Monday, December 17, 2012

Just Because They're Behind Doesn't Mean You Have to Keep Them There

Math teachers in my department have had a significant challenge this year. As part of implementing the new core standards, nearly all students at each grade level have been placed in the same math class. (The main exceptions are the accelerated classes, which account for 20-30 students in each grade, 7th-9th.)

This means some kids have had to learn material at a condensed rate, while others have had to endure a ton of review to start with.

We're nearly halfway through the year, and I can't count how many times I've heard that it doesn't work, that we need to get the "low" kids back in a class of their own. For instance, the 9th graders who took Pre-Algebra last year and are now in class with mostly kids who already passed Algebra 1.

I understand where they're coming from. Truly. I see students in my class who haven't quite grasped solving for X yet (simple linear equations), and we're doing exponential functions and recursive sequences now. I have plenty of students bombing tests and quizzes.

But part of me says that the way we've been doing things only perpetuates the problem. These kids are behind grade level in math, and putting them in a slower or repeat math class will only put them further behind.

Then again, does this way just set them up for failure? Some seem to think so.

Something happened the other day that makes me think that may not be true. One of those "shoved into the fast lane" kids came in after school. He has the supplemental "math lab" period that many of these kids do, to give them more time and support to learn concepts, yet still hadn't been doing too well.

He said, "Miss Lewis, can you help me with this Chapter 5 and 6 stuff? I need to retake that test, but I just don't get it."

(He also apologized, asked if it wasn't too much trouble, etc. I'm thinking, "Dude, what do you think I'm here for?")

We started at the beginning of Chapter 5 (inequalities) and I wrote a few examples on the whiteboard. We talked about the process, and I got him working through them himself. (He mentioned it makes sense when I explain it, but then it crumbles when he tries on his own.) Moved through that and on to Chapter 6 (systems of equations).

He picked it up quick.

He said, "Now it seems so easy."

I've seen this before. I had students at the deaf school who couldn't reliably solve simple equations when they were all the way in Algebra 2. I kept pushing them forward, kept supporting and reviewing and reinforcing. When I taught them Calculus, they still had to work at it, but they had some serious math skills.

We could've said, "They can't solve basic equations. They need to repeat this course." We chose not to.

When we don't make falling (or staying) behind an option, and when we give the right support, they can catch up. But there's a key.

That kid came in after school to work on math instead of going to the basketball game. The kids need to be willing to put in the effort.

The best we can do is try to convince them that the effort will be worth it. Saying they're destined for "low" math classes doesn't seem to do that job.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Mike Lewis said...

First: Second to last paragraph... "basketball came"... you meant "game", right?

Second, that's a really interesting perspective, and I want to say that I've heard/read/or seen that in some other setting, but I can't remember what.