Posted by: Magistra | January 21, 2008


I’d heard that freshmen are very different when they come back from winter break. There’s definitely been physical growth (I think some boys must have grown an inch every week we were off!), but even the students who look the same sure aren’t acting the same.

Of course it’s a new semester and I’ve made changes, so I can’t really know how much of the change is them as individuals and how much is us as a group. As I see it, these are the significant differences between last quarter and this one (to date):

  • One student was switched to another section. This student wanted nothing to do with what was happening in class. She couldn’t complete assignments because I didn’t teach them how to do it; she couldn’t stop talking because lots of students were talking and I was picking on her; the computer program we use every other day was stupid and didn’t help, but having free time on the computer once a quarter wasn’t right because I was wasting her time to learn algebra. And, of course, everything I wore and every haircut I got was lame (at best). Last quarter I was feeling horrible about this situation. After all, I’m the adult in the room, the one with the advantages, who’s job is to help her advance. And transferring her out still feels like taking the easy road. But if this is part of why the rest of us are moving on, I think it was worth it. I hear that so far it’s working out for her too.
  • Average daily attendance is down. I think a couple students are still in Mexico, and I heard a rumor that one moved, but whatever the reason right now there are only about 30 students (not 35) showing up. That means we’re not packed like sardines and I’ve got a better chance of getting to everyone.
  • New seating arrangement. I’ve got students in groups of 5 desks. I’ve been told ad naseum that 4 is the best size, but this arrangement has three advantages for me. One, absences mean that in practice there’s often a group of 4 (and not 3). Two, it means I’ve only got seven groups in the room, which puts more space between groups. This makes students less likely to talk between groups and makes it easier for all of us to move around the room. Three, I can circulate among seven groups faster than nine. I think I’m spending more time checking in with each student than I was last semester.
  • Assessment. I’ve made significant changes here that I’m excited about. Worth it’s own post.
  • Beginning of class routine. Algebra is always first thing in the morning which means tardy students are always a problem. Partly to manage that, and partly to put more control and choice in student hands, I’ve changed the warm-up routine. Now students have to select an activity from a range of choices. So far they’ve got three choices: mixed skill practice, multiple choice practice, and problem of the week type scenarios. If they finish at least three different types of activities in a week, then they can play games/puzzles for the rest of the warm-up time. I want to get some tangram puzzles and need to get more games. I think for puzzle/game time to be a real incentive I have to be able to rotate things in and out. But I just spent $80 on folders and file crates (part of the new assessment plan) so I’m not feeling really excited about buying more teaching things right now.

Whatever the reason (and it’s probably a combination of things above and their natural maturation), I am thrilled to see students trying. It makes it so much easier to put time in to working on Algebra when I think there’s a chance it will make a difference. My fingers are crossed that week two will keep building on week one.

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