## Monday, November 24, 2008

### Diagnostics

Sometimes teaching year 10's you get so caught up in your lesson you miss the bloody obvious.

Today we were looking at distance from origin, Perth to Meekatharra, Perth to Newman and so forth using trip counters and odometers. My students were finding it hard to find the distance between two locations (I forget the real distances so please excuse my made up ones)..

They could understand that the 259km and the 1600km indicated distances from Perth but could not understand how to determine the distance between Meekatharra and Newman. So I tried something similar but with smaller numbers.

When asked the distance between Mary's house and the shops, this time students were able to say 1km. I asked them how they did that and they gave me the answer 9+1=10. I asked if they could think of another way. A sea of blank looks from the new kids in the class. I think to myself OMG. No wonder these kids couldn't do the previous problem. I showed them that subtraction could work and they were able to complete the exercise finding distances between various destinations. By the end it was obvious that they could learn the pattern for solving the problems but did not have an understanding of the underlying maths - thus had forgotten the method by the next problem.

So I went a bit further and used my favourite diagnostic tool. I wrote the following on their page.

10
99
109
119
1109
1229

And asked them to add one to each number. Thankfully only one student couldn't do this. Then I write 10526 and 52679 at the end of the list and moved to each asking them to say the numbers quietly to me. This was not as successful. This was the trigger to split the class (again) and start these kids on a different programme of work.

The integration of low ability or underschooled students into the mainstream and removal of dedicated remedial classes has meant that many students are falling through the cracks. It is no wonder that some of these kids can be disruptive, disheartened and are having confidence issues. Students that cannot read numbers above 100, can't identify simple operations or understand place value have little chance in mainstream classes. It's enough to make you physically upset and reminds me why I originally intended teaching year 7 rather than senior secondary. The impact of intervention is greater at an earlier age than now.

I have many of these kids next year and have identified areas of focus, we're designing entry tests for new students and aim to improve numeracy with low performing students. It's frustrating the amount of time that it takes to find these issues and detect the underlying factors behind avoidant behaviour. Time will only tell how much success can be made of it.