Saturday, July 19, 2014

I am a terrible student...

The student-teacher relationship is important.  Respecting your students and getting to know them is important.  How your students feel about you CAN affect their learning.  I knew this.  I did.  If you would have said those things to me a week ago, I would have agreed whole-heartedly and, in my head, I would have said, "Duh- of course- why are you telling me something I already know?" However, this week I made this realization for myself in a very painful way.  Third and fourth grade teachers in my district were asked to participate in an INTEL sponsored math class.  It's a class designed to provide in-depth math training for teachers so we understand math concepts being taught K-8. It spans the entire school year for a total of over 180 hours of math instruction.  This past week was the first 40 hours- 8-5 every day. Basically, we relearned every math concept we ever were taught but in a conceptual- you need to understand why it is this way- kind of way.  There were difficult concepts, things that conceptually didn't make sense, things I struggled to understand, abstract ideas I had a hard time wrapping my head around.  But that's not why I realized I am a terrible student.  It's because I realized I wasn't connecting to the teacher and this was affecting my math learning. I didn't feel she respected us as professionals.  She gave us the answer keys and then took them away from us when she thought we might look in them for the answers when we weren't supposed to.  She had a system for working (green cards, yellow cards, red cards) that I found annoying.  She moved our seats and made us sit with people that we didn't know for arbitrary reasons (She said it was to talk in grade level groups- but I felt like she was just trying to get us to not talk as much to each other). She had an annoying way of referring to the time- "refer to your timepieces and come back in 5 minutes." She would say things like "I am going to push the pause button on your conversations for a minute."
She gave us class norms instead of creating them ourselves.  One of our class norms she offered to us was "Make it about the math- not about the person."  Each day, we had to evaluate the day.  I am guessing that she didn't have such great evaluations the first couple of days because on Wednesday, she told us that we weren't making it about the math, we were making it about the person.  That was one of our norms and we needed to stop doing that.  That statement- make it about the math- not about the person- really struck a note with me.  Sometimes, you can't separate the content from the person delivering it.  We had another teacher in the class, a professor from a community college, and when he taught the class, I listened more, I participated more, I enjoyed my experience more.  Often we see the content through the filter of the person delivering it.  So, if we don't connect to the teacher, we might not connect to the content.  If we feel like the teacher doesn't like us or doesn't relate to us, we don't learn as much as we could.  Long story short, on Thursday I think I had reached my limit.  We were discussing something and apparently I was very defensive.  She told me I was defensive every time she talked to me- the sad thing was, she had never talked to me- and she reminded me that we had over 140 hours left together and she wanted me to reflect on whether or not this grant was right for me. Well, I reflected for about 30 seconds and decided that I didn't need the stress and pain of sitting in this class with a teacher I really didn't feel was good and didn't feel cared about my learning. So, I left.
But, everything happens for a reason and I felt I needed to reflect on this experience and see if I can get some positives from it. There's some math to share too, but first a few of my A-Ha moments.

  • Starting off with a long pre-test the very first thing is not a good idea.  It sets the wrong tone and makes the learners feel frustrated before they even begin.  I know that we need to pre-assess, but I think I am going to try to pre-assess in short chunks instead of in long tests.
  • Management systems don't work for every student.  We had cards in the center of the tables and when we were doing problem-solving we moved the cards to indicate what we were doing. I really hated the "yellow card means I working; green card means I am done; red card means I need help."  But, it worked for other students.  So, for me, I am going to try to avoid using something like that...
  • She never really spoke to me the whole week-never really got to know me.  I don't think this is unusual in a adult class.  But, I need to remember to make those personal connections with EVERY student in my class, not just the ones that are the most verbal in class.  
  • Brain breaks are important.  She had us sitting for 2-3 hours at a time with only two 5-minute breaks in the morning and two 5-minute breaks in the afternoon.  It's important to work hard and then take some mental breaks.
  • Be careful to not overuse your favorite phrases... it can be annoying!
  •  Create class norms together; have your ideas, but take the ideas from the students.  "Buy-in" is important.

Okay, now for some math.  One of the cool things about the class was that they listed these progressions for the different math concepts- addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  They are lists of skills that students understand listed in the order that students generally understand them.  I think I will use them to help plan my instruction for multiplication and division. But they could also be used if you have a student who is struggling with a particular concept- you could refer to the list to find the gaps in understanding.  Math Progression

Thanks for reading my long post today!

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