How accurate could you be for $32 million?
Following the state tests, there has been news coverage of several mistakes, including expecting fifth graders to know the Pythagorean theorem and be comfortable calculating an imperfect square root. Teachers in at least two grades had to be given special instructions on testing day to help their students cope with errors on the tests, and some questions were so bad they were simply scrapped by New York State Ed (NYSed). There were so many mistakes in the Spanish version, NYSed devoted an entire section of its web site to untangling them, and not just the minor syntactic errors you’d expect in a flubbed translation. In one math item, a negative sign was changed to a positive sign, while another question replaced “mean” with the Spanish word for “median.”
I recently finished a Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, a 750-page behemoth, and encountered not a single typo. True, I could have missed some, but there certainly were not enough errors to interrupt my reading or obfuscate the meaning. To make the King novel as flawed as the state tests, the publisher would have had to replace a handful of chapters with selections from other works. Try to follow King’s plot when chapter 12 gets replaced by 20 pages from Don Quixote (poorly translated from the Spanish).
In 2011, Pearson was awarded a five-year, $32 million testing contract. After harsh words from state officials, Pearson sent a memo to NYSed, which, rather than taking responsibility for rampant errors, defended the use of certain questions (including some which had been excised) and touted the company’s “rigorous internal screening processes.”
King was paid $18 million for the manuscript for Bag of Bones. I’m sure Viking (his publisher at the time) also put money into scrupulous editing. Do you think they topped $32 million?
Maybe they did, and maybe that’s why there were so few errors.
Buy a window thermometer, loan your kids money, and take them on elevators.
Students who have been taught to compute cumbersome equations by separating large numbers into separate place values often encounter a serious problem in subtraction.
428 - 135 =
The hundreds place and ones place are no sweat:
400 - 100 = 300
8 - 5 = 3
The tens place is a sticking point:
20 - 30 = ???
Students respond to this quandry in one of two ways. The first is to simply reverse the terms:
30 - 20 = 10
Teachers are fond of telling these students that the commutative property (changing the order of terms but getting the same answer) only works in addition, not subtraction. That’s baloney, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
The second response to 20 - 30 = ??? is for students to simply say, “You can’t do that!” (Why do they have to put it on me? What’s wrong with the more honest, “I can’t do that”?) As anyone beyond the sixth grade knows, it’s perfectly possible:
20 - 30 = -10
This is typically off-limits in the primary grades, because the answer is a negative number (cue organ music and Vincent Price laughing).
Negative numbers are taught as a separate concept in sixth grade, but students encounter them long before then. Every subtration problem involves at least one negative number.
3 – 2 = ___
This problem includes one positive term (3) and one negative term (-2). When you think about it this way, there is no reason why the terms can’t be switched (and yes, the commutative property functions perfectly well):
-2 +3 = 1
Seen this way, all we are doing is combining a negative two and a positive three. That’s all we were ever doing. Some terms are positive, some are negative. But subtraction and addition are really the same process: combining terms.
Conveyed in a story such as, “Josie did three pages of homework, but her cat threw up on two of them,” it’s hard to put the negative term first. The cat can’t throw up on nonexistant homework.
For students to understand -2 +3 = 1, we need new stories. For this, we can use a thermometer, an elevator, and a loan.
It got two degrees cooler, then warmed up three. How much hotter or colder is it now?
We went down two floors, then up three. How much higher or lower are we now?
Mom loans me two dollars at Wegmans to buy
candy a vegetable. My piggy bank, at home, has three bucks in it. How much money do I have?
I’ve read a lot of articles about standardized testing lately. I’m burnt out on the subject, honestly, and I’m afraid some of you may be, too. However, I wanted to post this link along with my personal assurance that it’s possibly the most worthwhile read on the subject you’ll come across.
Here are two of my previous posts on the subject:
Our recent vacation was the first time flying for both of my kids. Out of concern for time spent in the air and waiting in airports, we stuffed carry-ons full of pastimes: coloring books, games, play dough, snacks, and my wife even got Angry Birds on her e-reader.
Oh, and there were also books.
