Getting students caught up

Julie’s prompt this week is…How do you help students in your class that are behind in math? What a great question.

Here are some reasons I thought of as to why students fall behind:

Students:

  •  lack of investment in their own learning
  •  insufficient self-advocacy skills
  •  inability to set goals and monitor their own progress
  •  inattention, social-emotional, or learning disability
  •  absences

Teachers:

  • infrequent formative assessments
  • pacing is too fast for the student
  • lack of differentiation during class or homework
  • insufficient monitored and/or independent practice

BEFORE they fall too far behind

Let me share what happened on Friday. I returned an equivalent ratios formative assessment to one of my classes and six students absolutely bombed it. Fifteen students earned a 2.5 or better (3 is the target, 4 is exceeds the target in my standards based grading grade book). The six who struggled demonstrated a level of proficiency of 1.5 or less. So as a class, they are either “getting it” or they “are not getting it at all”. There is no middle.

This was the first formative assessment so the group hasn’t fallen too far behind. But if I don’t do my job they’ll fall even farther behind.

After we discussed the assessment, I regrouped the class so I could meet with the six students. I assigned a Thinking Blocks online ratio activity to most of the class while I met with the struggling group. We had a conversation and this is what I learned…we were both at fault.

Let’s start with me.

It turns out that my pace was too fast and I didn’t give them enough monitored and independent practice. The short of it is I should have better differentiated this lesson to accommodate their needs. It also turns out that I need to help them develop self-advocacy skills. Students already set goals and monitor their progress (Student Goal Setting 6 RP1), but they need to take it more seriously.

Now them.

I want students to tell me to slow down. I also want them to ask questions. A few are not as invested in their learning as much as I am. I get it; they’re kids. But that also means they’re not old enough to choose not to learn. I intervene by insisting they either attend math lab or schedule a date with me after school.

WHEN they’ve fallen behind

When I pull students for math lab (fourth period) I reteach and monitor their practice problems. If it’s not busy, a student can receive one-to-one attention.  Other times it’s a bit busier where students drop in for help with one problem. Or it can be chaotic where I’m re-teaching two different classes at the same time while students drop in with a quick question.

Math lab fills a need but it is a horrible substitute for when a student misses class. On Thursday, two students who were previously absent thought they could make up an 84 minute lesson on one step equations in 30 minutes. It was disastrous.

In those situations perhaps I should insist students come before or after school. It adds to my day however it also forces the student to have “skin in the game”. I’m well aware there is life beyond school. Kids have after school activities and responsibilities. Those are important yet so is learning. It’s a dilemma.

Providing extra monitored practice, or some re-teaching to get a student caught up is one thing. I can handle that in class, in math lab, or after school. What I haven’t been able to do well is getting students caught up when they’ve been absent. That requires a heck of a lot more dexterity, juggling, and time.

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