Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Day 85: ALL THE F'S!!!

This morning when I got to school, I printed out my grade book.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that of the 54 students registered for my Math 8 class, about 80% have D's or F's.

I spent some time hitting my head against the wall telling myself that this is entirely because these students don't do work outside of my class.  As I said earlier this week, I gave an assignment over the weekend and, of the 48 students who were present and received it, 2 had turned it in.

Homework is important to solidify topics and keep students from forgetting the material from one day to the next.  I specifically design my assignments not to take a long time, but to keep them engaged.  This is the same for notes.  Notes shouldn't exist to force students to write, but to help them organize their thoughts into a reference that they can use later when they need it.

A few weeks ago, I started a new note-taking system.  It went back to a more traditional model of instruction where I would essentially lecture and write notes on the board while the kids wrote them down.  It was very structured.

It worked for quite a while, at least in terms of engagement.  I don't think it was meaningful engagement, but I could tell everyone to flip back in their notes to a certain spot and they could and they could answer my questions.

After a few weeks, I backed off on the structure, handing over more responsibility to the students.

As soon as I did, everything dropped off.  Work stopped getting done, papers stopped coming in.

We had talks about responsibility and motivation.  They seemed to understand and, for that day, they did well.  Today, while discussing systems of equations, there appeared to be minimal retention or even recollection that we had covered slope-intercept form less than 5 days ago.

So the conclusion that I have come to is that, at least for now, I need to move back to a VERY structured learning environment.  I don't want to do this.  I know that kids learn better when they explore and discover.

But if Indiana Jones had stayed at home, it doesn't matter WHAT secrets had been out there.  They would have stayed secrets.

On the other side of things, I've been conferencing with the geometry students for their Chapter 4 tests.  It has been a great experience and I love getting to meet with them one-on-one.  We go through the test and I ask them to clarify their wording and explain their reasons.

"How do you know that?" is a VERY typical question.  At the end of each conference, I ask them what they think they've earned.  We have a brief discussion and agree on a score before I thank them and call up the next kid.

Me: "What do you think you earned on this?"
Student: "I don't know. Maybe a low B?"
Me: "Why a low B?"
S: "I knew most of the material, but I made a few mistakes."
Me: "Were your mistakes ones about the concepts, or were they careless errors?"
S: "Mostly careless errors."
Me: "So maybe a little higher than a low B?"
S: "I think so. Probably a high B or a low A."
Me: "I agree."

I like having these discussions with my students and I would like to do it more with the Math 8 kids.  The problem is that I haven't found a way to keep the rest of the class occupied while I speak with one student at a time.
"Do you hear it, Clarice? Do you hear the learning?"

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