Day 82: Instead of giving semester finals, our school has a 2-week portfolio process. Teachers spend all day with their advisees, working on reflective essays on a variety of topics like what they felt successful about, what they felt they struggled with, etc. The process is often described as intense and at the end of it, I’d agree. I’m just beginning to wrap my head around what it all meant.

In their essays, quite a few students said they struggled with math. Thursday’s picture is from Elvis, one of my students who was absent for most of the portfolio process, but worked on essays from home. His essays (sentences written first in Spanish, then translated to English) talk about how he felt math was difficult and how he sometimes felt angry because he didn’t always understand what was happening in math class and because his classmates didn’t always help him (we rely pretty heavily on groupwork given that students enter with a wide variety of math backgrounds). There are a million excuses and variables that play into why Elvis thinks math is difficult. His English is still developing and classes are taught entirely in English (though there is lots of native language support. Perhaps too much). He is sometimes absent (though not truant). His class is at the end of the day and struggles with staying focused. Many of the other students are also struggling with the math and often resort to distractions rather than asking for help, which affects the entire class.

Elvis is a good kid. He was one of the few kids who said goodbye to one of our students whose last day of school was Friday and he won a round of musical chairs for our advisory. Next semester, I’ll continue to think about how to help Elvis and other students like him gain more access to material in class. This means thinking about how to break problems down to the most basic level while still building in challenges for students who have been doing this math for years. It means really figuring out what my students know (we’re going into simplifying and solving expressions and I’m sure that some of my students aren’t quite comfortable with division and that most of them aren’t comfortable with exponents). It means pulling in Elvis at lunch and after school – I’ve gotten him to come in a couple times, but never really consistently and probably not focused on the things he needs to learn. We’ll see.

Day 83: After a few last portfolio presentations and a gradewide assembly, the last day of school ends at 1:05. Teachers finish last minute grading until the grading system closes at 3 and then everyone frantically cleans their rooms so that they can both be ready for the next semester and get home at a decent hour (the custodian kicked me out. You can guess which end of that scale I ended up on). In addition to getting rid of a mountain of paper and resetting my room after portfolios, I also re-taped manager roles on my tables (because I finally learned how to use the laminator, which is a whole other post in itself).

Each group has 4 roles: the resource manager, the group manager, the communications manager and the task manager. Theoretically, each manager is in charge of a specific part of the task that the group is working on so that everyone has something to do and some way to participate. In reality, I often use them more as a way to call on a member from each table, though I’m hoping to use them in a more authentic way next semester.