Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When Something Isn't Working, Recognize it and Do Something Different

I have known for about a month that my math class wasn't working. Let me give some background first. This is the first year I have taught math in the last ten. I only have a couple years' experience as it is so I am by no means a master math teacher. Because of my lack of experience I was given the 'high' math group, the idea being that they can learn without me if needed (more on this later.)

I started the year explaining that we were going to spend more time trying to really master the math, not just go through it. To foster that idea, I emphasized that when students didn't show mastery through their assessments they needed to go back, identify the problems, fix the problems and retest. We spent a lot of time after every assessment modeling that behavior. It seemed to work very well as long as the math was easy, it has fallen apart now that it is harder.

A typical lesson runs like this, the first day I would work examples of the new material on the board and then assign practice work for them to do. The answers for these problems are in the back of the book so the students can check their work. The next day I would ask if they had any questions or needed any particular problems shown to them. Usually I ask that question and hear crickets. Then I assign the problems that don't have answers in the back. The third day I answer those questions and do a quick assessment to see if we are ready to move on.

Over time I noticed that several students were not doing the practice work, and doing miserably on the 'ungraded' work. (I try hard to not take grades on any practice.) Not surprisingly, they failed the assessment miserably. I thought they had learned their lesson and they did much better on the make-up assessment a couple days later. I assumed wrong. The cycle is repeating, but their is no drive to learn from the mistakes.

As you can imagine this is a pretty frustrating development. The lack of effort seems to be spreading and I am at the point that I have to change something because this is not working. Do you have any ideas you would like to share?

A Great Time for Reflection

I am using this last full week of class to have my students do a little reflective writing. The topics they can choose from (which you can see on the picture above) can be answered quite simply, but I want them to dig in much deeper.

We need to give our students opportunity and time to think reflectively about lots of things including school. I am really curious to see who chooses which prompt and how they are answered. We will find time this week to share them and hopefully on Friday we will blog them.

What reflective questions do you ask your students?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is School Learning Valuable Enough for the Time Our Kids Invest?

I heard screams coming from outside so I saunter out onto the porch just in time to see my youngest daughter Quinci flying down the hill on a bicycle. She and her older sister Aidan have been "riding" for a few days. By riding I mean they push their bikes up the hill and coast down it. Quinci is getting ready for the new bike she asked Santa for Christmas. Aidan is helping her learn how to ride.

Later Quinci comes to me with a Sharon Creech book in her hand. She asks me when she will be "allowed" to read it. I was a bit taken aback, I didn't realize that kids had to ask permission to read books (especially my kids in my home). I told her she can read anything she wants to and she is now sitting next to me reading The Unfinished Angel.

What do we teach kids at school that is worth 7-8 hours a day that they can't learn on their own? If a seven year old and a ten year old can teach each other to ride a bike, what do they need a teacher for? How much school time is used to teach things only good for the community of school? Why did Quinci think she needed permission to read a longer chapter book than she was used to? These are the questions that make me wonder about what I am doing at school with my students.