Monday, December 9, 2013

Day 68: Progress, Or Lack Thereof

In grading quizzes and make-up work over the weekend, I came to a few interesting conclusions.
  1. My students are, for the most part, acceptable at math.  I'd like them to be better, but their progress is appropriate for the level with which they entered my class.
  2. My students are, for the most part, TERRIBLE at expressing their understanding or their thoughts.
I need to get them talking about, and writing about, math more often than they are.  Not just math, but anything!  When they were asked to produce explanations, I received broken sentences, fragments, or just plain incoherence.

When asked "Why do you think Ponzi schemes are illegal?" I received answers very similar to:

Because you would no get anything well beside the people that send it to you or that you sent to them.

Grammar aside, it still leaves me asking "Ok, but then why is it illegal?"

The whole situation makes me very uncomfortable.  If the students know the skills, great, but it's all for nothing if they can't convey those ideas.

It also came to light that the majority of my pre-algebra students have failing grades.  Most of this is due to assignments simply not being turned in.  I gave out progress reports today that detailed everything they have or have not completed and I think it was a wake-up call to many.

I suppose many of them thought that active participation in class would be enough, but it's clearly not.  I'm once again reminded how dissatisfied I am with the current grading system.  I wish I had Standards Based Grading set-up for the pre-algebra kids.  I know what my goal is for winter break...

When the progress reports were handed out, an outcry went up.  I explained that my goal in giving them wasn't to get the kids in trouble, but to help the see what they still needed to turn in.  I then gave them the period to work on those assignments.

The amount of effort that was put into making up work during today's classes was equal to the total amount of effort put forth in the past 6 weeks.  I was GREATLY impressed with them and learned a valuable lesson for myself.

With the second pre-algebra class, this didn't happen.  Even given a list of assignments that they owed, they made the decision not to work on them.  The average in that class is much higher than the previous class, so it's possible that the grades were not low enough to shock them into action, as happened in the first section.

With the pre-algebra kids, I need to be giving them more updates on a more frequent basis.  I hate holding grades over their heads, but if that's what it takes to get them to work...

I was having a discussion with one of my coworkers about the skills that are so vital to success, but are never tested.  He was as lost as I am about how to teach perseverance, problem solving and literacy when it seems as though so much is stacked against us and the students.

I feel as though I never know which questions to ask them to get the answers I want.  I want to be leading down the path instead of pushing, but they are either unwilling or unable to follow.

I want THEM to be leading ME, but I don't know how to instill the curiosity that would help them drive forward without being led.

I think that I'm doing so well.  Then I give an assessment, or update the grades, and I am filled with despair.  Since my mid-day class doubled in size, the grades, effort and behavior have taken a nose dive.  I know that there will be a period of adjustment, but I'm starting to lose hope.  I don't feel as though I can possibly give these kids the attention they need.  The district has decided that, since this class is mostly composed of "students of need" that the pre-algebra classes are supposed to be small.  Before a month ago, the largest in the school was 20.

Now, instead of 3 classes that were working towards a state of proficiency that was acceptable, there are 2 classes struggling to keep their heads above water.

Before a month ago, my two pre-algebra classes were keeping pace with each other.  This is no longer the case.  Not by a long shot.

Without a higher level of perseverance and adherence to tasks, I can't give attention to the students who need it the most.

But I will continue to try.  I can't and won't give up on them.

I just wish they wouldn't give up on themselves so easily.

I didn't write all of this to start a pity party.  I'm just venting some of my frustration, verbalizing some of the problem so that, hopefully, I can work on a solution.  I found myself tossing stacks of papers in the trash today, looking at lessons that I thought were going to go so well, only to have them blow up in my face.

I hate letting the kids see my frustration, but as the year goes on and I'm not seeing the progress I was hoping for, it's getting harder.  I know that it's not productive and that I have to keep pushing forward, but my energy is waning.

Today was a day to be disheartened.  I'll try again tomorrow.

Also, I've apparently become someone who takes pictures with hats...


