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Q&A #7008

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Support for a first-year teacher (math)

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From: Judy <t2t@mathforum.org>
To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 2003112115:20:09
Subject: Re: support for a first year teacher in math

Hi Brian

Let me try to address your first question because it sounds to me like
you may have gotten yourself into an endless loop. Your students don't
get started on the opening activity because they expect you to tell
them when to get started. I'll bet that they have even determined how
many times you have to tell them to get started before you get really
angry and act accordingly. Ninth grade students are clever little
darlings. Mostly they are smart enough to know how to beat the system.
You almost have to con them into the behavior that you should be able
to expect.

So you need to break the loop. Do something different. As they come
into your room, before they even sit down start to say something like:
"Today's warm up is on the overhead, I'm excited about this problem
because..." 
"Today's warm up is on the overhead, I'm anxious to see what you can
do with it."
"Today's warm up is on the overhead, I'm going to ask a few students
to share their journal entries with the class." 
"Today's warm up is on the overhead, I'm anxious to read a few of your
journal entries, please let me know when you are finished and ready to
share it with me."

Don't wait for the bell, or for the class to settle. As soon as you
have three or four students in the room you can begin to point to the
activity. In my classroom, they were called "warm ups" but feel free
to substitute the name you use.  Say several versions of the same
thing as more and more students enter the room. 

As soon as all students are in the room, change your commentary. Watch
the students, find a student who is not working on the warm up and
say, "Jenny, Have you finished the warm up?" But say it in a friendly
conversational voice as if you actually believe that there is a chance
that she has finished it. Most students will not answer you directly,
however they will start to work. One out of about 100 times you will
actually get a student who will say "Yes, I'm finished." in which case
you can ask to see it, congratulate him for completing it so quickly,
and make other comments as appropriate. In particular, you might have
to remind the student to wait quietly while others finish. You could
also give the student a blank transparency and ask him to write his
solution there so that you can share it with the class when more
students are finished. 

At first when you ask if students are finished, you may get comments
you don't want. Some will tell you that they can't do the problem
because they don't know where to start. You can then ask them if they
have copied the problem into their notebook that's always a good first
step. I once had a girl who every day told me that she couldn't do the
warm up problems. I knew she wasn't even trying because my problems
were often of the type, find a number that when I multiply it by 5 I
get the same answer as when I multiply it by 3 and add 2. I'd ask her
what numbers she had tried only to find out that she hadn't bothered
to try. I broke her of the habit with a foolproof problem. Find a
number that when I multiply it by 2, I get the same answer as when I
add it to itself. I made her try a number. When she got it right on
the first try (ok, it's an identity!) she was so excited that it
seemed to break the tide of failure and make everything ok. She didn't
always get the right answer on the first try after that, but it seemed
to give purpose to actually trying. 

Also, you don't have to wait for all students to finish before you
move on. The longer you wait, the longer they will make you wait. When
students complain that they are not finished, let them know that they
have to work more quickly and that it will help if they try to arrive
earlier for class so that they have more time to work on the problems.
We both know that they spend far more time than necessary socializing
in the hallways. You could also compare class to a subway train, bus,
or airplane. If you take your time dawdling along, it is likely that
the train will pull out with out you!

Judy

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