Friday 14 June 2013

Meet her Where she Is

A recent event outside of school has prompted me to think about what I do in school with students who are lacking some of the basic skills needed to be successful in a particular math course.  To begin, I need to talk about Chloë.

My recently-turned 4 year old has been taking swimming lessons for almost a year now.  She loves the water!  She does her front floats and back floats and enthusiastically jumps in and spends any free time happily bouncing up and down.  She loves swimming lessons.  She passed Sea Otter then moved on to Salamander (who comes up with these names?!?).  Halfway through the winter session of Salamander, her coach told me that she had already done everything she needed to in order to pass with flying colours.  Great!  I registered her in Sunfish for the 5-week spring session.

Sunfish, class 1.  There are 3 students in the class but the other 2 girls are quite a bit older than Chloë and have both done Sunfish (quite successfully) at least once.  Seeing the other girls meeting all the expectations for the end of this level on the first day completely intimidated my little 3-year old.  She shut down, didn't want to try (because she knew she couldn't do an unassisted back float for 5 seconds as the other girls were) and looked so very, very sad. <insert my heart breaking here>

Sunfish, class 2.  Only 2 students this time, but Chloë was still being asked to do things she knew she couldn't.  And she wasn't getting the help she needed to learn or the support and encouragement she desperately needed to have the confidence in herself to try.  At the end of that class her coach came to talk to me, basically to tell me that she was in the wrong level.  I did my best to remain polite while I told her that Chloë was in the right level but that she should not be expected to do what the others in the class were already doing.  The coach needed to meet her where she was and build on that foundation.  (it turns out that the coach did not know what the expectations coming out of Salamander were - argh!)

The parallel to grade 9 math is clear to me.  These students come to our school from a number of feeder schools, all having learned the same curriculum but in different ways and to different degrees.  Some can't multiply without a calculator, some have had teachers who don't like math and therefore did as little of it as possible, while others have done all kinds of problem solving and learned far beyond the grade 8 curriculum.  It is up to me to meet them where they are.  To figure out what they know and where they need help.  It is not for me to say that they are in the wrong level 3 weeks into my class (we have academic and applied grade 9 math).

My goal for next year is to do this better.  Not just at the beginning of the semester, but throughout.  I like a lot of what I have read about SBG and will implement that in my own way next year.  At my school, quizzes are all formative. For each unit, there is a test and a task that count.  Students can rewrite one unit test at the end of the semester.  My plan is to use levels (R,1,2,3,4) to assess all quizzes and any students who do not achieve at least a level 3 will have to take that quiz again until they do.  Each quiz will likely cover one or two specific curriculum expectations.  My hope is that by ensuring that students have a solid understanding of all the pieces of the unit, they will be better able to put it all together for the test and task.  This will require organization on my part (but I'm good with that) and work over the summer developing all the quizzes.  This should be worth the extra work as I hope that it will help me better support my students where they are and lead them to where they need to be.

P.S. Sunfish, class 3 was better!  The coach heard what I said and Chloë had a much better class : )