On Reaching the Kiddos

I’m a bit late to #MTBoS12Days, led by Druin and Pam Wilson. The goal is to post 12 times over break,  possibly in a response to a series of prompts. We’ll see if I make it; we go back on Monday.

Prompt: What are your strategies to reach “that kid”?

First, I gather all the information I can on my students. I have my advisory fill out forms about themselves. I look at the scant information the District sends us (all our kiddos* are recent immigrants, so, to be fair, the District doesn’t have a lot of information to send us). I observe them in class. Looping, or teaching many of the same kiddos 2 years in a row, is a huge help. Kiddos who I taught the year before help establish norms and smooth over rough patches (I distinctly remember a kiddo my first year of teaching tell another newer, more rebellious student “You need to do what he says!”).

I listen to what kiddos say and do in class. Even if they aren’t 100% into the math, they talk with friends. I hear about everything from hobbies and social media usage to relatively confidentialish stuff like immigration status.  Sometimes this gives me an in to connect with them or gives me an insight into why they might not be participating as much or how I can better frame things to them. (Side note: I speak Spanish, so I can eavesdrop on about 2/3 of our kiddos. At least one student has reacted to this with some mortification: “%$!& I’d forgotten you speak Spanish!”)

If that doesn’t work, I ask other people at school. I work on a(n amazing) team of teachers who teach the same students, plus an advisory (also consisting of our kiddos). Generally, one of these teachers will have suggestions or insights and we’re lucky to have time built into our weekly team meetings to talk about this. Our (amazing) paraprofessionals are also a great resource as they see our kiddos in various settings at various times of day and they often connect with kiddos in ways that don’t include yelling at them to get seated and take out papers (granted, this isn’t the main way I intend to interact with kiddos, but generally the ones I don’t have great connections with are the ones who I end up yelling at, so). Our (amazing) Wellness Center staff is key here, too. On more than 1 occasion (twice), I’ve had meetings with the Wellness Coordinator where she has basically asked me what my goals are, then facilitated a meeting between a student and me to get us both where we want to go. (Side note: This was also a great way to show a new student that I anticipated struggles with that I was invested in his time and his learning. It helped a ton that our Wellness Coordinator is the person he trusts most at school).

Something that I don’t consider particularly special, but has proven to be helpful is calling home. More often than not, families want to know what’s happening and want to get involved. It’s both surprising (and sometimes heartbreaking) the number of times families will echo the concerns of our teaching team (because so many of our kiddos are recently immigrated and/or reunifying with their guardians for the first time in ages, this situation can be especially complicated). If the guardian doesn’t respond (or responds, but there’s no noticeable follow-up), that’s at least another data point for the puzzle. Side note: Teachers frequently express surprise at how ready I am to call home. I…don’t really have an answer here, other than to say that guardians tend to be the experts here. And if I had a child who was not doing well and their teacher didn’t call me, I’d be a bit peeved, too.

Sometimes, I’ll ask another student (always a trusted student, generally one of my advisees who (mostly) trusts me) what to do. Something along the lines of “I’m trying to get better at helping Gordon** with mathematics. But I’m not having any luck. He likes working with you. What do you suggest?” I’d approach this one with caution, since there’s a ton of status and feelings involved here. I’ll sometimes ask the student in question a similar question, though I need to be careful about framing (this tends to work better with kiddos I’ve taught for 2 years, but are going through a rough patch).

2 quick points: #1: This was one of the interview questions I had to answer for my current job. I didn’t remember at first (I was probably in a state of panic), but one of my interviewers reminded me of it after the fact.

#2: My mom made a comment to me over break that one of my cousin’s kiddos was in a class with lots of “bad kids”. This is a fascinating comment to me and we had a long talk afterwards about how, if adults can identify kids as “bad kids”, how must those students feel about themselves? Adults are really good at subliminally (or not subliminally) showing what they’re thinking and kiddos are really good at reading it. And if a kiddo doesn’t feel like they’re accepted or have status in the class, why should they make an effort to belong in a system that has already, pretty clearly, showed them where they think they belong? So I guess my point, and I’m seeing it a bit this year with kiddos that I struggle to connect to, is that kiddos can be really sensitive to being “that kid”, no matter how much they try not to show it.

*Our principal says “kiddo”, so I say “kiddo”. Force of habit.

**not their actual name. Or an actual kiddo that I have in mind, really.

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Week 4: We All Fall Down

This week’s Explore the MathematicsTwitterBlogoSphere prompt is awesome: You are going to write a blogpost about one mistake/error/failure you made, and proudly and publicly share that with the world. OR… and this is more ambitious but wow would reading this keep us glued to the screen… keep a log of teaching failures for a day, a few days, or even the entire week… and then publish it!

I love the vulernability of this prompt and am also terrified of answer it, partially because it’s embarrassing (but worthwhile) and partially because there are so many things I wish I could do over that it makes my head explore.

