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?

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