Friday, November 17, 2017

Teach 180: A Personal Day (Day 52)

I am not playing hookie today.  I took my second personal day to visit a college with my daughter, who is a senior.  (How did that time go by so quickly?) It has been an eventful trip. Our flight leaving Newark was delayed by 2+ hours, there was a scuffle that required a police escort of two men off our plane when we landed, and our rental car was reserved at the other Dallas airport.  We finally got into our hotel at 3 AM CST (meaning 4 AM in Easton, PA).  Despite the travel troubles, the visit has been informative for both my daughter and me.

What are my students doing while I am away? Today is E day in the 8 day rotation of our schedule and that means I would be teaching period B and F.  So, my sub is just teaching the first period of the day (8AM - 9 AM) and the last period of the day (2:15 PM - 3:15 PM).  The first period is Calculus and the students took at test and then watched the video "How Big is Infinity?".  After a 40 - 45 minute test, students are pretty spent and it doesn't make sense to try to move onto the next unit.  But I don't want them to sit around shooting the breeze either.  So, we either do a hands-on activity to introduce a topic or we watch a video like this one.

Period F was Probability and Statistics.  Because I am very concerned about falling behind with content due to our new schedule this year, I had the sub do the lesson I had planned for they day.  It included reviewing problems related to probability and having students work on a graded problem set.  Luckily, we have a math teacher that retired from my school a few years ago and having her as a math sub is a great asset. I know I can count on her to teach almost any content and she will do it well.

It looks like the weather for Sunday may cause us more travel headaches when we head home.  I hope not.  Monday is Grandparents Day and I have some special lessons and activities planned to have students interacting with their grandparents.

Teach 180: Rethinking Giftedness (Day 51)

A general perspective: I just finished watching Jo Boaler's film Rethinking Giftedness and although there are some valid things that the students say, I feel that the film is very one sided.  All of the students have a similar opinion - that being labeled as gifted was bad for them.  At no point did they mention a benefit to being labeled gifted.  Does this mean that we shouldn't label students as gifted?  What about labeling students as learning disabled?  The students labeled gifted saw it as a reason for why they couldn't learn something - "the gift running out".  Would those that are labeled learning disabled use it as an excuse for why they can't do well?  I would contend that we should label students (gifted, learning disabled, etc.) not to harm them or make them feel badly about themselves, but to make sure they get the help they need to maximize their potential.

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My personal perspective: As a child I was labeled as gifted and I do recall the special test that was given to me at age 7 that the students in the film reference.  My parents didn't praise me for this label or expect more of me, because of it.  In fact to this day, I don't actually know the specific test scores or results. They did what all good parents do - encouraged me to learn a musical instrument, read for enjoyment, ride my bike and play with friends.  Because they saw my giftedness as just a part of who I was, I saw it as a part of me and it wasn't something that made me special or different.  It just made me, well, me. 

After I was labeled gifted, I was put into a pull-out class with some of my other classmates.  If it wasn't for this class, I would have not learned the BASIC programming language (on a Radio Shack computer).  I would not have written and published a short story (after numerous rejection letters).  I would not have been exposed to logic puzzles and "thinking outside the box".  And I would not have experienced frustration that can sometimes happen in learning with supportive teachers to guide me through that frustration.  Perhaps if the students in the video had experienced their label in a similar way to the way I had experienced it, they would have seen their "giftedness" label differently.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Teach 180: Thoughts about Tracking in Math (Day 50)

Today at our department meeting we had a discussion about pre-requisites for certain courses, specifically Honors courses.  To remain in the Honors track, students need to maintain a B+ grade in the prior course.  Even with a grade that high, there are students who struggle when they are in Geometry Honors.  To lower the grade to a B would mean that we would have more students struggling in that course.  Alternatively, I would be forced to slow the pace of the course down for those students.  Although you may think that teaching material at a pace that is appropriate for the weakest student in the class is a good idea, it actually does a disservice to those students who catch onto concepts easily.  They become bored. Or they get into trouble. Or they do what my best friend and I did in fifth and sixth grade - complete their math work quickly so they can continue to silently read their favorite book.  To remove all Honors math courses completely or lower our current standards would be a mistake.  I don't have research or data to back my claim, but I do have twenty-five years of experience at six different schools in four different states and my experiences with tracking was the same at each school.  It was necessary to help those students who were struggling and important to keep top students challenged.

In my next blog, I'll critique "What Tracking Is and How to Start Dismantling It".  It is an article I found while composing this blog entry and I am curious as to what it says.  Plus I am interested in the short film by Jo Boaler called Rethinking GiftednessHer film is not so much about tracking, but more about labeling kids and the damage that can come with a label.  We wouldn't think labeling a student with a learning disability would be negative. So, why is "gifted" a negative label to use?