Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day 36: The Adequately Laid Plans of Math and Men

I had fun and (I thought) interesting lessons for my classes today and, after spending 20 minutes on my new whiteboard drawing and question, ran into our math coach!

He reminded me that my classes were scheduled to spend the day in the computer lab doing diagnostic testing.

I guess I'm ready for tomorrow!

The CDT test is the only standardized test that I think is worth while.  SBG people would love it too since it's adaptive, provides instant feedback and breaks down the scores by areas of strength and weakness.  It takes a little long, but when the students complete it the second time in the spring, it shows where they have grown and by how much.

What kind of idiot WOULDN'T want to test in here!

Watching student performance on this assessment, I notice a major distinction between my classes.

My geometry students work for proficiency and score.

My pre-algebra students work for completion.

I am wondering, as I often have, if that difference in mentality is what separates these two group, or if separating them created the mentality.

Apparently, research shows that putting mid-level kids with high-level kids pushes the middle kids up and allows the high level to soar.  Putting middle with low does the same.

Putting high with low hurts all of them.  The high level kids aren't adequately challenged and become bored.  The low level kids get frustrated at when they see themselves as being "the dumb ones" in the class and they tune out.

On top of all of that, kids in 8th grade with 3rd grade reading levels are going to be hurt in EVERY class, not just reading.

I don't know the solution, but I do know that what we're doing now isn't working.  I have VERY bright kids in my low-level classes because they were lazy and "failed" before.  They are now bored and disruptive.

I would like to separate my class into two or more groups, but I don't know what tasks to give them.  Differentiation has always been a hated buzzword to me.  My thinking was, and I'll admit still is to a certain extend, that if lessons need to be drastically differentiated, then those students should be in a different class.

And then I covered a class (during my only prep) where the students were slapping each other for fun.

Good times.

After school we had a math department meeting.  My old self came back and I complained about things that the school and the board do for almost the entire time.  I hate doing that, but when I get on a tear, I just can't seem to stop.
WHEW! Much better!


  1. i'm gonna push back a little here:

    What are "high" kids? (and I don't mean the kind toking up in the bathroom)
    What are "middle" kids?
    What are "low" kids?

    What makes them that way? How do you know?

    1. I use those terms because I don't know how else to refer to them. If you have a better terms, I'll adopt it gladly.

      By high, middle and low, I suppose I mean the ease at which students acquire new skills and information. It is not meant to be a judgment by any means, but I think that's why "tracking" gets such a bad wrap.

      A student who gets something on the first time around can help a kid who takes two or three attempts.

      A student who takes two or three attempts can help someone who takes five or six.

      Does that clarify?


    2. Yes it does! But here is the thing: kids 'getting it' is not simply a cognitive accomplishment. It's also a social one. It has to do with their level of confidence, their social and academic status, and a whole host of other things that go into their learning.

      If I were the fairy godmother of you as a teacher, I would want to give you finer language to use around your kids that looked at things like how confident they were and how they participated. There are dozens of reasons why kids end up being high, medium and low, and cognitive ability is just one.

    3. I completely agree! I think that the social aspects go along with why the kids who "get it" shouldn't always be in with those who don't. It shakes the confidence of the kids who don't and they begin to think that they are stupid, when in reality, as you said, there are dozens of reasons why they don't.

      We should continue this discussion to try to refine the language. We spend so much time coming up with buzzwords to talk about new trends in education, but I don't think we focus enough on refining what we have so that it has actual meaning.

  2. I came here to find the fractions post. ha!

    just the same, leaving a comment to say: "I love Firefly!"

    by the way, there are research to show that high-achievers can benefit in a mixed ability class. As I've only taught in schools where maths (yeah, we say maths rather than math in Australia) is streamed based on ability, I can't back that with personal experience.

    anyway, I find that giving students opportunity to teach provides a win-win situation...btw, teaching is a great learning strategy....but also an opportunity to learn/exercise empathy. Maybe your high-ability kids can do this from time to time - not all the time. Maybe ask them, 'how else would you teach this? Show me'.


    1. You're absolutely right! Having the kids teach each other is a great way for both kids to learn. The problem is that if their ability levels are too widely spaced, it creates problems for both. I don't know how universal it is, but in my experience, the high achievers get complacent and frustrated at the pace while the low achievers feel like the "dumb kids" and check out.

      I'll post about fractions tomorrow, I promise! :-)

  3. testing if I can actually post or if #$@# blogspot will lead me to believe it is working and not post my response.

  4. OK - this is so interesting to me. I totally believe in differentiation, not as a buzzword, but as a way to help all students address the content at a level great for them (whether it's a challenging or a basic level or something else). I also believe that rich tasks ARE inherently differentiated. The perennially school-successful students can be so locked into algorithm and playing by the school rules that they sometimes can't even get started by a task that doesn't have a defined path. It truly can work- one time, the least historically-successful student stood up and took over the Alg2 class to explain to these year-ahead-in-math students how to draw a circle with a piece of chalk and string. They were so mired in formulas they couldn't see how easy it was.
    I currently have a student that kids often joke (to his face) that he isn't smart, but I assign status to him whenever I can -- if he raises his hand, I call on him and encourage him. If he has something written down, I ask him to share it with the class. This is a C-D student and before the last quiz, he looked at me and smiled and told me he actually studied for the quiz and knew he was going to do great. I could have melted.
    That being said - the idea of making the kids who get the material quickly being assigned to "teach" it to the other kids bothers me. I totally get that one learns best when one teaches something. So maybe every once in a great while.....but those kids should be addressing the content at their level. (My son hates when he is asked to do that, and don't think it's just happening in your class, it's all day.)

    1. I wasn't thinking of having them teach each other as in the elementary sense of having a teacher's helper. Just careful creation of working pairs and groups so that students with stronger skills can be there to assist students with weaker skills if they need it.

      I would hate the idea of saying "Alright, Phil, now I want you to teach this idea to Mike." I think that puts both kids in a terrible spot.

  5. Oh - I forgot to add that my experience is nothing like what one would experience at a school like Justin's. If a student was reading at a 3rd grade level, he would be in all "supported" classes, so he would have a regular ed teacher and a special ed teacher in the room. The class size would be smaller and there wouldn't be a large range of cognitive ability.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...