Thursday, March 06, 2014

And We Are a Go For School...Once Again

Is it possible that this will be the last time this school year that I say the words, "and we're going back to school after all the snow days"?

I mean, it is March.  Surely we've seen the last of the snow.  It's going to start getting warmer now, right?  Spring is going to start making its way in.  Right?  Right? 

Well, I for one hope so.

Yes.  I like snow days.  Who doesn't like time off work?  I'm not going to complain about more than expected time with my family.  I'm not going to complain about them while I'm getting them, but now that they are over (for the fourth time) I really don't want anymore.

I just want some consistency.  Some normalcy.  I want to know that we are going to be in school for more than a week without having to redo everything and juggle everything around because we're out for one, two, or five days because of snow.

Take going back today, for example.  It's Thursday, and because of the snow, the first school day of the week.  On the first day of the week, I usually introduce new material and lessons and then test them on Fridays.  Can't exactly do that when the week starts on Thursday.

So, my other option is to spend today and tomorrow reviewing stuff.  Go back over the math and reading and science from last week, just to remind them what we were doing the last time we were in school.

Or, I could review over skills we haven't done in a while.  Practice some of the skills we taught earlier in the year, but haven't really gone back over much since.

Or, I could go ahead and make today a "Monday" day, but not test over the new lessons until next Friday, giving myself an extra two days to work on said lessons.

All good options, but none really conducive to being out for another three days.  It just puts us even more behind.  

I think the best course of action would be to spend today and tomorrow reviewing.  Reviewing never hurt anything, and it's always good to go back and go over a few things that were a little tricky to master.  And, I'm a firm believer in if you don't use something, you lose it.  Sometimes, when we move on and not return to a skill for a while, my students will forget how to use the skill.  Reviewing helps them remember, and I like to come up with ways for them to apply the skills to different scenarios so that it's less likely they'll forget what it is we've done.

I read a comment yesterday that someone posted on Facebook that declared "Good teachers don't have to worry about their students forgetting how to do something.  If they taught them correctly in the first place, the student will hold on to the skills for life".

Urm.  Really?

Apparently, that person has never spent ANY time in the classroom.

Kids absolutely DO forget how to do something if it's been a while since they've done it.  I also know that kids often confuse certain skills after being introduced to new ones.

Example.  After spending several months learning how to multiply and divide, some of my kids were completely thrown off when I gave them some three digit addition and subtraction to do.  My kiddos have been adding and subtracting since kindergarten, but after cramming their minds with multiplication facts, scenarios and situations for using multiplication and division, and learning all the different "rules" and steps for multiplying and dividing, something as simple as adding and subtraction was quite difficult for them.

Then, I hear the argument that teachers aren't teaching kids what certain skills MEAN, and instead are just having them memorize and apply rules and facts.  

Again, using math, I hear that kids are learning how to add and subtract but not what it MEANS to add and subtract.  They know they are putting two numbers together to make a bigger number, or are taking a number away from a number to make a smaller number, but aren't able to comprehend the actual point or deeper meaning to addition and subtraction.  And by deeper meaning, those people refer to using place value, understanding that regrouping is taking ones and making tens or taking tens and making hundreds, and so on.

I don't know about anyone else, but when I sit down to perform math as an adult... say paying bills, figuring out how much food to buy for my family, or grades I add, subtract, multiply and divide without thinking about ones, tens, and hundreds place value.  I just know that when I have a bill for $125 to pay and $200 to pay it, I will have $75 dollars left over.  I know that when bread is $1.25 per loaf, and I have to buy three loaves, I'm going to spend $3.75 on bread.  When I'm grading papers and a student misses 3 out of 20 questions, I know their grade is going to be an 85%.

I know these things because back when I went to school, I was taught how to add and subtract, multiply and divide using algorithms and rules and facts.  Sure, a large portion of the work was memorizing said facts and algorithms, but by applying my learning to real world situations, and continuing to use those facts and algorithms, I remembered how to do it each and every year.

Now, on the reverse, I also know that I remember learning algebra.  I took pre-algebra, algebra 1 and algebra 2 in high school. I also took pre-algebra and college algebra when I went to college.  But, that was the last time I used algebra.  I know I had effective teachers for all of those classes, and I was a straight A student in all of those classes, but when my 8th grader brings home her algebra homework.. I can't help her.  I have forgotten how to do those math problems.  

I can absolutely tell you what 4x-7=35 means.  I can tell you what the x stands for, and why it's in the math problem.  I can tell you what problems like 4(x+y) to the 4th power mean.  I can tell you that the end result can be put on a coordinate grid, and how the coordinates work.  I can tell you what the Pythagorean theorem is, and even the equation to use it.  But for the life of me, I can't tell you what to do with all that stuff when it's put together and written in algebra problems that my 8th grade daughter has to solve.

Why?  Because I don't use that type of math in my everyday life.  I remember the facts and algorithms I was taught and memorized, but because I no longer use those facts and algorithms I've forgotten HOW to use to has nothing to do with WHY they are used or what they MEAN.

So, where I'm going with all of this is just pointing out that students absolutely DO forget how to do things if they're not "reviewed" continuously.  It has nothing to do with whether or not they were correctly taught in the first place, or their "deeper understanding" to the skills posed to them.  It has everything to do with connecting the learning to real life, and developing ways for the students to continue to use what they've learned in order for them to retain their knowledge.

And with 20 snow days under our belts, it's going to mean a lot of review.  

So, I guess I've helped myself make up my mind about how I'm going to approach today.  Which I better think about getting's time to get ready for work.

Have a great Monday... urm...I mean Thursday!!


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