Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Day 114: Tone

Not all of my students understand my humor.  This has always been true and, I think, it could easily be argued that I'm not funny.

Since I began teaching in 2004, my humor and tone have occasionally put me in hot water to greater or lesser degrees.  I started my career with the idea that if they didn't get my humor, that's on them.  If they were upset by the things that I said, that was their problem.  I knew what I meant and I never intended to upset any students.  They shouldn't be so sensitive.  Give me a break!


Over the years, however, and over the course of many conversations with other educators, I no longer feel this way.

Yes, I still believe that some students can be overly sensitive and can often read way too much into the actions and words of other people.

The difference now is that I realize it doesn't matter.  Intentions are important, but not nearly as much as so impact.  If a student is upset by the things that I may say or do, I need to examine what I'm saying and doing.

That may involve having conversations with them to determine WHY they felt the way that they did, allowing each of us to explain our feelings.

It is never my intent to make students uncomfortable, but I do try to push them out of their comfort zones.

I think there is a VERY strange and difficult balance to be struck between safety and comfort.

No one learns to be a great swimmer by staying in the shallow end.


I don't want to be a drill sergeant, but I also don't want to coddle.

Communication must be the bridge.

Now, to figured out how to take my default tone setting off of "Sarcastic"...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Day 111: In Defense of Speed

Add another entry to the Book of  Regrettable Sentences:

"I don't care how quickly you solve the problem as long as you understand what's going on and can explain it."


So much of my educational career has been spent swinging back and forth between sides of pedagogical theory that you'd think I would be used to it by now.

"Homework in vital in mathematics because it provides necessary practice" became "homework is awful because the kids don't do it and it only furthers their dislike of mathematics" before moving towards "homework should be limited to extensions of class material" and currently residing somewhere around "I don't usually assign homework because it doesn't fit into my grading scheme."



I think there is something valuable about speed in mathematics.  Being able to do calculations quickly provides a certain level of confidence in students, especially those who have trouble distinguishing between mathematics and calculation.  All too often, speed is equated to ease.  I think the reality is that speed is much more correlated with familiarity, which breeds comfort.  I want my students to be comfortable with the mathematics that we're doing in class.

Growing up, my mother frequently told me that if I had spent half as much effort working on something as I did trying to get out of it, I would be able to accomplish great things.  I didn't fully believe this until I became a teacher and had children of my own.

"Dad, I'm tired of cleaning!"
"If you would take more than one toy at a time, you would have been done by now and on to something else."

Today's class was a practice day.  There were 7 single-step inequalities for students to solve and graph and I let them use the whiteboards.

I was stunned by the amount of time that they spent copying the problem, erasing, recopying, changing marker colors, erasing again, perfecting the spacing of their number lines, modifying the arrows on the ends and recopying the problem, all before they even began to work on the task.

This was consistent throughout the classes, with very few exceptions.

I was concerned that this stemmed from lack of understanding about the problem, so I pulled the class back together, and had a student tell me what to write.  I offered no insights and only asked clarifying questions.  The student did an excellent job on the problem and the class followed it well and was able to explain what she was doing.

When I sent them back to the boards, however, they once again drifted off into the nether.  They know how to do the work and, when they focus, they do it well.

So here's the problem:

Letting them work at their own pace isn't working.  Their testudinal movement has the effect making them think that the problems and tasks are MUCH more complicated than they are.

"That one problem took us 5 minutes to do and we're supposed to do 10 of them! I'll never get done. I might as well not try."

When I set time limits, I frequently get students who don't even glance at the task, but instead wait patiently for someone else to do it.  Again, I see this not as lack of understanding, but lack of confidence.

"It's going to take me longer to get started than he's giving us to work on it."


A few years ago, I worked with a teacher who used 3rd and 4th grade speed math sheets as his warm-ups in 9th grade.  Students came into class, left them face down on their desks until he said go.  They then had to complete the page as quickly as possible.

I worried about this at the time, being concerned that kids who finished last would think they couldn't do it.  Now, I'm thinking that having these be low level problems, such as single digit multiplication, addition or subtraction, may help students practice fluency.

It's something I'll have to mull over.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Day 110: Back

I have missed a few days of writing.  I just haven't felt up to it.  Between the political nonsense that has become public discourse and the stress of trying sell our home while trying to find a new one, I've been a bit distracted.

I'm getting back into it!

The Pre-Algebra students took an assessment on Friday about graphing linear equations.  The questions looked like:

Here's an equation. Graph it.

Is this proportional? How do you know?

What values of x make this statement true?


Some of the students did very well, while others did not.

What struck me as particularly frustrating was how several answers were either on the board or on the test itself and still came in as incorrect.

Today, I handed back the quizzes as well as blank copies for everyone.  We went over each problem together while I talked about common mistakes that I saw and how they could be avoided in the future.

I also made it clear to them that if they wanted to reassess, they would need to complete the practice pages that we've worked on together, but that many students have neglected to complete.

In discussions with other teachers about what exactly happened, I've come to conclusion that we are WAY too compartmentalized.

We've been talking very heavily about Skills X, Y and Z.  When I ask them about Skill T, they forget everything that we've discussed about that one and try to apply the process/vocabulary from Skills X, Y and Z.  For example, on previous assessments, when discussing triangles, they often brought up parallel lines unbidden.  Now, in dealing with graphing linear equations, several mentioned similar triangles.



The curriculum that we're using has a tendency (which I love) to go back and build new concepts on older ones.  There is much less traditional practice and many more cognitive tasks.  The kids are REALLY not used to this, even after all of this time.

I anticipate that there will be a HUGE rush for reassessments from September when we get closer to June.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Day 106: Despair?

I want my students to succeed.