It wasn’t until the final leg of our journey home that my oldest finally cracked a book. Angry Birds, souvenirs, notebooks, and even the sheer novelty and wonder of being in an airplane for the first time had all, finally, become boring. He was so bored he read.
It made me appreciate what a tremendous advantage I have in my classroom. I have no trouble (for the most part) getting kids to read. True, I’m an authority figure compelling them to read. We’re on a schedule, and there is an overriding, educational agenda. More than that, though, there aren’t many other choices. The classroom doesn’t have video games, coloring books, TV, play dough, or Internet.
I’m not quite sure how to replicate this at home. Of course, my son’s “screen time” is limited, but even then, the house seems to be full of distractions that provide more immediate gratification than reading. I can take the same role I do at school, of course, and force him to read, but it’s not the same. I don’t think I could do that without turning reading into a punishment, when all these years I’ve been trying to convince him what a treat it is.
I do my best to try to make reading shine brightest in the constellation of leisure activities. I try to help him choose books that will engage him, even going so far as to say, “Hey, there’s a movie of this book! When we finish reading it we can watch the DVD!” I also read the books he reads so we can talk about them, and he sees his parents reading a lot (in case we’re influential role models).
However, picturing him on the plane that afternoon, when he finally started reading independently, after hours spent on planes and in airports, I wonder: how can I make him so bored he’ll read?
If your kids are young enough, they might still think you’re cool. This makes it likely that they’ll try to emulate you. How much do you read? Do you ever read for pleasure?
In a recent post, I indicated the difficulty in getting kids to stick with good books that might happen to be long. It’s easy for them to choose the instant gratification of electronic stimulus over a novel that would require a much greater effort before delivering a payoff.
Years of teaching have taught me that many of my students will do things that I do, will seek out what I value. This effect is multiplied when it comes to my own children. So, if I want them to be readers, I should be one. When I realized this, I thought, well, I read! I read nearly two books a year, plus Bob Matthews.
Then, I started to take a good, hard look at what my kids see me doing throughout the day. Unfortunately, they saw me going to the computer an awful lot. Sometimes, I had important, grown-up things to do. Many times, well, I visited the Internet on less essential errands.
After years of making a conscious effort to spend less time on the internet and in front of the TV, and more time reading, I can say that I’m reading a lot more. On weekend mornings, my kids see me with a book in my hand. More than that, I’m enjoying reading a lot more. Spending more time with books has had the effect on me that I’m always hoping it will have on my students and my children.
Spending the time, putting in the effort to read a really good book is well worth it.
Every year at test time, the recommendations for optimum student performance come home: eat a healthy breakfast, get a good night’s sleep. It reminds me of the local newscast on the first hot day of summer (wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water) or during the forecast of the year’s first cold snap (keep covered, don’t stay outside too long). I reach for the remote; I can’t help but resent having common sense explained to me on a program called “News.”
It seems the same with the healthy-breakfast-plenty-of-rest chestnut. Even though we don’t always achieve them, these are the goals we always have for our kids. We also try to have them wash their hands and get plenty of exercise.
What bothers me in particular about the perennial test-day advice is not its pedantic nature, though. It’s that this wisdom is aimed specifically at test day.
Good breakfasts and rest are, indeed, lab-tested and proven to improve the brain’s ability to learn. It’s good advice for a better-educated child. So, if these practices support learning, why are we advocating them for test day? When is the last time a student actually learned something new during a standardized assessment?
Trotting this advice out as a way to improve test scores is a subtle and insidious way our culture extols the educational virtues of testing. It perpetuates the myth that the day of the test is a particularly significant day in your child’s education, when, in reality, it’s closer to a day off. Testing is not a learning experience for your child; it’s a period of the day that’s guaranteed to be free from instruction. When you think about it that way, it’s unsettling how much time we spend doing it.
I don’t want to give test day special reverence; it’s not a holy day. It’s not even an educational day. If you want to show your kids that education is a priority, tell them that’s why you’re being strict about their nutrition and sleep on school days when they’re actually going to learn something.
A student shuffles meekly toward me, eyes down, holding something behind her back. “Mr. Isham?” she whispers.
