From: John Donaghy
To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Subject: re: Including Low Students in the main curriculum
Our middle school collapsed its varioous math tracks down to two: a standard class at each grade level, and an advanced class (which takes algebra as 8th graers). This is down from 4-5 levels in each grade! So far we feel it has been successful. One respondent to this topic said that probably the brightest kids already knew the material and could solve all of the problems. Well, this might be true if you are following a traditional curriculum which emphasizes skills over concepts, and memorization over problem solving. More open-ended, discovery oriented teaching methods challenge students to construct their own knowledge and make connections to prior knowledge. Mastery of percents is not prerequisite for learning about surface area and volume, which few of my students come in with any mastery of. And most students will discover that the volume of any prism or cylinder can be found from the forumla V=Bh, even if they can't recall the formula to find the area of the base. We have just adopted the Mathscapes middle school curriculum. It supports this type of ability mixing. One specific adaptation I do is require a complete homework assignment fom most kids, and a paired down assignment for other students, who struggle with the extension sections of the homework (but who can stil do them for a higher grade). For some of my special ed students who are really struggling, I grade them half on their achievement and half on a checklist of actions they take during the period (participating in the activity, opening their journals without prompting, etc.). And students develop stronger and deeper understanding when they explain things to their colleagues! That's why students think teachers are so bright -- because we have taught the material and can make connections between various concepts!
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