You just never know

Oh hello! There has been so much going on this year, good and bad, that I’ve got quite the drafts list going on for this little blog of mine. Having some troubles editing down the angry/frustrated and focusing on the good. It’ll come.

So, my classroom make up this year is more diverse than ever. Many of my students, lovely as they may be, have some real conceptual gaps. What was supposed to be a quick little refresher on visual representations of multiplication and division as an opener for multiplying and dividing fractions unearthed the frightening reality that my students actually have (had?) NO IDEA what multiplication and division are/do. None. Zilch. Nada.

When faced with the choice of plowing on, or addressing the problem, plowing on was rather tempting. But, I decided to bite the bullet and face this monster head on. I spent two class periods (presumably) reteaching the visual models for multiplying and dividing fractions.

It was horrid. I’m not sure what in the world I was thinking doing it for a second day after the first. The students were so unengaged. I had them drawing along with me on mini whiteboards and it was nothing but a fight. Students were frustrated – they “knew” how to multiply and divide fractions and they were plain old annoyed and insulted that I was making them draw pictures. My decision to force the second day likely speaks more to my total lack of a better plan than any kind of sound pedagogy.

I felt horrible. Two days of instructional time wasted and from all indications I still had a classroom full of students who were just as clueless as when we started. Live and learn?

The following day was Friday, and it just so happens that this year I’ve decided to have students write a reflective math journal entry on Fridays. I flat out stole the idea from @fawnnyugen, and while my students find writing hard, it’s been a nice way to connect with many of them in a way I typically don’t have time for. I could hardly believe my eyes when student after student that week journaled about how helpful it was to see and practice visually multiplying and dividing fractions.

I have no idea if this will stick with them long term, but it certainly is a reminder that I clearly desperately needed – I have no idea what my students get out of lessons unless I ask them or give them a place to tell me. My experience and theirs, while happening simultaneously, are not the same. Needless to say, the journals are here to stay.

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One thought on “You just never know

  1. When I run into an issue where students obviously don’t have prior knowledge, I try not to make it obvious, I teach it as an aside during the main lesson (or prepare an activity which allows students to explore the idea, without being obvious that they are doing older material) or I teach it specifically in small groups to the students who really need it.

    It doesn’t always work, and I sometimes get push-back doing it this way as well, but it seems to work a bit better.

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