Thursday, February 25, 2016

Student Engagement

Sometimes I struggle to keep all of my students engaged. Yes, I'm willing to admit that. My 30 students come from my variations of family dynamics; some are educated, some are not. When your mom or dad can't help you with homework or school work because they are illiterate or did not do very well in school because of a lack of opportunity to learn, that can be really challenging! Wouldn't it be great if every student came to school prepared, ready to learn and with a voracious appetite for learning?

Of course it would!

That is not reality for many students, however. And while that can be super frustrating for a teacher, one can never assume what is really going on at home. We do assume and think the parents are lazy, don't care, aren't involved, blah blah blah. 

But really? Are we at their homes? No. Oftentimes you hear people say "parent-teacher conferences sure explain a lot"...and they can, but that is also a self-defeating attitude. If you assume the worst, you're likely to get what you wish for. If you go in with a positive attitude, you're also likely to get what you wish for.

Is every day peaches and roses in my classroom? Nope. In the past month alone I have dealt with lying, stealing (of a pretty pricey item), bullying and just downright disrespect and blatant disregard for learning. My students are 8 and 9 years old! Sometimes I do wonder what the @#$% is going through their little heads. However, I do not go in and just assume they are criminals, degenerates, future prison inmates, etc. 

And I will tell you that 98% of the time, my kids don't get in trouble in my classroom....they get in trouble in less structured areas (cafeteria, playground, specials classes, etc). They literally do thrive on predictability and structure. 

So sometimes it really gets my goat when they are not as engaged as I would like them to be. This is one reason I asked my literacy coach to help me with coaching and engagement strategies for my kiddos this year. Has the sun decided to just shine down on my classroom now and angels sing? No. I have 30 students of all varying levels. Sometimes just having 50% of them on task is a victory! But I have worked really hard to shift much of the accountability over to them so THEY can make some choices in their learning but also be as engaged as possible. 

I am not a fan of teaching to the test, but I do tell my students that these skills will be tested. One of the biggest areas my kids struggle with (and they did last year too, despite being a year older than my current friends) is answering opened ended math questions. I guarantee this is the sort of thing that will stump them on the big summative test this spring. We have been practicing it since the first week of school and I'd venture to say at least 60% of my kiddos still struggle with how to do it well. It's a tough skill!

Yesterday I had my formal observation. It was during math. We started with a whole group lesson with a literature connection showing how placement of commas can determine the meaning or interpretation of the sentence. Then we shifted over to show how the placement of parentheses can change the outcome of a math equation. We did a couple together on the back of their exit slip and then they got into groups and worked on two problems on their chart paper. I forgot to take pictures of the completed charts when we were done :( 

But it was amazing how quickly some of the kids caught on to how to figure out where the parentheses should go in order to make sure the answer to the equation was right.

As we were beginning to wrap up and all of the students were back at their seats, I asked them a question that stumped most of them. A few of them thought they answer was yes (and they were right) but they could not articulate to me WHY.

And that is the struggle....that WHY is so darn important! When considering the two number sentences that were identical in the factors and operations used with only the answer being different (wherein the objective was to figure out where to put the parentheses to make the answer be correct), when I asked the students if the placement of the parentheses on the top equation was right, would the bottom one always be right too. They were lost. They could not figure that out at all. 

This tells me that despite working on these types of questioning techniques all year, we have more work to do. These friends are not very analytical. Of course....I was not analytical at 8 years old either. But this is not the time for a debate on whether or not standardized testing is developmentally appropriate either..... :)

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