Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Disparity in Learning

I am writing this post while thoroughly confused.  I need help.  The fate of many students hangs in the balance.

First, some background info.  At my school we do the math curriculum a little differently than most schools in Michigan.  Most schools teach in the following order: Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and then either Pre-Calculus, or some other course like Statistics.  Most offer a fast-track like taking Algebra I in 8th grade, which after following the progression to Pre-Calculus, allows a student to take AP Calculus as a senior.

Every 8th grader at my school takes Algebra I.  Depending on the level of success, they are then placed in Algebra II or Algebra I again as freshmen.  To me it makes more sense to take Geometry immediately after Algebra I because the algebra needed to be successful in Geometry is of the Algebra variety.  So if students aren't that successful in Algebra I as 8th graders, most will take this track in Math: Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, and then Statistics.  However, when they get to me in Geometry as Juniors they are a full year, and sometimes 2 years removed from the kind of algebra we're using.  It's not hard, it's just been a while.  I have proposed changing to the typical track, but that is met with the question of whether freshmen could handle all of the heavy logic and reasoning skills that are also necessary in Geometry.

All of that being said, I have 2 sections of Geometry this year.  A class of 18 sophomores, who would have had success in 8th grade Alg. I, and a class of 12 juniors, who retook Alg. I as freshmen.

My problem is this:  My 18 sophomores are mostly girls and heavy duty type A personalities.  In some cases they have me convinced that the world is coming to an end if they get a B on something.  My juniors are more guys and more of the "meh" attitude.  It's totally fine to get a C or D, as long as they didn't have to put too much effort into it.  In some cases I identify more with the juniors because I had the same attitude in high school.  The only difference being that my lack of effort usually still ended up getting me an A anyway.  Hate me if you want, it's just the way it is.

I am torn between two seemingly logical positions with my situation.  Position 1 is that I should recognize that the junior class on average will simply not be able to handle the objectives to the same extent as the sophomore class.  Math has been an issue for them all along, and there's no reason to think that it will be any different this year.  Position 2 is that I should recognize the potential in each student regardless of their mathematical history.  Simplifying the objectives for the juniors is basically like lowering my expectations, which means I'm assuming they won't be able to handle it before they try.

There are pros and and cons to each position and it seems to me that I'm at an impasse.  This is my fourth year teaching Geometry, but it's the first year I've had 2 separate sections between sophomores and juniors. Last year they were all in one section, which had its own set of challenges and my first 2 years I had only sophomores, because the whole Algebra I split only started 3 years ago.

I am also struggling with how to apply the teachings of my faith to this situation, because usually whenever I'm stuck I just need to apply my faith, and then the correct choice naturally becomes apparent.  However, in this case it hasn't helped me much.  Jesus hung out with all of the sinners and basically cast out all the rich and righteous.  Instead of treating everyone equally, he turned the inequality on its head.  Can a really do that in a situation like this?  Can I justify spending more time with the weaker students and less with the strong?  If I do that, will I be able to handle feeling like I'm dropping the difficulty level so much that it's insulting to the weaker students?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I'm mad that I can't seem to make a choice either way.

1 comment:

  1. That's a really difficult problem, and I think a lot of teachers feel the same way about their classes--who do you concentrate on: the ones near the bottom that need the most help, or the ones near the top that are most ready to learn? I don't know the answer, but I know you're in good company when you are conflicted about this. I don't even think the example of the Savior is clear cut about this--he preached to the poor rather than the rich, which would suggest one way of looking at your class, but he also preached to those who were sincere in wanting to learn from him, and not from those who were not interested or had their own agenda, which might suggest a different way of looking at the class. I wish there were enough of you and me and all of us to give these students the individual attention they need, but there isn't so we all make the best compromises we can. Perhaps prayer and personal inspiration can be a guide, but in any case, best wishes to you and your students, and do realize that you're not alone in being frustrated with the trade offs all of us teachers have to make.