Easy Mistakes

The more that I teach, the more I wonder why students make such careless mistakes! During my TA placement, I attributed the issue to the class I was teaching since it was all low achieving math students. Yet, now I am finding the same thing in my “on track” 8th grade math students and even more surprisingly, in my “ahead” Algebra 1 students.

To me, missing negatives, writing the problem wrong, or just plugging things into the calculator incorrectly are mistakes that should seldom be happening at this level! The problem is that I don’t know what else to do to help my students overcome these silly mistakes. Personally, getting points off on quizzes and tests continually would be motivation enough to pay attention to the details.

I have talked to several other math teachers and they are having the same feelings as I am. It seems no matter how many times you say it, the students still forget negatives–it kills me! The worst part is I see them solving the equations completely correct, but when they actually write their final answer they just forget to write the negative sign! I have an inner struggle about if I should or shouldn’t take points off for that. I think, “okay, I’m testing them on solving equation skills and they did that correctly” but at the same time I think, “the answer simply isn’t correct and they should not get rewarded for carelessness.”

I just hope I am able to find a way to encourage my students to be careful and meticulous in their mathematics in order to prove that they fully understand the topic. Any suggestions on how to do this would be much appreciated!

Too Many Absent Students

Even though the semester is just starting, I have noticed that many students are absent every day! This is not really a new observation because in my TA position, my Geometry class had 6-9 students missing daily. Although I don’t know why, I was under the impression that this semester would be different. Being in a small, affluent district I guess I figured that education have a higher value resulting in a lower absent rate.

My first two hours of the day are both Algebra 1 classes while my afternoon classes are normal 8th grade math courses. There is a noticeable difference in the attendance rates of these two courses. Typically we have 0-1 missing in Algebra but in 8th grade math it is more like 4-5 absent.

With people gone each day, it makes the job of teaching WAY harder! I find it hard to keep track of all of the work students need to make up. I have to help them make up the homework assignment, the Checkpoint Quizzes we do multiple times a week, the in class notes, etc. In 8th grade, it seems it is still partially my responsibility to ensure the students complete their missing work. Even though this is complicated, I can handle it and I know it will get easier as I continue to teach and make my own system. Yet, I feel like the main question I am debating is, when students are absent is it better to have then make up the work (like a quiz or test) as soon as they return and miss another day’s lesson or, have them do the lesson with us and make up the work at another time? Neither seem to be a great answer, I wonder if there is something better. It becomes complicated if students need to come in and make up a test at lunch, before school, or in home room because they often can’t finish it in one sitting. That doesn’t seem right to me…I believe could give them an unfair advantage. Yet, if I have them make it up during class time they just end up farther behind by missing yet another day’s lesson. Does anyone have suggestions, what is the best way to do this?

Reforming Assessment

When thinking about the word “assessment” many things come to mind. The most vivid comes from my personal memories of taking countless assessments in my 15+ years of school. I have never been a student that thrived in test taking situations. In fact, the thought of exams, AP tests, and the ACT often made me nauseous. Over my three years in college, I was forced to face my fear of test taking since I literally had semesters with 2 exams every week for 10 weeks straight! But now, as I embark on the journey of teaching the word “assessment” takes on a whole new meaning. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a way to torture the students for an hour while I sit in the corner gaining satisfaction or even a way to force the students to study all night because I want to make their lives miserable. As a teacher, I view assessment as a necessary step in the education process because I need to determine what/where the students lack understanding so that I can assist them in the ultimate goal of improvement and learning. I do always try to keep in mind that there are many students that I will be teaching who fear assessment in the same way that I did so I attempt to make the assessment setting, not the assessment itself, as comfortable as possible to avoid adding extra stress.
The article, “Changing Assessment Practices in an Algebra Class, or “Will This be on the Test?”” addresses many of the feelings that I have about ways we assess students in math classes today. I have witnessed a shift in mathematics teaching from the time I was taught Algebra in 7th grade to the way I am being encouraged to teach it currently. The attempt to teach math through investigation, reasoning, and critical thinking in hopes of creating a deeper ulster standing of the subject is quite different than the rote memorization and “drilling” that I experienced as a student. Yet, the practice of assessment seems relatively unchanged. Logically this just doesn’t make sense- why would we emphasize deep thinking when we teach but then not require that when we assess? Because its easier? Perhaps. Murphy makes a simple statement, “what we assess communicates what we value,” so if we truly value reasoning and investigations we must change our assessments! (248) Now, this seems easier said then done but when I am given the opportunity to have my own classroom, I hope to move in this direction. I know it will take a lot of time and practice but is apparent that if we actually want students to improve “they need to have these skills, but they also need more” (Murphy, 248).

Start of something new

As we begin another semester, and advance from teacher assisting to student teaching, I believe we must be willing to adapt. I have noticed a lot of differences between my TA placement and my current placement. For starters, I was in a high school last semester and now I am in middle school (these students seem to like school a little more!). Also, only 1 of my 5 hours has any sort of racial diversity which is quite different than my former placement. To me, these differences are not playing a large role but rather, it is the difference in school atmosphere, CT, and teaching style that makes it feel like a new world.

I have really enjoyed the atmosphere at Spring Lake Middle School so far. The teachers all get along and it is a tight knit group that shares information daily. Having coworkers that you can lean on when things get tough is a great quality to have at school. The students that I have are extremely attentive (so far) and the vast majority have a desire to learn. My students require specific directions and cues, which makes sense because they are younger, but as a whole they listen very well and I am so excited because when they do group work, they stay on task!

Last semester, I felt extremely comfortable with my CT. This is where I seem to be feeling the most difference this semester. My CT now is great, but the communication just does not flow between us like last semester. I think it will just take time to really get to know him. Also, I think that my CT has a different teaching style than I have witnessed in the past. He is very organized and likes to be in control of the classroom. It seems like more of an authoritarian approach whereas I like to gain control by showing the students I respect them and care about them so they then desire to respect me. I may have to get used to the “old school” style of teaching this semester but I hope I can make it my own a little encourage more collaboration and communication.