kitchen table math, the sequel: writing prompt from Tex

Saturday, February 24, 2007

writing prompt from Tex

Tex asked a great question:

Reading through your efforts, especially this week, to bring Christopher up to speed in order to perform well on his upcoming test, leads me to ask the question:
In hindsight (20/20), what would you have done differently over the last few years? I imagine this is not an easy question to answer because, from what I recall, you’ve “discovered” many things along the path to today. “It’s always worse than you think.”

I'd love to hear from everyone else on this one.

Ed and I talk about this because we're pretty sure that "accelerating" Christopher was a mistake.

I got going on all of this because of Wayne Wickelgren, who said that if you wanted your child to be on par with his peers in Europe and Asia you had to get him into the accelerated math track.

Which I then proceeded to do, aided and abetted by the folks at ktm-1.

Wickelgren was right, of course, but he wasn't looking at our situation here in Irvingtonland, where "Phase 4" math has traditionally been taught as a wash-out course.

On the bus the other day a friend of Christopher's said, "Ms. U. [legendary middle school math teacher, now retired] was a great teacher. She flunked people out of the course if they couldn't do the math. She got rid of them."

Ms. U. is the teacher who told a very large gathering of irate parents that she could take the top students in the district, put them in a room together, and still eke out a bell curve.

Ms. K was told, when she came to the district, to "hold down the number of As." I assume Ms. U. was the person who told her to do so, Ms. U. being chair of the department. Naturally parents were not apprised of this policy.

So....."accelerated" math in Irvington, which means algebra in 8th grade, isn't accelerated math.

It's a Darwinian reality show. In math. In 6th grade.

If we think constructivism is bad when it comes to relieving teachers of responsibility for student learning, a washout course has taken several giant steps down the road towards open sabotage of student learning.

e.g. you're a kid in this class, you're never shown how to do word problems in class, you're never assigned word problems on homework, you do your first word problems ever on the test and those word problems are multi-step!

When Ed and I ask ourselves what we would have done differently, item number one on the list is forget about "accelerated" math, take the Phase 3 course, and teach algebra to mastery on the side using the Saxon books.

At the same time.....on the principle of that which does not destroy me makes me strong I'm not completely persuaded that I would move Christopher to Phase 3 if I had it to do over again.

He's learned something about persistence and politics, and the district has taken heat it richly deserves. (Question: has any disadvantaged child taken Phase 4 math? Ever? I'm guessing the answer is 'no,' and I'm guessing that subject is going to be coming up.)

That question wouldn't be moving up the agenda if we hadn't had the radicalizing experience of Phase 4 math ourselves.

But that doesn't answer Tex's question.


trying again

If I were starting with a preschool child, knowing what I do now, I'd take my child to KUMON from the get-go if I could afford it.

If I couldn't afford it, I'd join edhelper.com, print out sequential worksheets and have my child do those.

I would teach a separate math curriculum at home from day one.

I think I'd probably choose Singapore Math for the early grades, then switch to Saxon as soon as my child got through the Primary Mathematics series.

I have two reasons.

  • I continue to feel that the "teach two ways to do it"* notion makes sense. Singapore and Saxon are quite different; Singapore feels foreign in its way; I like the "otherness" of the books. Remember deSaussure: meaning comes from difference.
  • The Singapore books are much shorter than the Saxon books, and easier to get through on the side.

If I could possibly get my child through Mathematics 6 book I'd do that, too.

I'd give the ITBS each and every year to make sure I was seeing at least a year's progress and to diagnose areas of weakness.

I would probably also formally adopt the CA state standards for use here at home (I may do that still).

And....I think that's it!

I'd love to hear from everyone else.


Mathematics 6 press release
Wayne Bishop on Mathematics 6
Russian Math thread at ktm 1


* Just two ways. Not multiple ways.

30 comments:

PaulaV said...

If I had to do anything differently, it would have been not to waste so much time feeling guilty and berating myself as a parent. You know, the I should have/could have done this or that better. I would have been more proactive than reactive. I wouldn't have bought into the "your child isn't learning because he can't for some reason or the other" developmental line. There isn't anything developmentally wrong with my child, and yet, I thought about having him tested. Thankfully, I did not.(Thanks so much to Steve H. and others for their opinions.)

