Friday, September 23, 2011

Time to Stretch

The thing that convinced me to leave the high school classroom was the chance to work with a bunch of precocious pre-teens and follow them through middle school, hopefully sending them off to the big bad world of high school a little better off than they were when we met.  This opportunity, coupled with meeting y'all has created a professional development explosion.  It was a perfect storm of honestly asking the question: "how can I make this matter?", a group of math educators willing to push back on ideas while simultaneously offering unconditional support, an administrator willing to let go of the leash and a group of kids who constantly push me to be better.

The tough part has been the assumed disqualification when it comes to conversations about pedagogy because the stuff I do only works for "my kids." Let's just say, I feel Shawn on this front. This year, the gloves have come off.  I have two completely heterogeneous classes with skills ranging from Advanced to Far Below Basic (see Jason for explanation) and 2/3 of the kids are less than proficient based on previous years' scores. So, basically, this year I have to put up or shut up.  And some things have to change.

Let me be clear:  I'm not changing my expectations; I still believe that all kids can do math. But my planning has to change.

In my experience, "advanced" kids fall into one of two categories:  Advanced duplicators and advanced thinkers.  Advanced duplicators are the kids who take copious notes, ask if "this is going in the grade book", want to retake tests minutes after turning the original test in and will do absolutely anything the teacher asks.  They are compliant.  Advanced thinkers will often be the kid who gets labeled as lazy and distracted because, well, they are lazy and have distracted.  Problem is, they aren't lazy, the lesson just sucked.  We ride the backs of these advanced duplicators because they are good for test scores.  They make up for everything that a teacher lacks because they don't necessarily need a teacher to learn skill duplication (see:  Khan Academy) and they are willing to do it because, well, that's what good students do, right?

I've spend the better part of that past five years trying to find ways to have students explore, invent and discover while maintaining fidelity to our state standards.  My focus has always been on pushing kids beyond--but I've ended up learning as much from them as they have from me.   My goals have been singular in that my planning has been framed by the question "how far can we go with this?"  I've really learned a lot about exploring the right side of the bell shaped curve.  Keep going until maybe only three kids get it. Forget Madeline Hunter, I'm using the Daniel Tosh lesson planning model.

Now it's time to look at the other side of the curve.


Unknown said...

I love the concept of "duplicators" versus "thinkers." So often, kids end up doing "remedial work" because they suck at duplicating, while the real issue is a lack of contextual, conceptual, number sense. When they don't get how math actually works, everything is confusing. But often the intervention offered is additional work at duplicating and memorizing.

It has been hard for me to give myself permission to slow down and let students construct knowledge on their own.

David Cox said...

I hear you on the slow down. I feel like I have one foot in good pedagogy and the other in I-have-to-be--by-. It's a tough balance that one.