Anyway:

Monday: Solving Equations Group Test

We do a group test to prepare for the individual test on Wednesday. In general, the test runs short, which is actually OK, though I wish I’d added some more challenges to some of the problems. I also forget to give out the supplement – a half page on inequalities and equations with weird solutions (no solution, infinite solutions, x =0), which would have been a productive way for more groups to talk about interesting mathematics. During group tests, Curriculum Partner and I only allow groups to ask 2 group questions – if someone has a question, the whole group has to talk together and one person – the Resource Manager – has to call me over. I don’t do a great job setting this up or necessarily having kiddos follow through. I wish I’d made a bigger deal of it since it’s our first group test of the semester and so many of our kiddos are new. There’s at least one group where one team member is totally capable of doing the work, but seems to want to call me over. I don’t necessarily regret answering some of the questions in the name of relationship building and mathematical confidence, but I know this kiddo and I probably should have pushed them to talk to their group more.

Monday evening, I mean to look through the group tests. I skim through some from my first class and note that students aren’t always using the scripts we gave them to help with language and are sometimes not solving equations with negative numbers correctly (they subtract from both sides when they should add to both sides). I think about ways to address this on Tuesday…and then don’t.

I also make a mental note to write up the team meeting agenda for our Wednesday team meeting…and then don’t.

Tuesday: Test Review Day

Many of our kiddos either don’t really know how to study for a test or don’t have the time to do it, so we always spend a day reviewing in partners. Curriculum Partner and I explicitly explain that the groups are leveled – someone who knows more English and someone who is still learning. I don’t do a fantastic job framing this. One of our four school values is Act With Empathy. It’s a value that most of our kiddos recognize, though I’d argue that understanding empathy is harder. I wish I’d explicitly made more calls to that.

We also give kiddos a copy of the rubric to help grade their tests. It seems like kiddos understand that they should read through the rubric, which is a step up from earlier in the year. I wish I’d made the rubric more explicit. A part of me wants it to be general enough to guide the kiddos, but not give anything away. Another part of me needs to remember that, if we’ve gotten through the group test and are still confused about something, we need to step up the intervention and be more explicit.

I also find Racing Dots on Desmos as an extension. It looks awesome. Some kiddos try it. I don’t look at the results or really talk to or support the kiddos working on it. It’s an extension and there are kiddos who are still trying to make sense of the test (let alone all the study materials). I stand by this decision, but I regret it a bit, too.

Wednesday: Individual Test

The curriculum part of today actually goes as planned, largely because it’s a test day, so we spend most of the day taking the test. I do have one kiddo from last semester, who now has a different teacher, come in and say “I miss your class because you would always help me on the test.” I wonder if I’m giving too much help on the test.

Team meeting goes well despite me only having sent out the agenda and checked with facilitators the night before. The team meeting part of meeting (there’s also a student support meeting) is actually being facilitated by a different team member. Had it been strictly team meeting, I would have liked to have thought about the agenda more and sent it out earlier.

I think about grading when I get home, but end up not having time, partially because I have to buy flyswatters.

Thursday: Shapes Review

In preparation for our next unit on similarity, we do a bunch of different review activities. We draw shapes, we put names to the shapes, we find area and perimeter, we play the flyswatter game where I call 2 students to the front, name a shape and then have them swat the named shape with the flyswatter. This activity also actually goes relatively smoothly. Except for the one class where the Instructional Coach lovingly has to ask us not to be so loud when celebrating. #IRegretNothing

I take a phone from a student who is taking a selfie with their entire table when they should be doing the opening. This is followed by about 20 minutes of bickering with another student who says it’s not fair and they should have gotten a warning (it’s the first time anyone has taken this student’s phone; they will have many more warnings).

I have an interaction with a student while explaining our work for today. “But this is middle school work,” says the student. I continue reminding students that we have a range of abilities in our class and are doing review to help everyone learn. I make call to act with empathy and then start class. Do I wish we had talked more about why we’re reviewing for a range of abilities? Do I wish I had specifically drawn attention to the fact that this student attended solid schools in their country while some students struggled to even attend elementary school? Answer unclear…

I do have a cranky interaction with a coworker in the staff room in the morning, which is what happens when everyone is trying to do everything in the morning. I wish I had just backed away and asked to talk about it later, but couldn’t quite get my brain to process that fast. We talk about it at lunch and things are better.

I drop the ball a bit again after school. I have 2 meetings and am relatively unable to help Curriculum Partner print out materials for Mondays, though we are able to finish most of our planning during prep.

My Favorite: Group Roles

It’s always hard for me to think of something that’s my favorite that a) feels like it’s something I feel I’ve used enough to call it “mine” and b) is related to mathematics.

I’m rather fond of the 4 group roles we’re currently using in mathematics class (9th and 10th grade algebra and geometry). It’s hard to trace where the roles started from, but I’m fairly certain they’re from CPM and have been used frequently by folks from Grad Skool and in the Complex Instruction schools in our district. We’ve put our own emerging multilingual spin on them. Most of the credit here goes to my awesome Curriculum Partner and our Teaching Coach.

Here’s how it goes:

I seat kiddos in groups of 4 (or 5, if we’re getting stuffed to the gills, which, surprise, we are, right now). Each kiddo is given a role:

Task Manager: Responsible for getting the group started. Asks “What do we do?”