What I did do was begin reading about the poor math standards in American schools. I started reading blogs like D-Ed Reckoning and KTM. This was a major turning point for our family. We went from feeling like someone died in our family to feeling hopeful. I know that sounds so melodramatic, but my husband and I both felt so overwhelmed at the time. All we could think of was the wasted time...how far behind he was. Would he be able to catch up?

We enrolled him in KUMON and he has been going there since October. When questioned last week about his progress, the instructor said he is doing fine. It is slow because he wasn't taught these skills to begin with. Don't give up!! Did I mention the KUMON center is packed?

--PaulaV

rightwingprof said...

"Ms. U. is the teacher who told a very large gathering of irate parents that she could take the top students in the district, put them in a room together, and still eke out a bell curve."

I'm sure she could. I do -- and as Ken reminded me some months ago, I only get the top of the curve.

Catherine Johnson said...

I would have been more proactive than reactive. I wouldn't have bought into the "your child isn't learning because he can't for some reason or the other" developmental line. There isn't anything developmentally wrong with my child, and yet, I thought about having him tested.

Everyone feels this way.

Ed still responds to math setbacks by thinking Christopher has an autism gene that's messing him up. When Christopher was having trouble adding and subtracting angles, Ed said "he probably has some problem with spatial perception."

One of my friends, midway through her one and only year with Ms. K, told me she thought there was "something wrong with H's brain."

When you have bad curricula and pedagogy you constantly see your child not being able to do things that seem simple to you, because you've mastered them, and ought to be simple to him, because he's "seen them before."

Spiral curricula make kids seem stupid. (Actually, given that school raises IQ I'd be willing to bet that spiral curricula shave a few points off the Wechsler.)

Catherine Johnson said...

This was a major turning point for our family. We went from feeling like someone died in our family to feeling hopeful. I know that sounds so melodramatic, but my husband and I both felt so overwhelmed at the time.

oh my gosh!

That is so great!

Thanks for telling us!

Catherine Johnson said...

The ITBS scores had a similar effect on me. We've had excellent teachers this year, so we aren't having the same bizarre experience of last year, but even so....middle schol conversations always manage to convey doubt.

Last year C's English teacher told me, "He's trying to figure it out" -- something like that.

The math chair, when I told her "Christopher needs to be able to take college math," replied, "He needs to take math to graduate from high school." Her tone of voice implied that high school graduation was plenty for us to be thinking about.

doubt

These people chronically sow doubt.

We're going to be slapping those ITBS scores on everyone's desk next week.

No more scr***** around.

Catherine Johnson said...

rightwingprof

Is there a reason why you grade on a curve?

We of course were never told that Ms. K is grading on a curve, and in fact she's not grading on a curve.

During her first year she was giving tests everyone got Cs, Ds, and Fs.

Catherine Johnson said...

She's still giving those tests, but now she's curving grades up to get parents & everyone else off her back.

Christopher got a D- on one test that, when Ed went over it, should have been an F-.

Catherine Johnson said...

Speaking of F- , I ordered the math lady's book.

The reason C. got such a low grade was that I dropped the ball on math homework.

PaulaV said...

These people chronically sow doubt.

Yes, I hear doubt all the time.

First, it was that my third grader couldn't follow directions, then it was he wasn't quick enough on basic math facts.

Well, the ITBS scores came out and lo and behold there is no subtest on listening or math computation. The county chose not to administer these subtests because of the lack of "diagnostic and instructional relevance".

Wouldn't you know that the two areas that I most wanted to know how he would score would be the ones the county chose not to include on the test?

The ITBS was a vindication for me. My son scored in the 91st percentile in reading comprehension, 93 in Spelling, and 95 in Science. He scored a 97 in usuage and expression!!

Math however stood out...there was no math computation score so there was no math total. Concepts & Estimation was an 80 and problem solving & data interpretation was a 62.

If there is any doubt to be spoke of, it should be my doubt of the school's ability to teach math!

--PaulaV

Catherine Johnson said...

First, it was that my third grader couldn't follow directions, then it was he wasn't quick enough on basic math facts.

wow

You're getting this in K-5??

That's awful.

We didn't hear any of that until middle school.

Catherine Johnson said...

My son scored in the 91st percentile in reading comprehension, 93 in Spelling, and 95 in Science. He scored a 97 in usuage and expression!!

