Sunday, November 18, 2012

Do my students have too much freedom?

This year I've been dabbling in some mastery/self pacing with my math class.  I've both loved and been discouraged by what I've found so far.  I found out early on this year, that when you are the only person in the building who is attempting any sort of "mastery" teaching, holding students accountable to only moving on once they master a concept is not realistic.  My report cards are not standard's based, the students are graded by unit.  Again, making mastery teaching unrealistic.

So how have I loved my attempt so far?  I have seen a large number of students blossoming this year.  They have the freedom to skip out of lessons they already know, and move on to more challenging material that they might not get to otherwise.  I see other students who see their peers moving ahead, and work really hard to keep up with them.  It's been a beautiful thing...and for those kids (who are also uber responsible and always come prepared), it's working.

That brings me to the other chunk of my students (which is a lot larger than I'd like) who struggle to get any work done in class or out of class.  This group of students gets to the end of a unit and still has several videos yet to be watched.  Taking the test becomes pretty difficult when you don't do all the lessons!  So what do I do for those kids?  I feel like I have done so much hand holding already, do I really want to do more...aren't I trying to teach some time management skills this year too?  Some independence maybe???

I ask these questions not because I actually expect anyone to answer, but because they have been weighing on my mind lately.

As of now, we all set up a schedule together at the beginning of a unit.  I give them the time frame for the unit.  Our last unit we had 3 weeks to work on...there were 8 learning goals to be mastered.  That worked out to be about 1 video every other night...not even every night.  Not to mention our in class time.  If a student actually works the whole math period, they could get everything done without ever having homework. To me, this seems fair.  I'm not assigning homework every night.  I even let them work with each other to help each other out.  So why is it that I have students who (3 weeks later) only have 4 of the 8 learning goals done?  Have they been absent?  No.  Is access to the technology the problem? Again, no.  So what gives?  I don't know if it's that they don't know where to begin, am I possibly giving them too much control over when they learn things.  Is there such a thing as too much control?  Apparently I have a LOT of rhetorical questions this week!

When I began this blog, I planned on using it as a place to reflect, and plan changes.  Right now I need to figure out something to change to make this run more smoothly.  I don't want to take away the potential for students to test out of learning goals...But I feel like my kiddos need more structure.  So here is my least for the time being.  For our next unit, we will again set up a schedule.  I will continue to give students 2 days per learning goal.  This time, however, I am going to mandate which video is to be watched.  If they don't need to do that video, they can either have the night off, or they can move on to the next learning goal.

I like this idea because it allows me to give them a little more guidance on where they should be.  But what about those kids who still don't do the work?  Let's face it, there are still going to be kids that don't do the work.  What do I do with them?  I have a couple of ideas floating around in my head:
1)  Keep them in from all recesses (I already do that with limited success).
2)  Have them call home (again, I've done...success is short lived)
3)  Keep them in from all other additional stuff (assemblies, etc.)
4)  They miss their specials until the work is done.
5)  Keep them after school & require their parents to pick them up.

I really, really, really hate to hold all those options over their heads, but quite frankly I am at a loss of what else to do.  I have very good relationships with almost all of my kids, they just don't do the work.  I don't understand their sense of apathy.  It's hard for me to relate because I was never that kid.

So I guess I put it out there to you all...what do you do with the kids who don't ever do their work?


  1. I completely understand! I have some students that always seem to be missing something or not finished with something...I am finding these are the same kids that when I return their work I find it laying around on their table or on a counter in the class - never in their take-home folder where it should be. It boils down to organization!
    So when students retest how do you adjust their grades? Do you average them, add points, or give them the new grade? I know I have probably done all of these at one time or another.

  2. I applaud the mastery style you are trying. I would like to something similar. The "issue students" I feel are always the frustration in any set up. Daily tug of war over having supplies, assignments, work completed and understood, etc. My take from your post is not so much those who are inconsistent but those who are excelling and striving to get to the next level. That to me is awesome! The others will be a struggle in all classes, not to say give up on them, but continue to focus on the positives of this experience. Sounds like you're doing a great job!

  3. Hi Delia

    I am also running a mastery class with my biology students this year. I create a calendar for them for each unit with guidelines of where I think they should be to be ready for the test. Most students work at or above this pace, but I have about 5 students that are behind. The unit test is set for Tuesday and I have 5 out of 23 students who will not be ready to write the test that day. It's frustrating because I feel like I am giving them so much time and coaching. And with 23 students in the class I cannot sit with them the whole period and watch to make sure they are working! And I am getting tired of the nagging as well. So basically I will let these students write the test on Friday after school. While the rest of them write it on Tuesday, I will be sitting with these 5 students helping them get through the rest of the material. That's not entirely what I envisioned for them, but it's what I have to do for now. However, now that I have a sense of which kids need more guidance, I am going to take away some choice from them as you are doing with the videos. Instead of letting them pick their own activities each class, I am going to assign them what they have to do and ensure they do it each class. It's unfortunate they will lose some autonomy in the course, but they are clearly not ready for it. Possibly in the next unit I will let them try to set their own goals again, but we'll see. I will definitely be sending an email to the guidance department and to parents with this information and see if that makes any difference. And I will also keep them in after school or at lunch if I feel they need more practice before Friday. It's a behavioural issue so I think it needs behavioural consequences versus taking marks off etc...

    Hope everything goes well for you and that your strategies work


  4. Love your write-up, Delia ~ thanks for sharing your woes too: we teachers all learn together, right? :)

    So, Juliana nails it, in that this is a behavioural issue, and consequences are called for accordingly, but I'm curious ~ are these lagging students ones with (based on previous test-scores, marks, etc.) higher or perhaps lesser math-knowledge, as best you can tell?

    In my experience, lower achieving kids are less motivated because they're lower achieving, which further demotivates them ... when I think there's nothing to be done for my achievement, then I'll do nothing, over and over again.

    My thought is that if you can address their fears with them, you may gain some additional trust and therefore efforts from them? Just a thought! Perhaps a Pollyanna thought, but thought I'd throw it out there. Thanks again for your post,
    ~ Celia