I kneel so my eyes are level with hers, ready to hear the serious message her posture indicates she is about to deliver. “What is it? Is something wrong?”
She fidgets, looks out the window, then back at the carpet. The book emerges from behind her. “I don’t really like this book.”
Book abandonment seems to happen more frequently every year. Kids just drop books after a chapter or two. Frequently, they’ll jump ship after only a few pages. When pressed for reasons, they tend to stammer and mumble. If my students are to be taken at their word, the #1 reason why kids abandon books early is, “I don’t know.”
I have my theories. The first is exposition. In third grade, kids start reading what I consider to be really worthwhile novels. These are books that ask real questions and provoke serious though. Characters are three-dimensional; they grow and change throughout the book. Books with more depth often begin with a longer passage of exposition, and students might not be used to wading through background information, character introductions, or descriptions of the setting to get to the action. Experience with these kinds of books can teach kids that being more patient often leads to greater payoffs.
Another is the screens. Every passing year fills our world with a greater array of glowing screens pumping instamatic electrified stimulation into receptive young skulls in a growing number of settings. This kind of effortless, consuming entertainment has reached out its tentacles to reach kids not only at home, but also in the car, in doctor’s office waiting rooms, and even walking down the hallway to class, and it asks almost nothing in terms of mental effort.
Imagine a kid trying to slog through the first couple of (relatively uneventful) chapters of a book while that doohickey in his pocket is charged and prepared to deliver maximum sensory stimulation upon his slightest touch.
I’ll write about what the countermeasures might be in my next post.
A test is just a measurement, some data to assess progress. I tell my students that I am a learning doctor taking each student’s math temperature. You shouldn’t be embarrassed to have a fever. In fact, that’s something your doctor would like to know in order to design the best plan for care.
This is how tests should work to serve learning. I can teach until I’m blue in the face (sometimes I feel like I do), but if I don’t have a good handle on student progress, I could easily be wasting my time. My teaching aligns with national, state and district goals, but it also needs to suit the specific needs of the students in my class. A good test gives the most accurate picture possible of how well a student is meeting a certain objective.
Teaching to the test is a technique that subverts this process. Instead of teaching with an educational objective in mind (students will multiply two-digit numbers), lessons are aimed at a performance (students will score well on a multiplication test). It might sound like I’m splitting hairs. After all, students who score well on the test have probably learned to multiply, and vice versa.
Imagine walking into a doctor’s office with pneumonia and a fever of 104. However, instead of trying to address the fluid in your lungs, the doctor tells you his goal is to get your temperature to within one degree of 98.6 on six specific days in April. If he achieves this goal, it might mean he has cured your pneumonia, or he might just prescribe tepid baths on those dates. As the patient, what would you like his primary objective to be?
What if 20%-40% of his annual review depended on his patients’ temps on those six days? What if that data was used by the federal government to either grant or rescind massive amounts of funding to his office?
I like potboilers. I’m propelled forward through the chapters by idiosyncratic characters, suspense, and quick, twisting plots. As soon as I finish the last page, I want to either read the sequel or see the movie.
Then, there are more serious novels. Sometimes, they seem to be daring me to abandon them with ponderous exposition, tedious descriptions, and other verbosities that impede the progress of time within the book. When I’m done, I just sit and think, letting it resonate. A really great book leaves a mark on me, a crater in my mind, at least for a while. It’s an awesome thing.
Often, I’m reading both kinds of books concurrently. When my life slows down enough for me to read (I’m always hoping my dentist or doctor is behind schedule), I feel like I’m choosing between broccoli and Buffalo wings. Despite the discrepancy in payoff, I often choose wings.
When it comes to children’s literature, I’m a reformed snob. I used to shun some of the popular series in favor of books that pack more of a thematic wallop. I wanted students to always be reading books that offered the most fertile ground to grow good discussion.
As I’ve mentioned before, (Jan 27 post, “Reading”), reading is work. Choosing a book for a student is, partly, a matter of what kind of work needs to be done. I might wish for a student to be reading Bridge to Terabithia (Paterson), with its themes of friendship, gender roles, and the treacherous gap between childhood and adulthood, but what if the work they need to do is around characters? The glaringly idiosyncratic characters in a Goosebumps (Stine) book might serve a young reader better.
