Monday, February 24, 2014

Day 106: Pulling Teeth

Since I gave the geometry students the weekend to finish up their final drafts of the Chapter 4 assessment, I was expecting quality work turned in.  I received quality work from about half of the groups.  Most of them started off VERY well with detailed explanations of their work, but quickly lost the thread and turned to assumptions and just the algebraic work rather than the reasoning.

We also had a long talk about the purpose and definition of the equal sign.  I poked and prodded my students for a definition until one unlucky student said "It's where the answer goes."  I thanked him profusely for saying what the others believed, but clearly didn't want to say.  Then we were able to talk.

Since I want to be emphasizing the methods that they use as well as increased communication, their homework assignment reflected that goal.  They were given time in class to work on their guided notes and the practice problems from the section.  The homework was to pick 2 problems and write a detailed explanation of their work.

This is a skill that is important to me.  No one cares what you know if you can't convey it.

Pre-algebra was...interesting.

I picked 4 proportion problems and we spent the entire class working on them.  I was desperately channeling Tina Cardone and any time a student said "I do the cross product," I asked him or her why it was done and how it worked.  When they couldn't answer me, we went into various other methods.

When they had worked through the problem, me pushing them the whole way, not giving them any hints, I wrote the same problem on the board and asked if there was another way we could do it.

"Is that the answer?"
"I don't know. Let's try a different method and see if we get the same thing!"

Halfway through the class, they started to understand that I wasn't going to give them hints or tell them answers.  They began looking back to how we had done previous problems for methods that they could use.

When I went to put the 4th problem from the set up on the board, a student asked if they could work on it alone before we went over it.

This weekend, I had a long conversation with my mom about expectations and how mine are not being met.  The conclusion that I finally came to was that I don't need to lower my academic or behavioral expectations, but I do need to examine my expectations of what success should look like.

I would argue that that question, coming from that student, constitutes a resounding success.  I was so incredibly proud of her and told her so.  She complained about having a headache, but did so with the kind of smile reserved for someone who knows that they have accomplished something.  "This is starting to get easier."

Did I mention that all of this (in both classes) happened with half of the class loudly talking, laughing and singing?  I made sure to keep an eye out for students distracting those who were working and put a stop to that, but otherwise, no matter how infuriating and disrespectful I found it, I kept teaching those who were engaged.

And they were SO engaged!  They were having arguments and discussions about which method to pick and why a certain method wouldn't work and what they should do.  I gave them candy as a thank you for being on task.

Near the end, several students who had been talking and singing all period asked if they could do the problem.  My first instinct was to say "ABSOLUTELY NOT! You were a jerk all period and now you want to show off?"

Then I thought "This might be the success that leads them back to the path."

What I said was "Absolutely!  Tell me what we should do!"

In theory, if I can tolerate the insanity and chaos for a while, the disruptive students will see that I'm not playing their game and tune back in, like the students did near the end of the period.

Hopefully, if I show them that I care about student effort more than teacher retribution, I can win them over.

Time will tell.


  1. Wow. You've got to be such a grown-up to do this job, huh? So tempting to give what you get... So hard to rise above it... Kudos on being the grown-up!

    1. Well, I've been accused of being many things, but never an adult. :-)

  2. Inspirational - good for you! Gives me strength to face my own difficult class. Thanks, Justin.

    1. I hope that one day we can watch each other teach

  3. Way to go Justin! Teacher gets a point today!

    "In theory, if I can tolerate the insanity and chaos for a while, the disruptive students will see that I'm not playing their game and tune back in, like the students did near the end of the period."

    Yes, there's no telling how long it might take, so, don't quit before the miracle happens.


    1. I found it so frustrating and annoying, but the more people who tell me that I did a good job it just solidifies that this is what success should look like in my classroom.

      Thank you so much for helping me to realign my thinking for the betterment of my students and myself.


  4. I love happy endings!

    I also really like the shout-out to Tina ... I'd never heard that particular way of handling the cross-cancel/cross-multiply conundrum. I always feel so arbitrary trying to explain when you cross-cancel and when you cross-multiply. It's good to understand that that is a "trick" that works, but better for them, if they're confused, to go back to WHY it works.

    1. If you haven't read that book, you should. It has amazing stuff in there, including things that I didn't realize were tricks!

    2. I echo Justin's recommendation for Tina's book. All kinds of awesome in there.
      A question for you about your determination to let the distracting kids be. Have the others - those willing to engage - physically rearranged themselves? I'm imagining the front half (third?) of your room with kids engaged and attentive while minor level chaos ensues behind them. I'm also curious about parent feedback. Have you had much yet since you have launched this phase of your classroom redesign? Are the parents of the engaged kids noticing that their kids are working and learning? Are the parents of the disengaged aware that you are letting them be and allowing this type of behavior?

    3. They made minor rearrangements yesterday and today, major ones. The engaged students are gravitating towards me, mostly because it's too loud to be further away.

      I have called home, but many parents are either unreachable or have said "Thank you, I'll speak to him" with no change in student behavior. It saddens me that I have to teach as though there are no parents, but the reality is that I can't rely on them for support or even presence.


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