Defining a High-Standards Math Curriculum for Struggling Students, Part 2 of 2
I made the case in my previous blog that adjusting the pace of instruction for struggling students in a high-standards curriculum is imperative. We all have different aptitudes for a given endeavor—from music to mathematics—and it is unrealistic to expect that all students can learn the same set of complex ideas in the same, fixed period of time.
The holiday divinity and fudge are just about gone, and the heart-warming Christmas movies seem to have been replaced by weight-loss commercials. I’ve made more than my share of New Year’s resolutions, and rarely have I stuck to the calorie-counting, mile-running regimens that I have planned.
This year, rather than set some lofty goals that I will most likely fail to achieve, I plan to stop trying to find who or what is to blame for the problems with education today. Instead I want to purposefully do everything I can to effect positive changes for my students, get to know them better as individuals, and connect their learning to content that they find valuable and relevant to their own lives.
Rather than focusing on text reading this month, let’s turn our attention to one of the critical components of language necessary for comprehension: vocabulary.
Educators often point to the importance of expanding students’ vocabularies, but how is verbal learning acquired? A new line of research has confirmed, not surprisingly, that the way the teacher talks and how the teacher uses language directly affect student vocabulary growth.
Thank you for being part of the EdView360 community this year. We hope that our blog has helped and inspired you in some small way as you continue to enrich the lives of our youth.
Enjoy a well-deserved break, and we'll see you back on the blog in 2016!
In the digital age, we have the world at our fingertips. However, nothing truly compares to experiencing something firsthand. If experience is the best teacher, then there is a strong rationale for field trips.
With the holiday season upon us, groups from schools across the nation will be performing in parades or at Bowl games. Spring break is just around the corner, and is a prime time to travel with students.
Despite this knowledge, I have been hesitant to provide my students with the same types of rewarding experiences I had on field trips in my youth. Sure, I would take my classes to district festivals, and last year even planned a rewards trip with a partner teacher to the local amusement park, but the idea of planning a larger experience for my students seemed daunting. Where would I begin?
Year after year, I struggled with students who claimed to hate reading. They didn’t like to read. They told me so, over and over again. I have a stock response: “You know, every time you say that an English teacher cries.”
Handing out reading assignment packets or calling for volunteers to read aloud was consistently met with gut-wrenching groans. I am an unusually peppy person, but I was deflating. Must I hear this every time? We hadn’t even started the reading yet.
I had to end this cycle of abuse on innocent texts. They weren’t to blame. The curriculum, teachers’ interests, accessibility, and availability were all factors in killing reading for our students. Alas, poor little packets of photocopied words take the bulk of the wrath for students being told over and over again “Reading is FUN!” as they gaze down, bracing themselves for one more double-sided, black-and-white chore.
A Better Approach for Struggling Readers
At the end of October, I attended and spoke at the annual International Dyslexia Association (IDA) meeting in Dallas. IDA remains the best interdisciplinary conference for all professionals, advocates, and families concerned with reading, writing, and language difficulties. IDA meetings, over the past three decades, are where I’ve obtained my real education.
As an educator, you may never know exactly what impact your influence will have on their lives, but know that you have made a difference.
It takes time for research to be translated into practice, particularly when it comes to textbooks. For example, it was nearly 20 years ago when U.S. math educators examined the textbooks and instructional practices of highly successful countries around the world, only to determine what we already knew. American math textbooks were “a mile wide and an inch deep.” In contrast, international curricula typically contained fewer topics that were addressed in greater depth.1
The traditional structure of math textbooks as you move across the grade levels has been unfortunately predictable. James Flanders’ analysis of elementary and middle school texts in the late 1980s characterized the typical text as bloated with all kinds of review and extra content.2 Almost 30 years later, we still have the same problem in many of our math textbooks.3 This problem remains in spite of the fact that efforts like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards to infuse more conceptual understanding and problem solving in textbooks occurred in the intervening years.
It’s a catch-22. Because reading is difficult for them, older struggling readers don’t like to read, and therefore they don’t read. As a result and over time, vocabulary, sentence structure, comprehension, and academic language become less familiar, and these students begin to fall further and further behind.
In Carver, Massachusetts, 11th grader Noah Pina explained to a group of educators, including myself, how an intervention program changed his life. Noah started the curriculum last year reading at approximately a fifth grade level and is now reading at a 10th grade level!