Sunday, October 01, 2017

People Skills

Poof! Just like that, 1/6 of the school year is over. AND I am almost prepared for school to start (one day I will finish all the beginning of the year chores ... or not). 

What are my new things this year? I want my AP Calculus students to succeed in spite of themselves. Some of them get into the senior mode or life gets in their way or they drop the ball on putting in the needed effort to truly understand things. So I have implemented 3 new things in class.

First, I want their whole minds to be on math during class. It's probably unrealistic, but a teacher has to try. To this end, I want them to ideally rid their thoughts of all the other stress and junk that has built up during the day. So one day early on, we took 8 (?) pieces of colored paper and stapled them together, and folded them to make a "book". On the front we titled it, "Toxic Dump". Now every day at the start of class all of us do a silent timed writing (3 minutes) where we just empty out anything that is occupying our heads or stressing us out or making us angry or whatever. In this way, I hope to create more brain space for them to learn. Nobody sees their books but them, so they are free to vent.

I had one kid say (at the beginning), "are we going to do this every class?" I said yes, but then asked her why she was asking, since she then had a funny look on her face. She mentioned that she didn't think she would always be so stressed and frazzled. Hah! I said that I hoped not, and that on those days she could write about the great things that happened or doodle. And I have also had one student ask me at the start of every class, "are we going to Toxic Dump today?". When I asked why she was asking, she said, "I just didn't want you to forget." Finally, I have heard different students mutter, "whew! I have a lot to write about today." 

The second thing I am doing is daily (or frequent) warm ups that involve a deeper and active analysis of what they just learned or that involve writing or explaining ... basically thinking and processing. This takes about 5 or so minutes. I was caught unaware many times last year when I THOUGHT they got stuff if they never asked or came for tutoring, but then on the rare occasion (and usually too late) when I scratched the surface with a kid or two later, I found out that, nope, didn't understand some basics. I guess they get into the mode of "hiding" or "smiling and nodding" because everyone else seems to get it, or maybe they are just too overwhelmed and have too many other balls to juggle that they don't address their misunderstandings. I am sure that there are still those kids, but maybe with a more frequent revisiting of important things, they will do better. 

Now that I am writing this, I guess I don't know how I am assessing this daily. There never seems to be time to check in with each kid. I just go on the assumption that if they don't ask questions and don't come in to tutoring then .... I will have to think on this more.

The last thing I am doing is a frequent shout out during class of various forms:
"You're doing great"
"I hope you are impressed with the fact that you are doing challenging things"
"Be proud of yourselves for being willing to struggle"
I teach at an All-Girls Public School with a variety of skill levels. That and knowing that girls are more likely to be hard on themselves and maybe sabotage their own efforts because of self-doubt makes me try harder to boost them up. There is also a wide range of abilities in my class(es) and I think also the girls that don't feel the smartest, in comparison to the others who seem to get it faster, will also sabotage their pursuit of understanding.