When identifying character traits becomes automatic, when a student habitually thinks of them as real people, then he or she will be more ready to read a richer text.
There are many skills readers need to internalize in order to be able focus on the work of understanding and discussing thematic content in serious literature.
Yesterday (as I write this), the governor and NYSUT (my union) agreed on terms for teacher evaluations. Here’s a brief timeline:
July 2009 President Obama and Secretary of Ed. Duncan announce Race To The Top (RT3) program. School districts compete for a share of $4.3 billion. Criteria include more stringent teacher evaluations.
May 2010 State Ed. Department (SED) and NYSUT agree to a new teacher evaluation, and it becomes law.
Aug 2010 New York wins $696 million in RT3 funds.
May 2011 Responding to schools that wanted to make state assessments an even greater percentage of teacher evaluations, Cuomo changes terms of the 2010 law.
Jun 2011 NYSUT successfully sues the governor. Cuomo appeals.
Jan 2012 Cuomo announces that, if NYSUT doesn’t settle, he will unilaterally impose his own system. He further threatens to withhold state aid from schools without a new evaluation system in place.
Feb 2012 NYSUT and Cuomo come to terms on a teacher evaluation system.
The plan that was agreed upon yesterday is nearly identical to the law passed in 2010. So, what was that all about? I have no idea. Cuomo has been fighting the law for two years, but for what? What core principle was at stake?
Also, would the governor really have been able to legally impose his own evaluation system? Possibly. He threatened to make it a part of the budget amendments that are his purview. Doubtless, this would have resulted in yet another lawsuit.
I’m not a big fan of the system outlined in the 2010 law, but, the fact is, there was an agreed upon plan. Cuomo came onto the landscape and began tearing up sod, only to replace it pretty much as he found it.
I find the whole thing to be emblematic of the current popular discontent with teachers and our unions. NYSUT was included in the discussions when a new plan was needed to qualify for RT3 funds, and they agreed to a plan that was not completely favorable to teachers. They gave a lot of ground, but the legislation was passed and NY won $696 million.
Cuomo then summarily dismissed the input from teachers. He retroactively invalidated us as participants in legislation regulating our profession. Even when a State Supreme Court judge determined that he was acting illegally, he still sought a backdoor channel to subvert the law NYSUT helped broker.
And now, after all that, we’re back where we were in 2010. I’d love for someone from Cuomo’s office to tell us why it was worth it.
Future posts will get more into the details of the new teacher evaluation plan.
How about this for a job offer? Sell our product while you’re at work! We don’t pay a salary, we don’t pay by commission; we don’t pay at all. If you do a good job, though, we’ll donate some of our inventory to your employer. You can make use of it while you’re at work.
This is the proposition offered to teachers from companies like Scholastic. This company is permitted to recruit teachers as unpaid sales reps in order to market directly to your kids at public schools. How many companies would like to have this advantage? Imagine having a sergeant promote your products to his platoon, or a pastor to her congregation. As a teacher, I wield influence over my students. Hopefully, I can use that influence to help them to be better writers, readers, and mathematicians. Not to hock products.
Of course, we are talking about books. Books are good! Reading is good! Maybe the book orders help foster reading, and the books Scholastic will donate to my classroom could be useful.
Except, it’s not just books. I’m not even sure it’s mostly books any more. Kids are also being sold posters, toys, DVDs, and video games at school. For many kids, seeing a video game juxtaposed with a book is like having a slice of chocolate cake on the same plate as their broccoli.
As a parent, I make sure my son makes the right choice, even if he doesn’t like it. That’s my job. It’s a job I do at the mall, at a restaurant, and in the cereal aisle of the grocery store. I wish it wasn’t an issue at school.
Today, instead of looking at proposed policies of candidates, I’m looking at the major education reform policy of the sitting president in anticipation of it becoming a topic of debate following the Republican nomination.