Group Manager: Responsible for making sure everyone understands. Asks “Do you understand?” (I lean on this one heavily; there have been disputes over whether such a closed question is useful, but I find it easy to ask and understand)

Communications Manager: Was responsible for making sure people are writing. I think I’m going to rewrite this one to make people put things in the middle of the table or helps with translation. Currently asks “What do we write/say?”

Resource Manager: Calls the teacher for group questions (if no one in the group knows and all resources have been exhausted). Says “Excuse me, we have a question.”

(Side note: I love the use of “excuse me”. So polite and makes it ok to ask other people things even if they look busy. Also the use of “we” rather than “I”.)

Evolution of How I Use Roles

I used group roles when student teaching and tried implementing them unsuccessfully for about 2 years.

The gamechanger was actually taking away structure. I used to assign each manager a role and them make them sit in a specific seat. Somewhere during Year 2 or 3, I gave up on assigning roles and just told all the kiddos in one corner of the table that they were Task Managers and went from there. I also taped the roles down on the table and one of my super awesome coaches taped the sentences on them.

It’s been a game changer. Mostly because I’m able to name and call different managers. Even if the kiddos don’t remember their roles (they often don’t), they are visible enough on the table that some of the more on-point kiddos can remind them.

How We Made the Roles

At some random District planning day, Curriculum Partner, Coach and I randomly decided to pick apart the roles. We knew about them and had tried to use them, but weren’t entirely sure about them. We decided that there needed to be a tension between someone who pushes the group ahead (Task Manager) and someone who slows the group down so everyone has access (Group Manager). We’ve always needed a Communications Manager and a Resource Manager, so those roles stayed.

(I teach mathematics at a high school entirely for emergent multilinguals who are recent immigrants. Groupwork is heavily encouraged in all classes.)Laminated group roles

Day 171: Confessions of a Field Trip Chaperone

Context: School Without Walls is our 2 week elective credit recovery program where I co-teach a PE class called “Bike and Hike”.

#MTBoS30 challenges the math education writer to write a blog a day for 30 days. Inspired by Anne Schwartz and the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere (MTBoS)

Confession: Blogs titled “Confessions of…” make me a bit crazy.

Field trips also make me a little crazy.

We go kayaking today (Wednesday) which is both awesome and crazy.

It’s cold and windy at the bus stop. The bus doesn’t come. Everyone says they will refuse to go. “What if we die before the bus gets here?” Thomas 2 asks.

The bus comes.

I worry about getting all 22 kids off at the right stop.

It’s sunny and warm by the water.

We pair them in partners, which mostly works.

We tell students repeatedly to not bring phones and to bring a change of clothes.

Students end up wearing jeans. Students bring their phones into the kayaks.

I am paddling along, checking things out and wondering if this is something I should do more often when I realize that there are Kiddos In the Water.

I paddle over to Tomas and help him get into my kayak.

“Did you fall in?” I ask.

“No, me saltè.” I jumped.

We make Tomas swim over to his partner, then yell at the other 4 kiddos who are now in the water.

At one point, a kiddo makes me hold his phone in my lifejacket. I later drop it, by accident. Into. The. Water.

There is much swearing on my part and the kiddo in question basically checks out for the rest of the trip. I refuse to take pictures out of solidarity for the rest of the day.

Field trips are crazy making.

Favorite quote from a video another teacher made:

Àlvaro: Tengo miedo.

Teacher (off-screen): ¿Por què? (Why?)

Àlvaro: Por que me  puedo ahogar. (Because I might drown)

Àlvaro: Y si me ahogo, mi mamà me va a regañar. (And if I drown, my Mom is going to kill me.)

Photo: Reflection slips that kiddos fill out every morning. (’cause no kayaking photos)

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Day 170: View Within Reach

Context: School Without Walls is our school’s way of helping students to catch up on missing PE and art credits through an intensive 2-week elective course. I am teaching a course “in the style of” Bike and Hike (our instructional coach’s words). We bike and hike a lot, as you would guess.

#MTBoS30 is a challenge started by Anne Schwartz happening in the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere (MTBoS). You write a blog every day for 30 days. I’ve already missed 4 5 and math content ended for me 2 and a half weeks ago, but anyway…

The class is called “Bike and Hike”, because it’s always been called that. There are between 2 to 4 sections of similar classes with different names.

We spend the morning in a bike workshop. It’s heartening to see that some of our students who struggle most with English and with school are super proficient with bikes.

We spend the afternoon walking. Kiddos are still tired from the previous days. The hill we walk up is close by, but (apparently) steep. Um. Mapquest Google didn’t tell us that.

I hike in front with 2 of the seniors. We talk about dance classes they took and how one of them was a little horror in his country because he knew he was leaving for the United States. Every 5 seconds (it seems), someone asks if we can take the bus instead.

“It’s bike and hike, not bus and hike,” I say. It’s Dad-level humor and no one laughs because they all think they are dying as we keep hiking.

The views of the city are amazing. And less than a mile from school. Some students find a swing and take photos while standing on posts and trying to be taller than they already are. Other students basically remake an Arabic music video. I wonder why no one really ever seems to understand my life at cocktail parties.

Photo: The One Where We Don’t Even Talk About Taking the Bus

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