Thursday, October 22, 2009


I get a news alert daily that rounds up stories for me that mention Arne Duncan. I get preemptively irritated upon seeing it arrive in my mailbox. And for good reason.

For a guy who's spent, well, zero time as a student in a teacher ed program and zero time as a teacher - the amount of teacher bashing he engages in is mind-bogglingly amazing.

There's always a year's worth of irony in any given speech Duncan gives.
Now the fact is that states, districts, and the federal government are also culpable for the persistence of weak teacher preparation programs. Most states routinely approve teacher education programs, and licensing exams typically measure basic skills and subject matter knowledge with paper-and-pencil tests without any real-world assessment of classroom readiness.
Somehow he seems to miss the fact that these tests he's criticizing, these standardized tests, (that, I might add most of us taking them recognize as essentially meaningless) - are no different than the tests he loves so much for our students. And! The solution! Link up those student test scores to teacher ed programs! Except in this case, these tests are apparently not "paper-and-pencil tests," but "student achievement data."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Guided Math?

I'm having such an interesting experience in teaching math. My favorite things to teach are usually literacy and social studies but I'm actually really getting into math because it's such a challenge for me to break things down the right way for the kids and to figure out, when they're not getting it - why.

So October is fractions, decimals and probability in my school so I started with fractions. First day, parts of a whole - pizzas, naturally - went fine. Second day - parts of a set. We did an activity where everybody got up and we made fractions based on how many out of the class were wearing blue...and so on. I think the kids are getting it - I have them do a couple problems at the end of the lesson and turn them in so I can take a look. I did this because I found that questioning - which I was doing, to see how they were conceptualizing the numerator, denominator, and concept of a fraction in general - doesn't give me a good enough sense of what each individual is thinking - in a class of 30. It gets me part of the way, but not the whole way. So I take a look at the problems and while I think in general we've got it, I decide to give parts of a set another day.

I’m trying to come up with a way to see how they’re thinking individually, so I decide I’m going to have each of them design a worksheet on parts of a set. We discuss as a class how to do that and then they get started. My plan is to then pair them up, have them do each other’s and have them do some peer teaching – I’m going to make the pairs so that a strong student is with a weaker one. So I bring the worksheets home with me for the weekend – they’re not finished yet – and it’s SO interesting to look at them and see where they’re getting mixed up.

In the course of this, a new problem arises. How can I meet the needs of all these students who are in very different places in their understanding of fractions?

It occurred to me during the course of this lesson that we don’t have the strong instructional framework for teaching math that we do for literacy. While we have recommended best practices for teaching math, such as the use of manipulatives, writing and questioning to build students’ mathematical thinking, we are without the strong management structure we have for literacy – the reader’s workshop model which integrates whole class, individual and small or guided group work. I need a way to get time to meet with students individually or in small groups during math as we do in literacy.

So. “Guided math.”

I know what I want to address during “guided math,” and that each group’s instruction would depend on their needs. What I don’t know is what the rest of the class could be engaged in while I’m meeting with small groups of students. A worksheet would likely keep them quiet, but would they be actively learning? Manipulative work often becomes noisy and needed “refereeing.” I need a happy medium that used both my students’ and my time efficiently. Not only that, but I can’t spend much more time on parts of a set, as the district pacing guide requires that we get through all of fractions, decimals, and probability within the month. Not much room for error!

So that’s where I’m at. I’m turning this over in my head all weekend. I'm waiting for that stroke of genius to strike. ;)

Blog Changes.

I'm student teaching now. In an urban, "failing" elementary school. I have 30 students in the fourth grade. In a few weeks, I'll switch to kindergarten. Interesting experience, thus far.

Theory + Reality = Chaos.

So, I'm changing the blog up a bit. I'll be writing about my experiences, or policy decisions being made, or problems I'm having, or whatever strikes my fancy.