Saturday, February 20, 2010

Algebra Epiphany

I'm apparently a slow learner. I just realized the other day that I'm treating my algebra 1 preAP students like "gifted" kids, or "true preAP" students. I show them 1-3 examples (they work at least 2 of them by themselves in class) of a particular topic, and then invariably the bell rings MUCH too soon, and I send them off with homework. I also provide them with my school website in which I've linked various videos and sites that help for that topic.

I give about 10 problems of a type, and then the next class starts and we move on to a new topic after we've gone over homework. About 25% of the class (very rough estimate) is fine with this and can self assess and readjust their thinking and learn from their mistakes. BLACH! That means I'm not serving 75% of my students. They need MANY more examples, they need more hand-holding, they need more time in class to process new information.

Then there's always the war raging on in my head: Ackh! I'm going too slow, we won't learn everything we need to know for algebra. Eek! I'm molly-coddling them too much, when will they learn to stand on their own. Oof! what about the kids that get it, what will they do when we're practicing more in class when they already GET it. Yeesh! This is a preAP class, step up to the plate, kiddies.

Yes ... the "D" word ... differentiation. I had started to read a good book about it a while ago, and then as always seems to happen, other things got in the way, and I only finished 3 of 18 chapters. Then just the other day, I started reading it again. I'm on chapter 3. MUST. READ. BOOK. Must reflect on another way to do things.


  1. What is the name of the book? Wanna do an informal book study on it?

  2. Hey! I was wondering the same thing! What book is it and I'd be interested in an informal book study.

    (I read more of your posts, are you sure you're not at my middle school... ACK! I guess all middle schools are the same!)

  3. You two have motivated me. The book is "Differentiating the High School Classroom", by Kathie F. Nunley.

    Hmmm, I checked and it's in the $30's. I also checked B&N online. That runs in the high $20's. I know if you have a teacher discount at B&N, you can get a large % off (20%?? 25%??).

    I would be interested in a book study. Maybe that will put the spark under my bum to actually put some of her ideas into practice. Let me know if you want to continue, and thanks for the offer.

    Ms. Cookie

  4. There's a book called "Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom" by Susan Winebrenner that you might find helpful. One of the best strategies for Math, IMO is to say that if the kids can do the most difficult 5 problems (often the last 5) correctly, then they can skip the rest of the assignment. There are strategies for what to do with the kids who are skipping the assignment, such as having them help the others (use sparingly!) and you could also have some puzzles available. If this is middle school, maybe substitute the "regular" assignment with some MATHCOUNTS problems, available free online from

  5. Maybe you already do this, but I habitually build quiz- and test- corrections into my classroom routine. Before every quiz / test, we do a practice round in class the day before. That way, kids know that it's their responsibility to see me for extra help if they're still struggling with some specific material. Then, when I pass back the quizzes, I give them some time at the beginning of the class to correct a couple of questions for points. This serves as good review before the unit test, and also forces them to look at their mistakes IN CLASS and to ask me questions if needed! At the end of each grading period, I pass back all of their old unit tests and we spend one class doing corrections on those -- a good time for all kids (struggling or not) to bring up their grades by a bit and to feel good about their last-minute efforts at the end of a quarter, and it helps them to prepare for their midterms / finals! I started doing this because it helped my failing kids feel hope and to keep trying, but now it's just a routine part of my class, because I think it really gives the sruggling kids the extra time they need on older material.