I have many areas of weakness as an educator.
I don't deny this fact. It's something that I attempt to work on each day, partially through my interactions with students discussing their needs and partially through the self-reflection that is this blog.
One of my major areas of weakness seems to be understanding the gaps in prior knowledge for my students and modifying my lessons accordingly.
I find that I spend an inordinate amount of time on back-filling skills and concepts and I am attempting to analyze exactly why.
I think that much of it comes from the normal attrition of skills that happens over time. While we are several weeks into school at this point, many kids are still in summer mode. Today, two separate students asked me specific questions about the homework and then didn't realize when we went over their questions.
It can be a bit disheartening.
In addition to this, I'm very much struggling with my morning classes simply because of the time. Research on circadian rhythms has shown that adolescents needs up to 9 hours of sleep each night. It also discusses how those adolescent biological clocks don't let them get to sleep before 10 or 11. This research has suggested that delayed start times for schools would lead to increased engagement.
My 11th and 12th graders are asleep well into my 3rd period. In addition to this, the make-up of my roster just happened to work out where the most low-key kids are enrolled in my morning classes. Even when I see them later in the day, they are always very chill.
My more boisterous students just happened to be enrolled in my afternoon classes.
This quirk of rosters makes for a bit of a roller coaster day, leaving me exhausted at the end.
So, what I am doing about the lack of background knowledge?
I've started being MUCH more deliberate about the examples and problems that we do in class. Many of my students are not used to independent style learning, which means that when I hand them an assignment or task and say "go! Let me know if you need anything" that many of them shut down. This shut down comes from either the lack of understanding of expectations during this time, or the unfamiliarity with what to do when they get stuck.
"How you doing? It's been 20 minutes and I see you're on number 2."
"Yeah, I didn't what to do, so I just stopped."
I found that the major stumbling block in the geometry classes is a solid understanding of the visuals of what we are trying to find. The skill of translating phrases into pictures in order to understand what's happened in the problem is a difficult one.
I fear that I've been relying too much on the "here you go" approach without respecting how uncomfortable many of the students are with the experimentation that comes with problem solving.
"I didn't know what to do."
"What do you THINK you do?"
"I don't know."
"Ok. Try something."
"Like anything. Throw some numbers around and see what happens?"
"I don't know what to try."
"So you've said, Dear Liza."
I'm not sure how to overcome this discomfort. Our warm-ups have helped a bit, as has my emphasis on asking kids to explain their thinking and validating those thoughts.
In middle school classes, you sort of expect a certain amount of hand-holding. It takes much of the year for me to teach my students to take risks with their mathematics. It's very frustrating to be having to do the same thing with the older kids.
With that said, there are a ton of students who are great at the experimentation.
I need to find ways to keep them challenged and engaged while I help the rest get over their fears.