Words of Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Where Have I Been?

I have been a little quiet of late. Work and sleep seem to take up a lot of my time and although things are happening all the time, I have been too busy or tired to blog about them.

I have decided however that I need to 'introduce' you, as much as anonymity will allow me, to my classes this year. I do this because the other morning as I snuggled with my husband on a Sunday morning, child free lie-in, I found myself discussing one of my classes and some of my plans. Himself was amused that I woke up thinking about kids and maths and I assured him that all over the world teachers were doing similar things. Our classes and our kids occupy a huge portion of our minds and hearts and as such I will probably talk about them a fair bit this year so it seems reasonable to introduce them.

There are three 'support' maths classes this year with a specialist Spec Ed teacher (yours truly). This represents an exciting opportunity and a real acknowledgment of the needs of these pupils.

The classes are very different. Year 8 for example seem a delightful group of kids, a little intimidated by maths but willing to try and responding very well to the slow, structured, cumulative approach. Once last week I was concerned that one or two lads seemed to be finishing quickly and becoming a bit 'bored' so I created a 'fast table' where they could do mostly the same work as the rest of the class but at their own pace with an extension activity and with only occasional input from me. They were delighted. The rest of the class systematically worked through the examples on the board with me and seemed very happy with that....so good result all round there! These kids are thriving on the 'tables challenge' I have set them. It's a great system based on Precision Teaching and the kids enjoy seeing themselves build fluency and accuracy. There's one or two in this class who struggle a bit but they are generally a pretty homogeneous group and seem to be working well so far. We shall call them 'Dream Class'.

Year 9s are the group I had last year in Y8 and a number of things have happened here to improve the situation. We are in a different, smaller room with a lower ceiling so my voice does not soar heavenward and bounce back at me like it did in the cathedral ceiling of last year's room. Two kids have either left or transferred across to a different class and this has changed the whole dynamic so that we are much more settled and co-operative. There are still one or two difficult characters however; this class contains some of the 'Lipgloss Set' girls who blatantly sit in class applying (banned) lipgloss as you are working an example on the board. Any request to put it away or hand it over it met by "But it's clear!!". Yes, but it's full of glitter. Give me the lipgloss.

Then there's Year 10. Oh dear. Year 10. This group has 6 African students; a severe dyslexic; a boy with an intellectual disability who wants to be a wrestler; another boy is a 'potential hairdresser' with poor social skills, which his thoughtful classmates capitalise on regularly by calling him 'extremely happy' anytime he walks into the room. This winds him up and he responds by hurling racist abuse or referring to the money making proclivities of their mothers on street corners (are you getting all this...I'm trying to be polite here).

Throw into this mix a complete inability on the part of any of them to do maths.......and you will see what I'm up against.

Actually, to be fair, the dyslexic is reasonable in his grasp of maths concepts.....it's just that his writing is so bad that you can't read it and he lines his numbers up incorrectly and has never heard of a ruler. Even for graphs.

I have unfortunately allowed myself to be swayed by the Deputy Principal who formerly taught this level and started the year off with a Maths Project. The idea is that they design a house, then work out the cost of painting, tiling and carpeting it. It involves a field trip to the hardware store and apparently they all get As and feel good about themselves before commencing the real job of learning Maths for the rest of the year.

Perhaps you are starting to make connections between this and the picture at the top of the page.

I knew I was in for a hard time when my mentor's timeline for the project included one double lesson to produce a plan of a house. Granted, they have had a week off for camp, but yesterday I was still helping one of the boys finish his plan (we are in week 4). The one you see at the top was the first effort by one of the African girls.

Some cynical commentators have observed that perhaps the African girls don't have any concept of what a house is? Perhaps they are still thinking of huts and bare earth floors. I would like to inform these simplistic types that, although M and M were in the camps for years and probably suffered shockingly, they are now ipod wearing, Cosmo reading glamour girls who have lived in European housing for at least 5 years.

I will acknowledge however that there may be a cultural bias against the birdseye view. On discussion with another teacher we wondered whether they are a culture which ever uses maps. Many tribal cultures do not. Certainly in drama when they were asked to do a stage plan they had similar conceptual difficulties.

I could have given up then and there after lesson 1. And perhaps I should have! Except that I think they need the experience of carrying things through to completion. We tried the next lesson, using fraction blocks to represent different sized rooms and tracing around them with the proviso that each block must touch another one so that we at least had common walls.

I will try and post their finished plans. The relative sizes of rooms are incongruous and the arrangement far from perfect (eg you have to go through bed 1 to get to bed 2 but then there are plenty of Victorian terraces like that in the UK) but they have actually come up with something that looks like a floor plan. I would really love to get them to build it but I'm not sure I can justify that in maths terms. I mean at some point we really ought to use some numbers :-D

So what with that and managing, in my new role as Special ed coordinator, to oversee two long term, funds attracting pupils leaving the school this week, it has been a rough trot. Hence not much blogging. I'll probably post about the two pupils and another Flaming Sword quandry (do I let her go to the Mall alone yet??????) later today!

Have a good one!!!!!


Brittany said...

I think the year 10 students sound interesting! hahah.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear! What a year you have ahead of you! You were amusingly diplomatic in your description of the Year 10 class in particular...I found myself chuckling aloud a bit as I read!

Have fun with the houses... quite an endeavor I'd say!!

Chris in Oxford said...

I often wake up thinking about tutorials I have to give the next day, so there's nothing mad about that. Unless I'm mad...

I had a dyslexic student this term for the first time. No one actually told me that she was LD and I bollocked her first essay. Then I was having coffee with a friend who happens to run Oxford's disabled student office and he saw her paper and mentioned that she was dyslexic and that someone should have told me to bear that in mind. Best University in the World, horribly organized.

She is fiercely, frighteningly bright, though.

Chris in Oxford said...

BTW, I'm going to send you a mail with some questions about teaching in Adelaide. Must remember to do that.

Arizaphale said...

Aren't most universities horribly organised? I hope the Uni Disabled office are providing the young lady with some support in the essay writing department. At very least she should get someone else to proof read it for her. There are lots of assistive technologies nowadays to help get around the stumbling blocks of dyslexia, especially if you are bright enough to see how to use them.