Race to the Top (RT3) is a grant program, part of the 2009 stimulus, that allows the US Department of Ed to award federal funds to states implementing targeted education reforms. The objectives, laid out by the federal government, are fine, in and of themselves:
1) preparing students for college and work
2) high quality teachers and administrators
3) using data to improve teaching
4) turn around lowest-performing schools
Those are certainly things I’d like to see done. However, how do you accomplish these things?
#1 is being addressed by a new set of state learning standards. Revamping objectives is a fairly regular occurrence, regardless of federal initiatives. This early on, I can’t comment on the efficacy of this particular iteration, but I find that the process of program review itself is usually positive.
#4 is being addressed by a secondary set of grants, awarded by the states, to schools identified as consistently low-performing.
For #2 and #3, it’s testing. Standards-based testing is, increasingly, the yardstick being used to measure quality of teachers, administrators, and schools. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the big education initiative of the previous administration, raised the stakes on state tests by threatening low-performing schools with decreased funding. Now, RT3 raises those stakes even higher by offering a share of its $4.3 billion purse to schools that systematically link test scores to teacher and administrator evaluation. A specific stipulation of RT3 is value-added modeling, which means that, as a group of students progresses through school, the efficacy of each of their successive teachers is judged by how much better they score on the state tests than the previous year.
The goals of RT3 may be noble, but the means of attaining them don’t necessarily align with best educational practices.* I’m definitely not sold on the “carrot and stick” approach to education reform.
*See previous post about standardized assessment.
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The Learning Loop:
1) State objective
2) Teach to achieve objective
3) Assess (did they meet the objective?)
4) Use assessment data to plan new objectives
I take both of my kids shopping every week. Like most siblings, they are either best friends or worst enemies. It’s just as tough to focus on toothpaste coupons during a weepy blame-fest as it is during a friendly bout of screaming and giggling. I hear myself saying things like, “Come on, guys! Daddy’s trying to concentrate,” or just, “Hey!” delivered in my sternest tone (carefully modulated to avoid alerting other shoppers to my parenting difficulties).
I’ve skipped ahead to step three.
This is an assessment: Your behavior is not meeting objectives for riding in (or walking near) a grocery cart. For objectives, I probably mentioned something like, “Let’s have a great shopping trip!” or, maybe, “I can’t wait to go shopping with my awesome kids!” Those are terrible objectives. What makes a shopping trip “great” or kids “awesome?” I’m sure my kids and I would have drastically different criteria. For step two, I guess I expect them to achieve the objective simply by hearing it.
So, my work-brain starts to break it down. What, specifically, are my objectives? Chat, play, argue, or sing, but not too loud. How loud is too loud? I’ll let you know when I hear it. Ask me a maximum of two times to buy you something, unless I’ve clearly forgotten, in which case, why didn’t you tell me while we were there? Stay on or near the cart, unless you two are really aggravating each other, in which case, keep your distance. How much distance? I’ll let you know when it’s too much.
Unable to fit shopping-trip behavior into my professional schema, I deliver a new objective and modify the process.
The Learning Loop at Wegmans:
1) State objective: "Help Daddy to be able to shop!"
3) Assess: "Come on, guys!"
4) Students use assessment data to plan new behavior (same objective)
5) Repeat weekly
A great book might open with an uneventful 100 pages of exposition. It might be a brief history of the town the novel is set in, the narrator’s tedious self-analysis, or a verbose description of a house. Reading thoughtful books, especially at the outset, can seem less like leisure and more like work.
Well, it is work. It can be an immersive and satisfying job, but accessing the real power of thought and emotion behind the text is definitely work. Translating letters and words into sounds sentences is simply decoding. To really read, students have to learn to seek meaning.
“Why is that part funny?” seems like a simple question, but think of the many things a reader must do to be able to answer it. Besides being able to keep track of salient plot points, the reader must judge character traits and gauge the tone of voice used in a passage. These tasks and others must be performed in concert to detect hyperbole, or even irony, in order to recognize that a series of letters printed on paper is, in fact, funny.
