Self-Concept and Lowered Expectations

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Michele Kerr

Michele Kerr lives in California, for her sins.

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  1. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    “I learned how long I could run an upfront discussion before their attention waned, carefully timing the moment when I moved them onto practice problems—which had to be carefully managed, too. Struggling students need to build momentum on a string of problems before they get to their first hesitation point. Hit that hesitation point too early and they “shut down”.

    This. A valuable lesson I still struggle with both professionally and privately. When i feel like my audience is unengaged right out of the gate, I always seem to think I can talk them into engagement. The back of my brain is always telling the front to shut up, but I think the front keeps talking because I am not as good with the engagement part.

    Thanks for sharing this Michelle.Report

    • Avatar Michele Kerr in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      says:

      “When i feel like my audience is unengaged right out of the gate, I always seem to think I can talk them into engagement.”

      Arghh. Welcome to my world.

      But here’s the good news: I’ve found that success creates a positive feedback loop. The more success you give them, the more willing they are to launch off into the unknown. That is, starting with manageable math over time will give you a math class where students will honestly and authentically grapple with interesting, open-ended questions and tough problems.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      says:

      The back of my brain is always telling the front to shut up, but I think the front keeps talking

      Brother Dwyer is strumming my pain with his fingers and singing my life with his words.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon
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    says:

    This was always my issue with HS math, that the material leapt away from me right as I was beginning to wrap my head around it. I constantly felt I was behind and that the teacher was not allowed to slow things down so I could catch up. And asking for help outside of class was always an exercise in the teacher being disappointed in me (my perception, as a teenager).

    One of the big differences when I took algebra in college (the other being that the instructor taught multiple approaches to every solution) was that before the instructor moved on to another topic, he spent a day just fielding questions and reviewing everything. He also encouraged the class to participate in answering questions, so before he’d dive in, he’d open things up for class discussion. More often than not, he didn’t need to answer anything, one of us would explain things as we understood it, or if it was clear more time was needed, arrangements were made between students to work on it outside of class.Report

  3. fillyjonk fillyjonk
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    says:

    Honestly, a lot of the feel-good movies and stuff about “inspiring teacher turns around class” do a disservice, I think, to teaching. It has set up this image of the “superstar” teaching, suggesting they are preternaturally gifted at it…..and so the rest of us who teach might as well give up, let those folks be videoed for MOOCs, and we can slave as low-wage graders. (Yes, I had someone present this idea in a seminar aimed at college professors).

    The “superstar” teacher idea also totally ignores how much hard work goes into teaching “right.” It’s like the singer who walks out on stage and gives a perfect performance – you don’t see the 80 hours of rehearsal she went through, and the years and years of training. There’s this prevalent myth in our culture that “talent” is this magical thing some people get, and that means they can do things well effortlessly, and it ain’t so. I can say that as someone who earned good grades in school and is generally recognized as “smart” – it’s a lot of hard work.

    (And so, I guess we’ve got #3 right there. And I do feel disrespected some, these days. *Generally* not from students – though there was one nightmare class several years ago – but frequently from certain bureaucratic offices on campus. In fact, friends had to figuratively talk me in off a ledge yesterday when I learned one of these offices set something up, without consulting or even telling me about it, that was counter to how I had always done it and had planned to set it up for my classes this fall…)

    And I have seen a lot of people who don’t spend a lot of time in the classroom (or who haven’t spent any time in our particular classrooms, with our particular issues) presuming to preach to me about “how I should do it” and I admit it makes me VERY prickly.

    As for “self-concept,” IDK if this is related to that concept but: I teach an intro-level specialized stats class. I REGULARLY get students coming in telling me they struggled with algebra or calc. Or that they’re “afraid” of math. I tell them three things:

    a. The basic stats we do tends to be very applied, so if it was the more abstract nature of the other classes you found challenging, stats is different. (I have taken calc twice in my life and tried twice more to teach it to myself from books, and I still feel I only have a rudimentary understanding. But I am good at stats)

    b. Do the homework. Keep up with the homework. Pay attention when I go over the homework after I hand it back. If you got something wrong and are still confused, come in to see me. Earlier is better. We don’t have a lab so my office hours, I consider meeting individually to give help as “lab” time for me. And also: the homework for me is a way of judging how well I am teaching. If most of the class gets an 8, 9, or 10 out of ten, I can assume I did OK. If most people are earning 5/10 or below, that means I need to go back and explain the concept differently, or spend more time with it.

    c. If you are confused, either speak up in class (I can guarantee someone else is too) or come see me, I will help you. Do it sooner rather than later.

    I have had a large proportion of my self-identifying math-phobes earn Bs or better – and my class is not an easy class. The people who earn Ds or Fs? Are the ones who think they know it all already, who skip the homework, who zone out during the working of example problems. (And yes, I know: the new thing in stats is to go straight to the software but I tend to think if students know the “how” and “why” of the numbers in simpler examples, they seem more prone to choose the correct test off a drop-down menu).Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to fillyjonk
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      says:

      I was in high school when Stand and Deliver came out.

      We gave our AP Chem teacher some guff about getting us to the finish line where we’d all get 5’s and used that movie as an example of how it was possible and he told us “Jeez, watch it again. He had those kids for 4 years plus summers. I have you guys for 180 days.”Report

  4. Avatar InMD
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    says:

    Thanks for sharing. It makes me wish I had some math teachers who took your approach. I never had great aptitude for the subject beyond basic algebra. This was compounded by a series of unfortunate turns in my education. When I was in Catholic middle school we had two tracks. The fast track and the slow track. I was too advanced for the slow track but needed more help than was available in the fast track. In that class an ancient nun (who I learned had taught my father) just wrote things on the board and if you got it you got it and if you didn’t you didn’t.

    Next came high school where the county implemented a combined algebra and geometry program that was supposed to be regular math for your first 3 years. Except halfway through my sophomore year they decided the program was a failure and crash course turned IAG2 back to geometry. By the time I was a junior I was so lost that to this day I have no idea how I passed those classes and managed the SATs.Report

  5. Avatar Michele Kerr
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    says:

    Oh, god, integrated math. They say it’s the norm in Europe, but American math teachers are pretty universal in their despite for mixing it all up.I’m sorry you suffered through it. And I’m sorry for all the people who have a tough time in math. But remember, I’m the one lowering standards, which is a Bad Thing.

    @fillyjonk , many students have a terrible time with stats because they have to explain what the answer means.Report

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