Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I am struggling this year with getting kids to complete assignments. Teaching math means kids need to practice skills on their own in order to cement in their brains, the processes learned. We usually spend the first day/s on a topic, working together, usually using small whiteboards, practicing the process, the steps, the how-to of our new skill set. But at some point, students must work independently to make those skills stick with them in long term memory.

I try to give time in class to work on the problems assigned. There is a two-fold reason for this - #1, I want students to have me or others as a resource should they run into problems. I want to be able to look over their shoulders, sit next to strugglers, help them through the rough parts. #2, Students often do not complete work once they leave my room.

Hence, my struggle. I try to give a reasonable amount of independent work, what I think it will take the average 7th grader to complete in the alloted time in class.

Unfortunately, there are students who work slowly and need more time. That might be because they process slowly, needing more time to think about what they are doing. Those are the kids who work steadily, determined to be successful. They are using class time wisely, asking for help, using the resources made available to them. They will plod their way through, step by step by step.

Others that do not finish are the ones I struggle the most with. These are the intentional dawdlers. They just simply waste time. Regardless of the task in front of them, they tackle it with as much enthusiasm as a snail slithering across a cold sidewalk.

Unfortunately, just cutting an assignment in half for either of these groups is probably not the answer. The first group, the slow processors, need more problems than the average student to grasp what is being taught. They need practice, practice, practice to get it right, to make it automatic in their minds. Much like the star basketball player who spends hours to master those shooting and dribbling skills, these kids should be spending MORE time instead less time, if they ever want to be math stars.

In the second group, the pokey group, some of these kids could probably grasp the concepts with fewer problems, and for those, I do not mind adjusting an assignment. However, usually, it is so difficult to assess whether or not they know what is going on or not, I am reluctant to do that!

What's the answer?? I am not sure.. I can sit with the individual students, trying to prod them to work faster, but with some of them, that is like torture, for them as well as me.

There has to be a solution...

.....parents forcing kids to do homework? Maybe... but often times, there are legitimate reasons kids don't do schoolwork outside of school.

....more time in the school day to work on math skills? sure, but what is going to be taken from their schedule to make time for this?

..... some other option I have yet to discover? probably....


Shawn said...

What about a 2-5-8/20-50-80 Menu style assignment?

I sympathize with the dilemma. It's a constant struggle in our building every day.

It seems as though Gladwell's "Endurance Theory" would fit in here, but the application requires a bit more thought.

cossondra said...

I like the menu assignment option but I have trouble applying that to daily math assignments. For a more long term project, like our house plan project, sure. However, the day to day, for lack of a better term, skill and drill work, it is an every day new concept kind of thing, where I need them to practice it in order to move on, with the previous day's understanding required for the next.

As far as endurance... if you have that KEY please send it to me! I know they need to endure to be successful, the KEY is getting them to GET that!!

John said...

I teach 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts, and I feel your pain. I try to limit this issue by never assigning any work that is unhelpful or needlessly time consuming. I remind the kids that I will never waste their time with a word search or coloring activity, however, the work I do assign is expected to be done on time. For some, this guarantee is all they need. For the rest (and the majority in most cases) I've found that clear and consistent consequence works well. As middle level teachers, it's just as important to teach responsibility as it is to teach our content area.

Great blog! I've added you to my RSS reader!

cossondra said...

Thanks, John!

I HATE busy work like word searches! I think they should be banned from education, period.

What type of consequences do you suggest? We do not have an afterschool program/detention of any type. I can keep students on my own, sure, but that requires a parent phone call, and transportation can become a HUGE issue. We are a very rural district with kids leaving 60+ miles from school in many cases. I would love more ideas on consequences?