Sunday, February 24, 2013

Catching Up!

Helping students catch up in math is an ongoing effort.  On some days I think I am making a good dent in the process, and on other days I know I am fighting a losing battle.

As noted in other posts, I am in a new position, new state, new school, new curriculum ... and I've been out of the classroom for a while.  I'm delighted to be teaching again but whew!  I feel like I've been placed between a rock and hard place ... all the time!

I teach algebra to 9th graders.  I have students who came prepared to tackle the work, but I have some in every class that do not have competency in basic math skills.  We work on an A/B schedule, so students have math every other day for 90 minutes.  Sounds awesome but it is challenging to build momentum.  Our curriculum is laid out for us with very little wiggle room.  Many units require a new concept every class day; many units do not have a single day for review.  I am required to test on the same day as my team ... no matter what my formative data indicates.  And there is an expectation that there will be no more than 10% failing.  Early in the year I had as many as 20% failing - which was upsetting to me since in past years I have had very successful students.  I've whittled that down to 10% but I'm still not pleased.

Since we don't have much class time for catching up students who are behind, I use before school, lunch, and after school regularly.  Classes don't begin until 9; our contract day begins at 8:15; so I invite students to meet with me any morning that they can.  I usually have anywhere from 2 to 12 students each morning.  I often have a couple of students working in my room at lunch.  And after school I have a few.  I have a tight schedule after school so I don't encourage tutoring then.

In class, I am using a spiral warm-up to build retention and purposeful practice.  In our new lessons, I am talking less, and making sure students practice more.  I'm devising ways for work to be self-checking so that I am freed up to work with students around the room.  As students complete sections of work, they check with my keys, make corrections, and continue.  If they have errors or questions, I can assist them ... and I also encourage peer assistance.  We work most often in pairs.

Students keep a notebook; the Algebra team publishes a study guide for every unit test.  The study guide mirrors the test well so if students can do the review, they are ready for the test.

My frustration is that I am doing all I know to do; and I'm trying to learn as many different ways to meet students' needs as possible.  My failing students don't indicate that they sense any responsibility for studying or practicing in-between classes.  I believe both teacher and student have to accept responsibility when students are failing.  I'm struggling with how to inspire a bit of urgency on their part.

I look forward to reading the ideas shared online this week!


  1. Those are the hard ones for me to motivate too... the ones who just don't want to do the work. You are nicer than me though!! Lunch is adult time. We joke during lunch sometimes that it's our "group therapy" :) Like you however I do encourage them to come in the morning. The ones who do can almost always catch up. but the ones that don't or can't... not sure how to help them.

    1. Yes - I would like lunch to be adult time. In fact, I really prefer alone time ... it's how I recoup ... read/listen to music/munch on lunch for 30 minutes. But there are 2 girls who seek me out during lunch several times a week. Building relationships with them is important work.