Some Reflections on the First Quarter

So, I simultaneously feeling like the first quarter cannot already be over, and feel that August was a very long time ago.  Is this how every year feels, or is this a first year teaching thing?  Maybe a little bit of both.

I also alternate between thinking I am doing well and keeping up and that I couldn’t be more behind and we will never cover everything we need to.  I even feel like I am moving too fast i my Algebra I class, although I think polynomials are going to be a huge hurdle for these students, so I don’t think I will run out of content.  Again, there is probably some of this that will be true every year, but there will also be some of this that will get easier as I go.

I was reading the great Justin Aion’s Blog and he was talking about wanting students to be self-directed and self-assessing, and I assumed much the same things this year.  Of course the students will ask questions if they don’t understand something, I mean, that’s what I would do, right?  But, alas, I have found some of the same issues.  If students don’t really understand something they have just been going with the flow and then getting 36% on a test, which is then my fault when the parent can’t understand why their student did not do well.  I took a step back and realized that what I thought was an opportunity for students to think and learn, the students just thought was marking problems right and wrong on their homework.  I realized that I need more direct assessments for them, so I have been doing more quick quizzes at the beginning of class instead of problem solving and brain teasing, which is sad to me, but seems necessary for now.

In my first quarter of teaching, I also have a new least favorite phrase: “What was the answer to number ____ again.”  As I stated above, I see homework as a time for them to learn and think.  I even believe this about checking homework.  I ask them for questions on their homework, and then I have each students read an answer so that I can see if they have it done, and if we have differing answers, we can explore how different people got those answers.  I also often ask students to come write some answers (especially graphs and number lines) on the board and we evaluate errors and correct answers.  With all of this being said, if someone asks a questions on a problem or we have a disagreement over an answer and I dedicate minutes of classtime to having a student walk me through a problem, I lose it when a few answers later someone asks the answer to the problem we just worked.  This just shows me that they’re checking out, and only really care about getting the right answer.  I have also found that some of the students have realized the game, and if they count ahead, they don’t have to do their homework, as long as they can answer one problem on the spot pretty quickly.  I am still working on the best way to check homework (again because I see this as a learning an thinking opportunity, I only check completion) while also making the best use of my classtime.

Other than that I think I have settled in well.  I need to get a little more organized.  I need to be a little less helpful and a little more questioning, but I think I am getting better at that.  I hope to keep getting ideas and support out of the MTBoS and giving back to it in whatever little ways I can.

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5 comments on “Some Reflections on the First Quarter

  1. First, I am deeply flattered that you think so highly of me and I appreciate the link back!

    Second, yes, it happens every year. By the time June rolls around, you’ll think that you have been teaching the same kids for a decade and yet, how could the year be over already. Einstein should have his written his theory of relativity about teaching.

    Third, I don’t check homework in my geometry class and I am constantly telling them that the onus of learning is on them. Homework is a time to practice skills and identify areas in which they may be struggling. “This problem took me much longer than the others. I should ask about it tomorrow.” In that class, it works well because most of those students are educationally motivated. In my pre-algebra classes, not so much. With them, I have a workbook of everything (and more) for each chapter and I check it as a bulk assignment at the end of the chapter. We also do a TON of problems as a class and on the board. This week, I assigned several problems and they had to show me the right answer and the work before I let them move on.

    You’re doing a great job from what I can see, and I love your reflections. Teachers never get everything right and good teachers are constantly changing what they do, adding new tactics and getting rid of ones that don’t work.

    Keep questioning! Stretch those brains!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Justin. I do enjoy following your blog and chatting on Twitter.

      I want to be able to trust my students to do that with our homework, but that just doesn’t seem to have worked out yet. I love doing so many problems as a class, and it almost seems like it might be better if they haven’t already attempted it. I do plan to slow down my 8th graders a little as well, because we are blazing through some content.

      Thank you for the words of encouragement. Hopefully my self-evaluation will bring me to new and better methods as I go.

  2. I’m a 6th year HS teacher and still haven’t figured out how to use homework effectively. Most of my students don’t DO their homework. Most of my students over the past 5 years have completed their homework, but they don’t DO it. DOing homework is shutting the TV off, stop the texting, and let your brain do some work. I’m always considerate of their time so I plan their homework to take 15-20 minutes when they DO it. But, after all that, the majority still just complete it for “the grade” instead of the practice. I’ve tried not to attach a grade to completing homework, but then, no one does it if that’s the case.

    Good luck figuring it out – and know we are are in this together! Sounds like you’re having a great start to your first year – good luck!

    • Thank you, Matthew. I get the feeling my students are much the same in that, they will read every problem, but if thy don’t understand exactly how it works right away, they will just move on. And I do think you are right that they are mostly doing it for a grade. I want to keep working to find a way to make the motivation more intrinsic. Hopefully I come up with something…

      • What I found was that whether I graded it or not didn’t change who did it and who didn’t. There were a few on the fence, but since they knew I was going to go over it anyway, they knew it was on them.

        It has saved me intense amounts of aggravation and conflict since I no longer get frustrated at them for not doing their homework and they no longer have to lie about why they don’t do it.

        They DO know that I’ll be checking it in bulk at the end of the chapter and I give them plenty of warning so the ones who didn’t do it during the chapter.

        But I seem to have a very different situation than most. Also, my marking period ended and I had no idea and no have to figure out how to give grades.

        So maybe I’m not one to offer advice on this topic…

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