I want them to discover what makes them happy and to follow that happiness.  I truly believe that education, whether formal or informal, opens doors to the world.

A common complaint that I have heard from numerous students is that they don't feel as though education is important because they aren't going to be able to escape the small town where they live.

If you believe you are destined to be a manager at the local supermarket, it's very difficult to justify putting full effort into your chemistry class.  I don't blame them at all.  There are those who "escaped" but there are many who stay, either by choice or for lack of options.  A large percentage of the teachers are either alumni or have lived in the town for decades.  While it's not universal, it's very obvious to see why so many students think so.

How do I tell my students, many of whom are low-income, that if they work hard and set their minds to a task, they can accomplish their goals?  How do I tell that they won't be out-maneuvered for a job they want by someone who is unqualified just because they person is rich or knows the right people?

How I continue to believe that we are meritocracy?


I continue to hope.

I continue to push them to be better tomorrow than they are today.

I continue to help them improve because I don't just want a better tomorrow for them, I want a better tomorrow.

I continue to question and to seek.

I remind myself that I know in my heart that this is what I'm supposed to be doing.

I don't have millions of dollars to give to political campaigns, but I have a classroom.  I have a doorway to the future and I help the children under my care to walk through it.

Some will go on to college and some won't.

Some will have jobs they love and some won't.

Some will be happy.

Some will move away.

Some will plant roots right where they are.


I will not despair, I will not give up and I will not give in.

Over the course of my teaching career, I will have 4000 students who will go into the world, both near and far and will pay forward the lessons that I teach them.  Every one of their lives will be different because I am in it.  Every life they touch in turn will be changed as well.

My power is exponential.

I am a Teacher and I shape the future.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Day 104: ReCoop

Yesterday was a bad day.  It was the worst I've had in a while.  I extracted myself from people, did 7.5 miles on the elliptical, got a salad, read a book and went to bed by 8:30.

Today was MUCH better.  My lessons went well and the kids were much more on the ball.

In addition to all of this, I (and the other teachers) have noticed a HUGE positive difference with the student for whom I made the Progress Monitoring Sheet this week.  The student has been proudly showing the positive notes that have been left on the sheet and I'm doing everything I can to positively reinforce the behavioral change.

I'm very ready for the weekend.

I'm going to be a good liberal by getting bottles on wine and writing letters to my legislators.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Day 103: Step Back

I'm not a fan of February.

I need to take a few steps back from my classes.  I'm finding myself snapping at them  and getting frustrated about lack of progress.  My frustration is not solidifying in a productive way.

Here are some things that I'm finding frustrating and concerning and am unable to figure out how to fix:

1) After 103 days of reading the Pledge to Improved Mathematics daily, the number of students who have them memorized is in the single digits.  This doesn't particularly annoy me, but I find it frustrating because I think it's an indicator of deeper issues.  Repeating something verbatim for 4 months should produce  memorization.

2) I ask Question A and several of the students answer Question D.  "Tell me what you notice about the angles of the intersection" received a reply of "the line go off the side of the graph."  While this is accurate, it's not what I asked about.  I have been putting considerable work into my questioning technique and feel as though I've made drastic improvements.  My questions are designed to foster synthesis of ideas and push student thinking is certain directions.  I attempt to lead down a certain path, nudging students towards the information that I want them to discover without actually presenting it.

What I'm finding is that their distraction means that they either don't notice the things that I'm asking them to notice or they are unable to understand the meaning of what they've noticed.

"Tell what you notice about the angles at the intersection."
"The lines go off the side."
"True, but I'm asking about the angles at the intersection."
"They meet at the same point."
"Yes, that's what an intersection is. What about the angles?"
"One line goes up and the other goes down."
"That's true, so what do you notice about where they intersect?"
"The one goes off the edge of the graph and the other stays near the bottom."

I'm trying very hard not to scream in frustration and I'm failing more often than I care to admit.

When I asked a student to read something off of the board today, they looked at the board and read a series of words that were not there.  This student can read, does so frequently and well.  However, immediately after my rant about how they don't read the directions, I asked someone to read the directions and they didn't.


3) I seem to be completely unable to get them to understand how Point 1 and Point 2 can be used to discover Point 3.  I also can't seem to get them to understand that when they are confused about Question 4, to look back at Question 1.




I'm sure I have a more eloquent way to put this, but I'm exhausted, partially from this situation and partially from the various issues that have come from the White House.

Roller skating tonight. I'm going to take headphones to drown out the tweeny-bopper pop music crap and maybe I'll feel better.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Day 101: Progress Monitoring

We had a 2-hour delay, so all of the classes were shortened to about 30 minutes.  The sense of urgency, interestingly, made everyone more relaxed and productive.

I had a prolonged conversation with the parent of a student about how their child is struggling greatly with completing assignments, being productive in class and is frequently distracting to other students.  The parent was just as much at a loss as I was, so I made a suggestion.  I was concerned that the pressure coming from the parent was WAY too long term for the child to truly understand.

"I keep telling (child) that (he/she) isn't going to get into college with (her/his) grades as they are."

This kid is in 7th grade.  I suggested that we focus on something a little more immediate.

In my previous district, there were several students who used daily progress monitoring sheets.  These sheets were quick checklists that needed to be filled out in each period and turned in to the parent at the end of the day.

The parent in this case seemed to think that this was a good thing for us to try.

I quickly composed a sheet and spoke with the other teachers about what they felt should be included.  I printed it out and handed copies to the student's homeroom teacher to hand out each morning.  I contacted the rest of the teachers on this students roster and told them to keep an eye out for the paper until the student gets used to using it.


Rather than punishing a student, rather than yelling, screaming or humiliating them, if I can find a way to help them succeed, I have to try it.

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