When you begin your career as a teacher, you quickly realize that your credential program has not adequately prepared you to work with real live children...at least for me. So what do you do? Well back in the dark ages, when I began in 2001, you held on for dear life. The only resources available were the other teachers you knew and the schooling you experienced as a student. So- that is what I based my classroom on. I was incredibly lucky to have amazing teaching partners and a principal who believed in meeting students above test scores. But I am nothing, if not honest. I could have done better.
For some of the examples that follow, I luckily learned better, while still in the classroom, and was able to make the change for students. For some, I did not come to the realization until it was too late and I was out of the classroom. I believe in what Glennon Doyle says "This truth telling unlocks people", so here I will share my truth in the hopes that it can help just one other to think differently.
I believe as educators, we know that classroom management is one of the most important pieces needed to create learning experiences for our children. One of the pieces that I used for classroom management was the behavior chart. At first it was "color cards" in which I would say "change your color", if a student was not "following my rules". Later, I saw a more innovative version in my son's class and hurried to my room to create it before the students showed up for day 1...this was the "clip chart". It was basically the same thing, except now I was asking these little hands to maneuver opening and closing clothespins after the "walk of shame". Oh...and I added "big trouble". WHAT WAS I THINKING?? Shame on me!
I will say that in every class, we only had to use those the first month of school, but now I know...that was one month too long!
Now I know better: Shaming people, especially children, doesn't work. And please understand, shaming was NEVER ever my intent- but it was the unintended consequence. It may have a short term effect of compliance, but I don't want compliant kids. I don't want students who are quiet and small because of fear. When I would do this TO students, the focus was on ME and MY rules...I can't even believe that was me. Calling students out publicly, making them walk to the front of the room for all to see, is humiliating and my heart breaks knowing that I did this to some kids. Could you imagine if these systems were in place for us as adults? Oh my gosh- I would live in the land of purple and be in "big trouble" my whole life!
So let's do better: Rather than this tactic, why don't we create classroom environments and cultures that honor students? Let's focus on getting to know them and using that information to meet their needs. Let us create engaging tasks that empower them as learners- to take hold of their own learning. If our classrooms are places that students feel welcomed and valued, there should be no need for such systems. Let's instead set up collaborative classroom cultures and have critical conversations, privately, with students when needed. *As with everything, there are outliers and special circumstances and with those we handle on a case by case basis.
Timed Math Drills
I did these as a student and at one point, I loved them. Why? Because I was successful...until I wasn't. I could not memorize my multiplication facts. I have vivid memories of my mom turned around in the passenger seat of the car, flashing flash cards at me on vacation trips. As hard as we both tried, they didn't stick. To this day, I still don't have them. But, I am forever thankful for the calculator I now carry in my pocket.
When I taught grades 2-4, I am guilty of giving those same timed math facts tests. I believe I even called them "Beat The Clock". SHAME ON ME! That's what you did, right? Not only did I give them weekly...but I had a sticker chart where I displayed where each student was. A few years in to this...I saw a different version...an iteration that I hooked on to. The way that the students' successes and failures were displayed for all to see was now in the shape of a baseball field. Much better! NOT. This was a place for me to call attention to where everyone was in the "game". WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Now I know better: I really wish I could say that I figured this one out before leaving the classroom, but sadly I didn't. Putting a timer on students' skills does not equal increased fluency- in fact, for many, it has the opposite effect. These tests can cause extreme anxiety for kids. Not only that, they can be totally deflating to their confidence level. Is speed what we want students to focus on in school? Is that the skill that will carry them through life? I don't think so. So why do we make it such a focus with these math drills? Many will argue that automaticity and number fluency are needed skills- to this I agree. BUT timed math drills is not the way. Number fluency does not equal speed. Number fluency is the understanding of numbers, the fluidity. It is being able to maneuver them in different ways for meaning making.
Follow the Jon Steven's Twitter thread here.
Here is a personal example: My daughter struggles with memorization. She has not memorized math facts. What she has done, is figured out how to break numbers apart (decompose), put them back together (compose) and move them around to make sense. To me- this skill is going to take her a lot farther than spitting out answers to a clock. She can do this pretty quickly, but that is not the emphasis. She has deep number sense and problem solving skills that will take her well beyond the four walls of the classroom.
So let's do better: Why not create classroom culture where students "play with numbers"- a place where they do sense making. A place where students feel comfortable thinking in different ways- where divergent ideas are shared and honored. Multiple ways to solve are created BY students and explained BY students. Let them own their thinking and their learning. Like I said above- we all carry calculators in our pockets, why can't kids use them? If we are giving questions that end with what can be done on a calculator, we need to rethink our questions. We need to examine the tasks that we are asking students to do.
My friend Alice Keeler says "Let's teach like Google and Youtube exist." which I love. But now I add..."Let's teach like cell phones and Desmos exist". *My 8th grade daughter told me that they are NOT allowed to use calculators in math. When asked if they have used Desmos, her and her friend resonded "Is that the thing the teacher said we could use if we needed help...wait, no that was Kahn academy." We can do better, our students deserve better.
These are only two of the multiple examples that I have of bad practices that I am guilty of...this may just become a blog series. Let's see the reactions/push-back that I get.
My call to action: If you currently use either of these in your practice, examine the goal, purpose and learning. If you decide that you want to "do better", we have many resources at our fingertips to do so. If you have an example that you would like to share, please do so in the comments.
We learn from each others' vulnerabilities and as educators, we are life long learners, so let's do this together.
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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