because they were sure that their child had a gap because I'd called home and talked to the parents as well, and they were sure that their kid was going to have a gap on this diagnostic. The parents asked for gap closing documents to be sent home. We use the EduGains gap closure. I can't remember, it's called gap closing, I think.

Jon Orr: Yeah, I think that's what it is.

Kat Hendry: We sent that home and they worked on some of that independently, and then every once in a while I would check in with that student. It was a lot more like, because your gaps in grade nine, because it's been streamed, some of the gaps are big for some of the kids, but usually we only have one or two that are big gaps and one stream. Then when you're looking at another stream, so say you're in the applied class, you'll have gaps, but there'll be more whole class gaps.
The way that it's streamed has actually made it so the gap closures can be, some of them you'll have the odd one that's very deep, but it's, they are closable, we can get there. It's just whether or not the kid wants to commit to it or not, because it is work and it's worked for them.

Jon Orr: That just brings up, I think one of our last questions here is that, especially in the beginning of the school year, we're trying to set the stage for that math class. It might be different than your previous math classes. We've talked a lot about that here on the podcast; on we want our class to be a welcoming place. We want it to be a place of growth and it makes sense to set these goals up for students, and when they see the results of a diagnostic assessment. I'm wondering, how are you helping students with say math anxiety around taking a test or short diagnostics?
I know that when I do this in high school, when I say, "We're going to do a diagnostic," early on, you can see the anxiety levels rising because they're thinking, "All right, already at the beginning there, I have a test to take." It's hard for them to differentiate between diagnostic and test, because they really think it means, "I'm getting assessed on skills," but it's going to be inaudible. I'm wondering how you're helping your students or the students that you've helped in the past deal with say, communicating mindset around using diagnostics or having them take a diagnostic so early.

Kat Hendry: Yeah. One of the things that I do with my classes is, I'll call ahead and talk to parents and just let them know, like, "This is how my class is structured. We do spiral. I do diagnostics very early on. The diagnostics are not used to change pathways. They're not used in any way to grade your child. They're used for my planning and to help your child set goals in math class." Having that communicated home I think is huge, because it helps with parents understanding, so that they know what's happening and they'll be able to talk to their kids as it comes up.
Then when I hand them out, before I do that ... We've usually had a few classes where we've been doing other things and some activities. By the time that they get the diagnostics, they've been prepped for it in terms of like we've had conversations leading up to it. I do always say like, "This is not something to worry about. I don't want you to ... You will not be graded on this in any way. You're not being judged. What this is doing is helping me plan, and if we have gaps, is it better to close them? Or is it better to let them grow?"
Most of the kids get that idea, and because it's something that we regularly come back to, they want to close the gaps and they want to show you their growth. It's funny because in different situations across the consulting role and across the classroom, I've had kids who they didn't get something on a diagnostic, and because we had practiced it a few times, or we had done some work, they've come back and said, "All right, I need you to reassess me now because I want you to interview me so you can see that I get this now, and then you can change my diagnostic."
I'm like, "Well, I'm not going to change that diagnostic, but I will update it so that it's there, because I want you to see how much growth you had and how often, and that every time you're willing to put the work in, this is what's going to happen."

Jon Orr: I love that. We're looking at the time and we're going to be wrapping up in just a couple minutes, but I'm so happy that we had the opportunity to dive as deep as we did with a particular tool to give people a sense of what that means to you, to Kat and to myself as well in my role, I look at that diagnostic and they can be used for good or for evil. It sounds like you're using them, by using the diagnostic and informing your practice, informing yourself of where students are along their journey, and ensuring that they know that it's about them in their learning journey, as well as so imperative.
I just think it's great for you as you're planning ahead and trying to figure how you can design your math lessons. It sounds like we often say, "We used to plan our lessons with no students in mind or that one student right in the middle, or that one student who's right where they're supposed to be." What you're doing is you're opening the door to get a better sense of where students at, where are they feeling good that, so I don't have to, I don't want to say it's a waste, but it is sort of a waste of time. It could be better used if I focus on something that they're struggling on versus something that they're clearly comfortable with and doing well on.
I love that, and it sounds like your assessment practice really promotes that growth mindset and that reducing anxiety piece. I want to thank you so much Kat for sharing your perspectives on the importance of diagnostics for our math classrooms. We'll be sure to wrap up all those links with a bow in the show notes, including a link to Prime. If folks are interested, it is what my district uses as well, but there are many others out there. We're not suggesting it's the only, or it's the absolute best. It's the one that we've been exposed to in our district, and it does a great job with getting us started along that journey.
Kat, where can folks find more about you in case they want to touch base, connect, ask you some questions about diagnostics and assessment?

Kat Hendry: I am on Twitter. My handle is @GoslinK123. It's G-O-S-L-I-N-K, one two three, and I answer DMs pretty regularly. Anytime anybody wants to talk, I'm very happy to connect.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome stuff. Awesome stuff. Kat, it's been a pleasure chatting with you. I know I've got some great insights on diagnostics and some other ideas that definitely help me and shaped the way I view say using those tools in my class, thanks so much. I know that listeners are also nodding their heads too. We want to thank you for joining us here and hope you enjoy the rest of your lovely day.

Kat Hendry: Thank you.

Kyle Pearce: We want to thank Kat again for spending some time with us today to share her ideas and her insights around diagnostics and feedback, and all kinds of wonderful work that you, the Math Moment Maker community I'm sure finds valuable and are always looking to build on, as we try to reach every learner in our math classroom.

Jon Orr: In order to ensure you don't miss out on new episodes as they come up each Monday morning, be sure to subscribe over on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast platform, and know that we have lots of new content happening over at YouTube each week.

Kyle Pearce: That's right Jon, we are spending a ton of time doing Facebook Lives and uploading new videos each week to YouTube, to help you the Math Moment Maker community, so make sure you head over to YouTube and smash that subscribe button. Also hit that notification bell and remember, you can find us on all social media platforms by searching for Make Math Moments. Whether it's on Twitter, Instagram, and even on Facebook, we've got a page over there and a Facebook group, so check it out.

Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode125. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode125.

Kyle Pearce: Yes, and you get all kinds of goodies over on that show notes page. Not only those links and resources, but downloadable transcripts. Make sure you check it out. My friends, we are looking forward to the next episode next week. Until next time I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us ...

Jon Orr: And a high five for you.

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