kitchen table math, the sequel: middle school math teacher

Friday, March 23, 2007

middle school math teacher

Debbie Sheffield
03/21/2007 12:42PM

I am a middle school teacher with a major in math. I see a complete shift to constructivist thinking in all areas of academics that is having a very negative impact on most of my students. Educators must find a middle ground with traditional skill practice as well as creative thinking projects. Why would anyone think one approach is best?

Money is the answer and NCLB. Since the National Science Foundation will pay for the materials for this new approach, most schools hop on the band wagon. I have witnessed the anger and frustration of parents trying to understand their own child's lack of confidence in math and their inability to do the most basic operation. Forget critical thinking for these students, they are so upset about their inabilities that they are unable to come up with an idea how to even start a problem.

Most of my district's parents have no idea what our secondary schools are doing in the future with their child's curriculum. I see a backlash of anger and frustration in the horizon. Already, professors are telling me students have to take remedial college math classes to even get into a degree program and the student may have to attend a junior college first (if they offer the class) to get into a state or private college/university. I have seen a distinct drop in ability levels from all of my students from the most basic to the gifted in my basic math classes and Pre-Algebra classes. My students mix up all the different methods they have seen because they did not practice a way that worked for them enough to keep it stored for future use. Why not give every student an IEP, individual goals and instruction, and chart their progress yearly? We cannot do this because of the political game we play directing every school to jump through hoops proving accountability in high stakes testing for funding. I am sick of it and the endless paperwork that keep teachers from teaching.

Whether you chose Standards Based or Creative Thinking, you must use a combination of both. To me math is sequential, a building block like a foundation for a house. Next year's curriculum will not do any building of skills for my students that are not ready for random problem solving.
Standardized Expectations vs. Creative Thinking

I've read Debbie's writing before. She's fantastic.


NYC Educator said...

I regularly marvel at administrators and politicians who bond to any particular method and stand up claiming it's the best thing since sliced bread, replacing all that ever was or will be. These same people inevitably embrace some new thing the following year and dump last year's model in a heartbeat.

I like a lot of writers and I like a lot of teachers, and I'm absolutely sure there are various ways to communicate with both kids and adults. Style is style, and the latest style is all too often mistaken for the Ten Commandments.

I agree you need a variety of activities and approaches. Is it a large stretch to imagine that different approaches work for different people?

It is, apparently, for those who tell us what approach we must use, and who fail to see how they damage their credibility by finding one new exclusive approach after another.

I think really good teachers have their own voices, and their own individual approaches. Really bad ones, unfortunately, will not be helped much by using portfolios, or instructional objectives, or group work, or constructivism, or whatever happens to be coming down the pike this season.

Anonymous said...

I appreciated this comment after so many that were aggravating me to death:

Reading through all of these responses drove me to read some of my state's standards to see if I had gone crazy. What I see in the standards are many statement that begin with "analyze," "compare," "describe," "explain," "apply," "use." Now, I could be wrong, but these things sound like higher order thinking skills to me.

When I look at sample tests, I do see lots of multiple choice--but many of the questions require inference, comparison and other indicators of comprehension of reading passages in various content areas. I also see various "writing prompts," that ask students to respond in various ways to content.

Just trying to clarify the facts seems to be a major hurdle these guys. So many feel that the kids they get can't critically think and be creative (whatever the hell that means) because they weren't actually taught to critically think and be creative. They seem to lack any curiousity about whether these kids might be lacking the basic skills and knowledge to actually do such a thing.

SteveH said...

"We cannot do this ..."

We teachers? I would never put all teachers into one philosophical block. And the union is not on my side as a parent. I can sympathize when teachers complain about what walks into their classrooms, but these students are also a product of the educational system. The problem is not what walks into a middle school or high school classroom, but how the students got there in the first place.

Instead of complaining about why certain students even made it to their grade or class, teachers complain about all sorts of other things, like paperwork.

Instructivist said...

Reading some of the comments in response to Ed Weak's piece (misspelling intentional) shows me pervasiveness of the inane ed school ideology (Standardized Expectations vs. Creative Thinking

I left this comment that gives me a little emotional satisfaction amid the nausea I feel:

"Give me a break. Is this the usual level of analysis at Education Week? And these people are in charge of defining "critical thinking" for my son?"

I second SteveH's sentiments. I don't see "critical thinking" being defined and supported with actual illustrations of critical thinking in action in the various subject areas. This would be helpful. I get the feeling that "critical thinking" is being invoked ad nauseam in rote fashion, parrot-like, because the phrase has an impressive ring to it, and somehow that impressive ring is felt to obviate the need to give it substance through detailed examples.

What is sorely missing is critical thinking about "critical thinking."

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi nyc!

What do you think about....efforts to have the good teachers take the lead?

I'm sure there's a term for this approach, but can't remember it at the moment.

I think people talk about "identifying in-house expertise," etc.

The professional development scene seems to be just awful (am I wrong about that?)

And as far as I can tell every school has a corps of teachers universally recognized as excellent.

Do you like ideas such as "mentor teachers" -- you know, the kind of person who would spend some time teaching and some time training, supervising, advising and perhaps evaluating other teachers?