Q&A #7008

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

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From: Judy

To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 2003112116:20:09
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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