It’s easy to see how this kind of analysis could suck the humor out of any passage, which means that, in order for it to actually be funny, all of these feats must be accomplished involuntarily. Discerning any meaning contained in a book, besides just humor, demands a wide-ranging skill set. More than that, if the meaning of a book is to achieve its intended impact, the reader must be so adept at this skill set that employing it becomes second nature.
Please read the disclaimer in my last policy post before proceeding.
A concept that appears in several platforms is decentralization. This philosophy manifests as policy in varying forms, including decreasing regulations on charter schools, delegating policy decisions to state and local governments, and offering federal funding for homeschooling families. The basic concept seems to be that the federal government doesn’t need to be in charge of everyone’s education, and that students would be better served by policy decisions made on a state, community, or even household level. Having taught before and now during No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, I can sympathize with the notion that sweeping regulatory measures are not best for all children in all communities. Sometimes, federal or even state mandates are met with a sense of “lets make lemonade from these lemons,” or even, “grin and bear it.” I don’t doubt that, in many cases, local administrators and teachers have a better idea of what would be best for students than federal legislators.
Frequently following many candidates’ statements about decentralization is a call for increased accountability. These two concepts, as policies, seem incompatible, even in the nebulous language of political candidates. Accountability requires standards to which schools, students, and teachers can be held accountable. And, in order to be held accountable, schools need to be measured against the standard. To do this, we would need centralized regulation of education to define and administer the standards and to perform evaluations. Accountability implies consequences as well. What does it mean if a school performs well? What are the ramifications of failure to meet standards? What regulating body (bodies?) defines and administers these consequences?
NCLB currently provides answers to these questions (to varying degrees to satisfaction). If candidates feel that the accountability measures in NCLB are insufficient, will they seek to expand this already massive federal regulation?
I don’t know whom I’m going to vote for in the 2012 presidential election. I’m not going to write about politics, just policies. I certainly don’t want to endorse or condemn any candidates here. After reading the education plank in each candidate’s platform, from his or her own printed materials, I’m just going to explain how it all sounds to me as a teacher. I’m organizing this by proposal, not by politician, since I’m more interested in policy than personalities.
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so I’ll write one of these per week. I realize that candidates will continue to drop out as the weeks go on, but their ideas are still worth commenting on, as they may represent legislative or popular trends.
Many candidates in both large parties mention this one. It’s always in the context of incentives, a strategy to lure bright young people to the profession or keep talented professionals working in struggling school districts. Regarding the former, I don’t know anyone who got into teaching for the money. As far as the latter goes, I do know many teachers who have switched districts to work in schools with nicer facilities, better community support, or other things that make our job more pleasant.
If offering a cash bonus to great teachers helps keep them working in underachieving districts, I think it’s a great idea. Most people can remember a certain teacher who really helped inspire and motivate them. If we can increase the probability that a student in inner-city Detroit might have more teachers like that, then let’s do it.
Of course, there is a punitive side of merit pay. If you think that bad teachers should be paid less, how would you identify them? Student performance on standardized assessments is becoming a bigger part of teacher evaluation. However, while quality of teaching has an effect on test scores, so does student population, parent support, and other factors which are out of the control of teachers. It seems unfair that I should get a bigger check than a colleague who happens to have more students with special needs than I do.
I don’t suppose quantifiably identifying great teachers would be any easier. Great test scores don’t directly correspond with great teaching. In fact, there’s a practice known as “teaching to the test” that is generally frowned on in pedagogical circles. However, it would bother me a lot less if one of my colleagues got an undeserved bonus than it would if he or she got unfairly docked pay.
Lurking behind merit pay policies is the notion that poor teaching is a big part of what’s wrong with American schools. I have taught for 14 years between two separate schools, and I have never worked with a teacher who wasn’t seriously invested in the educational growth of his or her students, or who didn’t work hard to make every student a success. Whatever factors are causing the US to compare unfavorably with student achievement in other countries, I seriously doubt it’s our teaching professionals.
More policy next Friday!
When I was in third grade, accuracy wasn’t everything. It was the only thing. I’m sure that the manuals employed by my teachers included aspects devoted to a more comprehensive mathematical understanding, but on classwork, homework, and tests, the only thing that mattered was getting the right answer.
