Thursday, October 23, 2008

Recharging students for success in mathematics

Being in a low socio-economic school sometimes is disheartening. The students don't believe that they are able to achieve academically. This is reinforced by parents, teachers and the school in subtle ways throughout the year.

A parent complains that the student is only doing lower maths and does not need a $175 calculator. The timetable allows many non-TEE subject to run, but only a few TEE subject selections are available. Portfolio entry is seen as a primary pathway to university rather than a backdoor entry for extreme cases. Lower school programmes lack the rigour of programmes in more academic schools. A single student or groups of students can disrupt classrooms for an entire year, but little coordinated effort can be made to limit the damage being caused. The idea of secondary graduation is diminished by the idea that 'anyone' can graduate. Cohorts of students are labelled challenging and good students lose opportunities as classes are aimed to manage the lower students and keep them engaged to detriment of academic achievement by top students.

Charging academic students for success is a mentality that must be driven - it doesn't just happen. Kids need to be told that they have the ability to succeed, shown possible outcomes, be given opportunity to try/fail/succeed and be mentored as they go along. Setting clear standards sets the groundwork for success.

Things that I consider serious issues in my A class:
  • Not being quiet and ready to start work within 2 minutes of entering the room
  • Being late for class and not entering the room quietly
  • Complaining, whining and whinging before attempting work
  • Not paying attention when instruction is given
  • Relying on friends or personal attention of the teacher for instruction rather than some level of personal investigation
  • Not attempting homework
  • Failing a test or assignment ( lower than 1 standard deviation from mean)
  • Not seeking assistance when required
Students that continuously fall into these issues risk demotion to BCD classes. For some, demotion is the right option, for others the motivation to be moved down is enough for them to alter negative behaviours. For a relative few, it identifies students with ability but are unlikely to succeed at TEE level. This year, boys in particular have been a real issue and a focus for the course next year (I think this is the most significant issue at our school).

Things that I do to promote positive attitudes towards mathematics and address issues:
  • Look for opportunities to congratulate students on achievement
  • Attempt to talk to each student each class
  • Allow friendship groups to remain together only when learning is occurring
  • Ensure that new topics include new material
  • Promote the A class as being a privilege and a responsibility
  • Reinforce that attitude is as important as aptitude
  • Change the difficulty level regularly to allow for opportunities for success/failure and stretching of the mind.
  • Question their own beliefs of their ability and remind them of progress made
  • Use personal experiences to enhance class material
  • Focus the basis of enjoyment in mathematics in achievement rather than entertainment by the teacher (though the converse may be more important in lower classes)
  • Encourage students to self monitor behaviour and provide peer feedback
  • Create opportunities for students to see the different rapport with yr 11/12 TEE students than with yr 10 students

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