  1. Thanks for writing this, Justin. I similarly feel the pressure...I've got a transformations unit coming up, and I'm excited to get my students playing with transparencies and tracing paper and exploring congruence and similarity...but they have to be able to write motion rules with coordinate pairs, and with the time crunch we're on before the end of the second quarter it may devolve into memorization and practice. Similarly, classroom management is my biggest daily challenge this year. I feel like I'm walking a line every day trying to get my higher-skilled students to work quietly so I can pull up a chair with struggling students--not just to get them some support but also just to send the message that I care about them and believe that they can learn if they put the work in. But on bad days, I spend my team putting out fires as kids try to throw erasers or poke each other or generally clown around, and I'm making the bright kids mad as I try to make them do work they know how to do, and leave the generally quiet strugglers to flounder on their own.

    It's a struggle.

    1. For transformations, I can think of nothing better than having them play Swish!

      Another problem is that it's not my high skilled kids who are getting bored and disruptive. It's the low skilled ones. They remain low skilled because when I'm not standing over them, they don't do the work. It's a constant struggle and I feel as though I'm constantly running around the room telling kids to get back on task.

      Part of me thinks that if I just had more interesting activities, they would be on task. Another part says "no! Sometimes you just have to do your work, regardless of how interesting/boring it is!" Perseverance isn't a skill when you're engrossed in the topic.

      My struggling students struggle SO much that pulling a chair up isn't even enough. They need severe intervention that I don't have the time or ability to provide. I don't know how to teach 4th, 5th 6th grade math skills...

      I also have the issue of students looking me in the eye and saying defiantly "I can't do this and I won't try. Do it for me or it won't get done."

  2. I wonder if there's a way to introduce some sort of daily formative assessment so you have a better idea of what they are able to do along the way? I'm still new to formative assessment, so I'm not sure what that would exactly look like.

    1. One of the major problems I'm having is that, for many of my students, if they can't get the answer within 5 seconds, they just refuse to do the work at all. As a result, it's impossible for me to get an accurate picture of what they know and what they don't. All it tells me is that they couldn't get it in 5 seconds.

      Exit slips only work if the kids fill them out... :-(

  3. I share your same frustrations....part of it is the age of these students. They, for the most part, don't see the BIG picture. They, a we were, are very idealistic and all think they are going to be millionaires and won't need any of this. The social aspect of life is the most important tool for their survival.

    This complicates matters these days. Sorry to say this, but these kids having grown up with technology would rather text in the shortened lingo of social interaction than have a conversation. If you don't practice oral communication, you are not very good at it. If you can't speak the language correctly, you can't write it correctly.

    I have been giving back work to be redone (not because I LOVE to grade it twice!). I keep showing them examples of student work that is done well because I don't think they have anything to compare it to except their own poorly done work which they find acceptable! My students are finally catching on...complete sentences, details, examples, show me your thinking! We're nearly half way through the year!

    Grading....very problematic for me also. I have been trying to go to standards based grades but my district is not. So I'm trying to bend my system into a better one. I am required to upload grades through a conventional gradebook onto the district server. It is based on percents and letter grades. So the best I can do is I only check in most homework to show completion. I use it to give me feedback and guide instruction. Skills practice (spiral review) homework IS graded because this is something that is not new - I do give a letter grade. I am required to give progress reports for each of my 150 students every 2 weeks. argh.

    On the SBG side of that, my students can re-do any letter grade assignment at any point (up to a deadline at the end of the quarter) and get 90% credit on homework and full credit on quizzes and tests. Motivated students (sadly enough, usually the mid to highly skilled kids...) are in at lunch to re-do these to improve their grades and show me that they have learned something since the last assessment.

    Down side to all this....LOTS of grading for me. Every day, every weekend....when I'm not grading, I'm planning during my free time. Plans are always changing based on where the kids are the day before. It's very time-consuming and disappointing when the kids are not where I thought they should be on any given day.

    The biggest driving force is that I will NEVER GIVE UP! LOL 34 years later, I'm still doing this because the kids deserve the best I can give. As I try out new methods of teaching and helping my students, I often feel that I'm working harder than they are, caring more than they do, and am learning far more than they show they are. It's crazy!

    Keep on keeping on, Justin! Kids do want structure, no matter what they say. We have to remind ourselves that they are just 11, 12, or 13 in middle school. Their brains are not fully developed yet, so, even when they want us to think they can handle adult things, they really aren't equipped for it YET! You probably are the first person that has really asked them to THINK not just regurgitate answers. They are probing parts of their brains and themselves that have never been explored!

    I hope today is a better day for you! Hang in there!


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