The new model prioritizes understanding. Even when students get the right answer, they are required to prove it’s right. Students need to be able to break a mathematical process down and explain it thoroughly using writing and diagrams. That’s a lot to ask of kids, but I think, ultimately, it will be worth it.
I enrolled in my first math class in college my junior year. It’s embarrassing, but I just couldn’t remember the steps. That’s because all I had ever learned was just that: steps.
Part of becoming a teacher meant learning how division actually works, and attaining that understanding was like learning it for the first time. Knowing what I was doing gave me leeway to devise my own strategy for calculating a solution. That division algorithm I leaned years ago, “Gozinta, multiply, subtract, drop down, repeat,” is really complete baloney and a huge waste of time. Unless that works better for you, in which case, enjoy.
Clearly, I’m a proponent of the “understanding first” movement in math instruction. However, lately I’ve been missing the virtues of the way I learned. Though it left me bereft of understanding, it equipped me to calculate answers efficiently, reliably, and precisely. Understanding is a beautiful thing, but it’s also demanding. A simple series of steps puts the right answer within reach of students who struggle with deeper meaning.
So, when your students comes home and complain that the way in which you’re trying to assist them with their math work doesn’t match the method taught in class (see title), please feel free to teach them the way you were taught. It just might relieve them of a little stress. A simple series of steps can be a comforting thing. Putting computation ahead of understanding won’t, in the long run, hurt them!
“Oh, you’ll be such great parents! You’re both teachers!”
My wife and I heard this many times when we were expecting our first. I told everyone I really didn’t think so, that parenting was its own thing, but I secretly hoped I would have an advantage.
In my classroom, on a good day, I’m a technician running a clinic. I work with clearly defined objectives for academic progress and expectations for civil behavior. I put carefully targeted work into getting students to achieve the standard. When things don’t go right, I practice a kind of academic or social forensics, picking over the corpse of a lesson to determine the cause of death.
At home, forget it. I’m not so much a technician as a rodeo clown, using tricks and gags to lure two toros into homework, chores, and tooth brushing. When things don’t go well, I’m not an analyst. I’m a marshmallow.
A student who approaches me with, “I can’t find my book!” will often hear, “I can’t find it either, sorry.” It might sound cruel, but the expectation is that a third grader will problem-solve by performing his/her own search. I’ll assist with strategy as far as that goes, but I won’t look for it myself.
At home, my daughter needs only to make a certain face, The Saddest Face Known to Mankind, and I’ll probably go look for her lost treasure. I freely admit that I’m a pushover that way, and also that I’m a complete sucker for the expression of sheer joy she makes when I find the thing.
When I report to parents that their child is a model student in class, sometimes they respond with disbelief: “I wish I could get him to do that at home!”
I know how they feel.
I have tenure, which would make firing me quite an ordeal. If this means I have job security, I’ll take it. However, I’m not convinced that it makes me less accountable for the quality of my job performance.
I have an annual review, which is pretty typical for those working in the private sector, in which I’m accountable to administration. There is no small amount of pressure involved with these; when was the last time your boss sat for an hour with nothing else to do but watch you work and take notes?
I’m also accountable to the parents of my students at least twice a year during parent conferences.
From an accountability viewpoint, I don’t suppose it’s that different from a financial planner meeting with clients. Evidence is laid out and explained, and a course is charted or adjusted.
However, there is one aspect of the teaching profession that is especially fraught with accountability, which is crystalized in state test scores. Soon, my students’ scores will account for 20% of my professional evaluation.
At first blush, it makes sense. My job is to teach them the things they’ll be expected to know on the exam. However, I only have them for about four and a half hours of academic instruction, five days a week, 40 weeks a year. This pales in comparison with the amount of time they have with their parents. A lot of what will make a kid a good student comes from home.
My doctor helps me stay healthy. I count on him to give me good medical advice and treat my health issues with his specialized expertise. However, if I choose to subsist on a diet of cupcakes and bourbon whenever I’m not in his office, I can’t fault his medical practice for the consequences (unless it was his recommendation).