Sunday, September 20, 2015

Doing my best to do the best...

This week my mind is jammed pack so to help clean out the closet I had to break my thoughts into three parts:

Thought 1: To Teach, Chapter 5: Liberating the Curriculum was a tough read for me.  I often worry about making sure I am reading all the learning goals and that my students leave my classroom where they are “supposed to be.”  I have always been a rule follower and a list checker.  So when I get the grade 7 math standards I want to make sure that when my students leave they have a deep understanding of these standards.  I like standards, I believe that they give a solid backbone to my instruction.  I have yet to work in a public school where anyone tells me exactly want I need to teach and what standards I have to follow.  For the last three years I could have taught anything I wanted to in my classroom, with little supervision from the administrations.  But what would I teach? I almost can’t handle that freedom so I have used content standards to direct me.  The questions that Ayers list on pages 70 and 71 made me think if I could take a different approach to my classroom time.  But then that little voice inside my head says that students need to learn how to do operations with rational numbers even if the “work is (not) linked to student questions or interests?” (pg 71).  What adolescent questions what a rational number is and how to add/subtract/multiply/divide with it.  

Thought 2: To Teach: Chapter 6, Keeping Track.  This past week at Back-to-School night a parent asked me a question that threw me for a bit of a loop.  I had just finished explaining that even though there would not be a separate class for honors math this year I would work my hardest to meet each child where they were, and that my instruction would be differentiated to enrich and support students where they need it.  A parent asked me how would the students work be scaled.  She believed that differentiation hurts students, and that it was unfair to hold students to different standards.  It took me a minute to process this, and I asked her to explain more.  I have yet to come up with a response but while I read Ayers’s teacher’s question “Given what I know now, how should I teach this particular student” I must be right.  Differentiation is definitely important, and maybe this parent would not have such strong feelings if schools were not so depended on the grade the student will get in the end, instead of focusing on the learning that has occurred.  Here is a letter home to parents explaining differentiation, maybe I should take cue from this.  

Thought 3: Understanding Youth, Chapter 1. It was definitely not the first time that I had read about Vygotsky’s ZPD, but reading it this week just confirmed what I already touched upon.  “Researchers have found that optimal learning occurs when lessons are targeted toward the higher edge of one’s ZPD” (pg 11), I will continue to differentiate my instruction, and I will target it toward each students ZPD.  I refuse to play into the game that has often been demonstrated at this school that we aim to have everyone pass everything and A’s are given out left and right because that is what parents expect and what students have grown used to.  I am taking the time right now to get to know my students, “we must know where they are coming from before we can hope to take them where we want to go” (pg 11).  Reading the first chapter of Understanding Youth has reminded me to work my hardest to connect with my students, to be present with them, listen to them, and hopefully understand them.  


  1. Jenny, I love that letter that you found here - I love that it mentions challenge, possibility, and growth. I also think it is so interesting that this teacher puts herself in the parents' shoes and imagines the questions they will ask that will allow these three things to happen...there should be parental involvement, but in cases where they may not be, we still have to be the ones to answer these questions, whether parents are asking them or not. I'm excited to hear about the response from students and parents as you continue to make your teaching (and their learning) a transparent process. Everyone can benefit more from this than from simply "scaling" the work and focusing on the end grade. Kudos to you for sticking to your teacher instinct and looking for a thorough way to explain this to the parents.

  2. Jenny, I agree...I would have been thrown by that question as well. And I guess the parent sort of has a point. The way I think about it is that the objective has to be the same for all students, but the way we assess students' meeting of the objective may have to be modified. So, in that case, a student might meet the standard of "Narrative Writing" because they can write a narrative using the common core (or whatever standards you use) objective language. However, an Honors student's narrative piece might look very different than a student in a Team Taught Inclusion class. But, all of these students would theoretically be meeting the standard, and maybe the student in the Honors class would be exceeding the standard and the inclusion student may have received accommodations to be able to meet the standard. I don't know if the parent would have liked my answer though seeing as though it doesn't mention anything about grades!

    Again, it boils down to that ever-present focus on grades. It reiterates my idea that standards-based assessment seems to be the best way to go. But, I'm not sure if we'll ever get there!

  3. Jenny, We've of course been focusing on what our students have learned/are learning, but it is important to consider what parents have learned/are learning about what is happening in education. If I wasn't an educator, I'm not sure what my level of understanding would be of all of the shifts considering much of my information would probably come from some sort of inflammatory media source. How do we as classroom teachers gauge what parents are learning? How can we direct that learning more productively? What is the administration's role in that? RIDE's role in that? Thanks for sharing this interaction and giving us yet something else to consider!

  4. Jenny,
    I like the way you broke down your 3 thoughts. Be sure to honor your read on what you feel your students need to know, then pay attention to how each is able to make meaning out of the material. I too find grading to be a hinderance at times, and your conversation with the parent leaving you with questions is a signal that you are looking at it the right way (aren't all our conversations supposed to lead to more questions?). The letter you linked to clearly demonstrates the dichotomy between the traditional vs the authentic way students learn. Lastly, I have always been a fan of the ZPD, it backs up the practice of keeping students slightly uncomfortable, while still safe, exactly where I think we need to keep our classrooms, the delicate part is being able to do that simultaneously with large groups of students.

  5. Look at Tina's "not yet" system for grading work that is not quite there yet, I love that approach.

  6. Jenny,

    I also noticed that getting to know your students much earlier than later is always helpful. This year, I have made a conscience effort to talk with each and every student before they walk into class. I know, its a bit ambitious, but I do try to talk to as many students as possible about non-math things. I believe I know more about them by the middle of September, than towards the end of December. I know that you walked with your students through the building to get to your room and if that is still the case-- strike up some conversations. I think when you write and quote "I am taking the time right now to get to know my students, “we must know where they are coming from before we can hope to take them where we want to go”-- I think you are right on target.