I am HORRIFIED that you were being led to believe your child had "issues" as Carolyn would say with these scores.

These are EXTREMELY high scores on a very good test.

Unbelievable.

Same exact story here, though.

No kid with a reading comprehension score up in the 90s should be having ANY problems with math.

That's not how things work.

Catherine Johnson said...

Well, the ITBS scores came out and lo and behold there is no subtest on listening or math computation. The county chose not to administer these subtests because of the lack of "diagnostic and instructional relevance".

I can tell you right now what that computation score is going to look like (unless he'd had enough KUMON to raise it).

Christopher was at 88th for math "in general," 75th for computation.

We took a walk and I told him, "Yeah, 75th for comprehension pretty much makes you mentally retarded in Singapore."

Catherine Johnson said...

He actually thought that was funny. (Otherwise I wouldn't have said it.)

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm going to guess that problem solving and data interpretation were things he hasn't had in class.

I think Christopher was at 91 on that (yikes - only 81 on "math concepts and estimation," assuming I'm reading right) .... and those items are always incredibly easy.

Catherine Johnson said...

Pretty much the only thing Christopher really knows cold is range, mean, median, and mode.

That was enough to get him into the 88th percentile.

Catherine Johnson said...

The day we got the scores Ed was oscillating between joy and horror, joy over the scores, horror over how bad things have to be in the public schools for Christopher to be doing well in math comparatively speaking.

Catherine Johnson said...

Can't spell, though.

Also can't use pronouns.

sigh

Catherine Johnson said...

I wonder if we need TWO spelling curricula??

Catherine Johnson said...

Of course, we're just barely managing to get through MEGAWORDS as it is.

Catherine Johnson said...

I don't see why, for $19,000 per pupil spending, my school district couldn't actually teach spelling.

PaulaV said...

Yes, my husband and I were led to believe that he couldn't follow two step directions and that he was well...basically slow. He was placed in a class with three special ed assistants. Some of the children were either under a child study program or had IEPs, one kid had been held back, one kid has seizures...I think someone mentioned turrets. Let's just say the class was a mess. It is as though they took all the "immature" and "problem" kids and placed them all in one classroom. I took one look at the class on back-to-school night and said there is no way my kid is staying in here. I looked at another parent and she had that same look on her face. We were wondering how on earth our children wound up in this class.

My husband and I had him moved to another class. We said to the principal either you move him or we go over your head. She moved him.

I know a parent who kept her kid in the class. She said he has read one book in six months and he is still bringing home 2 + 2 math facts. She is worried about next year.

Moving my son was the best thing I could have ever done. For whatever reason, he was placed somewhere he didn't belong. I knew what he was capable of and the ITBS proved it.

My husband and I will teach him math. He will be fine. We will make sure of it.

--PaulaV

LGM said...

Just found your blog a few weeks ago. Our story is similar to PaulaVs...walked in at back-to-school night to find that my 3rd grader was in a sped mainstreamed class that also included several nonclassified troubled children and would be co-taught by a sped teacher and the reg. ed. teacher. Moving our child would have meant dropping him a year back in reading, since everyone in the 'high' reading group was placed in that class.

The sped teacher won the battle on what math was going to be taught and by what methods. It was an eyeopener to find that the preferred techniques for multiplication were rote memorization and finger tricks, with no attempt at conceptual understanding (possibly because it was June before the topic was broached). I note the reg. ed. teacher is an expert and the principal should be ashamed of pushing her talents to the side and denying 28 children a basic third grade math education.

In hindsight, I was too inexperienced to read the clues that show an elementary school preferring to run on a 'social justice' and NCGA (no child gets ahead) philosophy instead of attempting to providing the education the Regents suggest. I don't think being more informed would have helped, as these people do not admit in public that the resources are highly skewed toward certain students at the expense of others. NCLB, the latest change in spec. ed. laws and the Grade 3-8 state testing are good for us; it has resulted in quick remediation for those at risk, less time needed on the material from last year, and coverage of the material from this year that will be on the test.
I discovered John Hoven of Maryland Gifted & Talented Assoc. and took his advice on supplementing with Singapore Math and went from there (easy for me to teach with a background in engineering). I looked up the website of a neighboring district that Hudson Valley Magazine listed as being good in math and printed off their scope/sequence charts so I would know what students are expected to know in each grade and brought my child up to that level. (they are not on line right now, as they are being revised to the latest in NYState Standards). I plan to continue supplementing until I can find a district that values academics more than this one.

