(NBI) Shifting Paradigms

In some ways, I feel like a first year teacher again. I’m filled with a new-found enthusiasm for my classes because I’m enjoying what I’m teaching again, but I’m having a hard time so far getting students to buy in. I know that we are only 2 weeks into the year, but I’m a little discouraged by what I’m seeing from some of my classes, particularly some of the upper-level ones.

The majority of my students who are in Algebra 2 and above (they’re the ones who haven’t had me in math since 7th grade / Pre-algebra) seem to share a similar trait. They are either so petrified of “failure” that they won’t step out and even attempt to tackle a difficult or unfamiliar problem or they are so apathetic that they’ve given up on trying something new. For too long, they have just been taught rote procedure or “plug into this formula” type thinking. As their teacher, I desperately want to help them gain understanding and develop a spirit of learning and constant improvement. However, their idea of “asking for help” is far different from mine. They just want me to tell them exactly what to do next. My idea of giving them help is to try to guide them to the next step by probing them for current knowledge and gently directing them to the next step through questioning. I know that if I can get them to make the necessary connections on their own, it will stick much better than if I just tell them, “do this.” I almost always answer their question with a question. The most common initial response from me is “What have you tried so far?”  Their most common reply: “Nothing. I don’t have any idea where to begin.” It absolutely infuriates some of them to the point that they’d rather sit there frustrated and feeling like failures instead of coming up to me. I am having a hard time getting them to accept the idea of not getting everything right the first time (or even the second or third). How do you get students to be OK with the idea of making mistakes as the pathway to learning? What have some of you done to cross that hurdle with your classes. I know it is not a unique problem, but it seems like this huge barrier for me right now because I haven’t really experienced it much before.

More than anything, I want my students to develop a desire for and love of learning. I want them to be able to look back 10/15/20 years from now at a reunion and say, “Mr. Jolicoeur helped me begin to make learning a personal, active, and ongoing process.” I don’t care if they remember a specific lesson or whether or not they can derive the law of sines. But if they begin to realize that their capabilities are far greater than they think, then I will feel as if I am accomplishing my job as their teacher.

I know this probably has come across as a rambling, incoherent mess; but, as I stated earlier, I’m doing this for my own reflection. Getting words down on the screen is definitely helping me to process and order my thoughts.  If you’ve made it this far and would like to comment or give feedback, I definitely would appreciate it though!

Until next time . . .


**Disclaimer for those who come across this blog who know me personally or know where I teach.**  What I have to say is not meant as a personal criticism or attack of the teacher I’m replacing. I have nothing but respect for her and her almost 40 years of experience. There are just some things that I view differently. She was/is a good teacher and will always be someone that I look up to and respect.


3 thoughts on “(NBI) Shifting Paradigms

  1. “My idea of giving them help is to try to guide them to the next step by probing them for current knowledge and gently directing them to the next step through questioning.” Continue to do this, Brent! You’re only two weeks in, give yourself two months. Give the kids two months. Your heart and passion for kids’ learning are in the right places. Are they working in groups? How are you grouping them, randomly or mixed abilities? Can you break the task into smaller chunks so they can experience small incremental successes? Is the problem itself something to reconsider? Should they care about the question? Could you start with a hook (like Dan Meyer’s 3Act lessons) instead?

    This post is so great, Brent, because you’re sharing your craft along with your frustration; it’s powerful reflection that we can all appreciate and learn from. So, it’s my pleasure that I get to feature you on my blog this week: http://fawnnguyen.com/2012/08/30/math-blogger-initiation-week-2.aspx

    Oh, don’t forget to share with the kids your own struggles with problem solving. I think it helps them to see that you’re a learner too! Keep blogging, keep sharing, breathe! Fawn

  2. Brent – loved reading your reflection! Loved your honesty in laying out your frustration juxtaposed with your expectations. I can relate! I’ve been out of the classroom for 12 years. I returned this year … teaching all freshmen … 6 classes of algebra. Many of my students are awesome, they are trying hard. Loved the conversation today in my inclusion class as students were figuring out the domain and range of simple functions. But I have a couple of classes whose attention I can’t quite capture … who seem to think that seat time alone will accomplish the task. I think the students are conditioned to think they can’t do math so there is no need to try. We are only 2 weeks in … I’m wondering how I can somehow capture these 2 groups in particular! i’ll be following your blog as well as others for inspiration!

  3. Pingback: Don’t mess with Mister In-Between | in stillness the dancing

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