Carolyn Johnston said...

Wow, Catherine, I've been asking myself the same questions...

I feel that what we did was largely the right thing -- we supplemented heavily when B was taking Everyday math in grade school, because he wasn't being taught basic skills, and then have insisted that he stay out of Connected Math classes in middle school -- that hasn't been easy at all, frankly, since our school district was an early adopter of Connected Drivel.

I was thinking earlier this year that I want to accelerate him into algebra 1 next year, because junior high math is so slow-moving and because the class he's headed for next year (Math 3) is in Connected Math. However, he is having a very hard time in school right now -- he's got an autism spectrum disorder, the kids are being mean to him, and he's obsessed with his peers to the point where he cannot pay any attention in math class, which is at the end of the day. His sped teacher was telling me she is having to reteach concepts after class because he isn't following the teacher: I looked at the problems, and for heavens sake, they are adding and subtracting negative numbers; I taught him that a couple of years ago.

So that's one thing I didn't bank on -- the incredible distractions of new puberty, and middle school. It really was all as horrible as they said it would be, but it's also completely natural; they are just 'booting up' as social beings, and becoming conscious of themselves outside the family, trying to fit into the community.

So if I'm going to accelerate him, I don't think it'll be next year. He's just too raw. It still miffs me that he was tracked away from calculus as a senior when he was in sixth grade; but that's a fight I can fight later, when he's through the worst of this puberty thing.

Of course, the second reason I wanted to accelerate him was to get him out of flaky Connected Math once and for all -- and that's a battle I'm still going to have to fight.

Catherine Johnson said...

Yes, my husband and I were led to believe that he couldn't follow two step directions and that he was well...basically slow. He was placed in a class with three special ed assistants.

YOU'RE KIDDING

THIS REALLY HAPPENED?

YOUR SON WAS PUT IN A CLASS FOR KIDS WHO WERE "SLOW" OR IN SOME WAY NOT OK?

It really is ALWAYS worse than you think.

Catherine Johnson said...

Paula - if you're around - can I put these posts up front???

Would that give you away?

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Carolyn!

the incredible distractions of new puberty, and middle school

It really is something else.

You can only grab about 5% of their attention.

I've been running across moms who are stunned to learn that kids are "struggling" in Ms. K's class.

In both cases the moms have daughters who are either very brainy AND/OR fairly anxious.

One mom has a daughter who stays up til midnight doing Ms. K's homework because she is "perfectionistic" (her mom's word).

Of course I don't know this child, but I bet she's a bit like my sister, who used to stay up 'til midnight doing homework in fifth grade IN MY FARM SCHOOL THAT TAUGHT PRACTICALLY NOTHING.

Her anxiety drove her.

So...the advantage that some girls have isn't really the advantage you want to be exploiting, imo.

(In this case, at least)

Betting back to C. & his chums, we don't have perfectionism-and-anxiety to exploit.

C. reliably does his homework, whips through it, closes the book.

He has no idea whether he got any answers right, and he doesn't really care.

He did his homework.

He's done.

PaulaV said...

Catherine,

Sure, you can put them up front.

My initial perception of the class was that there had to be an awful lot of sped kids to have so many aides. Then, I saw the work that had been done in the first few weeks of school. It looked as though it had been done by first graders.

No one said "this is a slow class." The pace of the class seemed awfully slow. The other classes were zooming through the first few weeks of school. I know several kids in other classes so I asked their moms to see their classwork. My son was bringing home different work. I googled one of his worksheets and it came from a first grade book.

--PaulaV

Catherine Johnson said...

Paula - what grade was this? (I'll look - maybe you've said...)

Catherine Johnson said...

It looks to me that you're talking about a 3rd grade class - yes?

PaulaV said...

Yes, a third grade class. Isn't third grade where the school tries to identify kids with "potential" problems...thus this is where the child study comes into play? I think a child study is a precursor to an IEP or am I mistaken?

I must add that if my son had problems, any problems, it would have been nice to be informed before third grade. The whole situation was very bizzare. My husband and I were totally caught off guard with everything that happened.

--PaulaV