September 22, 2009

Set Backs of an Algebraic Kind

I think most of you know, I tutor math on the side. Something happened today that has made me question, I guess that's right. I'm just kind of beside myself.

I LOVE tutoring, in particular Algebra... I or II. I love it. I love Algebra and how everything works out, the balancing, the rules, the manipulation, the puzzle, I absolutely LOVE Algebra and if I could have majored in Algebra, I most certainly would have.

So I did the next best thing and majored in Applied Math.

I love reveling in my student's successes. I don't consider myself a teacher in the sense I don't have a classroom and what teachers do day in and day out... that's hard work.

What I do is not hard work. I just give an assist. As I like to say, "I just shine a flashlight in the dark corners."

I am honest with parents. I had a girl one year that was just flat in the wrong class. I called her Mom and said, "She should not be in that honors class. She's going to fail. Move her."

And she did and I never heard from them again because I think that they truly didn't need me. I think she was just in the WRONG class, with the wrong teacher.

I had a boy one year that had absolutely the worst Algebra II teacher in the North County. I'm not kidding... everyone talks about how bad this teacher is. He went from failing to getting A's.

That was HIS work. HE did that. I was so proud of him.

And so last week I was working with this student I adore. She's smart and fun and energetic. She grasps concepts quickly and can move through the homework after the light comes on.

And on Sunday, it all came together and she was going through the homework and although she didn't know it cold, she knew it well enough to get a B. I can feel these things now. I can tell what they'll get on the test, before they even take it.

I can just feel it through watching their comprehension.

I gave her a plan for studying. Math every day. I tell all my students, if you're going to read a history chapter out loud in class, then read it at home, then discuss it in class, and then read it again at home, take notes on it, review it, and then take a test, why is it that doing homework one time in Math should warrant you an A? Do your math homework as many times as you would reading a History chapter... do it over and over and over... every day when you get your new homework, pick out problems from old homework and do it... again.

So I had different sections for every day. We had a plan and she adhered to it.

And... she failed. I call my students the afternoon of every test. It's like Christmas to me. I want to HEAR in their voices how they did. I want a play by play of how it went... the good, the bad, and the ugly, the highs and lows, what we may need to cover better next time.

I want it THEN before they don't remember.

And when I called... her Mom said she failed.

Folks, when I failed an Alg II test, it means I made a C. (Never happened... I made A's in Alg.) I'm just saying, a C would have been failing.

This was not a C. This was a BOMB of a big order and I saw the test tonight and... I'm at a loss.

She knew it all. There was nothing on that test she'd not done. Nothing.

And I looked at her and said, "Sweetie, you know this. We did this... remember, the slope of a parallel line is the same... the slope of a perpendicular line is the inverse reciprocal..."

And as God as my witness, she looked at me like she had never in her life seen it.

NEVER.

She looked lost... bewildered... stunned... depressed... all of it. It was as if, someone had taken a magnet and just completely wiped her harddrive clean.

I'm not kidding.

She has LITERALLY NEVER seen the information on that test before.

Ever.

In her life.

And I'm at a loss. Truly. I feel like a failure. What should I have done differently? What approach? Did I need to draw more pictures?

I'm left reeling here as she and I are both trying to come to grips with what has just occurred. There was no, 'Oh yeah... I remember that now."

NO.

It was *blank*.

And to make it worse... her teacher wrote COMMENTS ON HER missed work. Comments.

Comments like UGH. Or UGH!

No kidding. She got commentary... negative commentary on her tests. Why did she not just write, "You stupid idiot. What were you thinking?"

Because that's what it just about amounted to.

And so next week when she has some time, I'll go over and we'll go over it again, stress free, to see if I can make sense of what happened.

I actually think it is test anxiety. I really do. And so I will spend the next week giving her pep talks, coaching her mental well being. She made A's in Geometry last year. She should be making A's in this this year.

And I do, I do believe this is not indicative of how the rest of the year will go. I think she'll actually make A's on everything else.

I just have to convince her of that.

Hunh.

Posted by Boudicca at September 22, 2009 09:34 PM
Comments

I think you are on to it! I'm betting you can get her up and running! Speaking of running...I like to run over to her so-called "Teacher"...the one that had the Ugh comment...and freely do a Town Hall Meeting on his or her heartless/brainless a$$!

Posted by: JihadGene at September 22, 2009 11:37 PM

Don't kick yourself, Bou. It happens! Probably what will happen is this will sit in her brain and ferment over time. It may not truly "click" until she is a little older and takes a second look at it. I honestly believe there is a developmental readiness that is necessary in order to work with algebra, and that there are general gender differences in the timeline. Just my theory. I'd like to see a study done on it. I have had several adult female students who confessed to being "bad" at algebra in high school
who, when they returned to college, found it much easier to process the information the second time around. In fact, they generally seemed amazed at how much easier it came to them.

Of course, you may get this girl up and running. But should she continue to bomb, tell her to step back and realize that 50 years from now, nobody will remember or care what grade she got in Algebra II. She may end up being one of those adult students who rediscovers it at a later date. And the "aha" moments are just as sweet for adults! ;)

Posted by: PeggyU at September 22, 2009 11:47 PM

JihadGene- I'm seriously pissed at her teacher. I can be the biggest cheerleader and I can get her to laugh and feel better about the next test, but her teacher just set me 100 feet back. It takes way more energy to negate and UGH. I need to not know her name...

Peggy- This is one of those concepts that kids get confused with. It's that whole point slope intercept, which they completely get if it's y=mx+b, but then they give you points, ask you to find other equations, use different forms, and I've found that if my students haven't really really been studying, they get it all mish moshed. And she had been studying... but it was more like cramming. You can't cram Alg II.

I'm not letting this go though. Her basic algebraic skills are VERY good. At the end of every lesson, I'm going to do a review on those four sections until by the end of the quarter, she has no issues. And this time, more pictures. I used pictures before, but this time... more pictures. And if I have to break out the crayons... I'm breaking out the crayons.

Posted by: Bou at September 23, 2009 05:44 AM

She may be having other issues, life changes, crap at home, boyfriend crap. Such a 180 from your instincts (which are proven)would lead me to think there's likely things you can't coach her on, troubles brewing. That you believe in her is awesome, and it will count for something beyond what you can see today. Good luck to you both!

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at September 23, 2009 07:08 AM

I am thinking text anxiety. I have it bad, I draw a blank when the test goes in front of me know matter how good I know the material.

Could also be math just isn't going to click with her (stick in her mind) until much later.

I went though all of public school and college the first time round just getting by in math, for the life of me I just couldn't get it. When I started my 2nd degree it's like the burnt out light bulb was finally changed and then I couldn't believe I didn't get it before then.

Posted by: Quality Weenie at September 23, 2009 08:16 AM

I agree on the not getting it until later. I grasped the basics in high school - squeeked by with B's until College Algebra - I got a C. Then when I hit college and tried Calculus - I FAILED - as in a big fat F the first time around. I decided my algebra skills needed refreshing so I took College Algebra again - as an audit so no official grade - and got an A+. The next time I took Calculus - I had an A before the final exam and did not have to take it. I was blown away that something that seemed so difficult to me before was all the sudden so easy. I think it was the teacher though that did it for me - both of them actually. The College Algebra instructor really knew how to explain in a way that made sense. And the calculus teacher - though I didn't mean to I ended up with the same instructor I had before - and she worked with me - she changed her teaching style to fit how I learn and she really helped me. She didn't want me to fail again so she really really helped. It was awesome! Sorry so long winded ;)

Posted by: Carmen at September 23, 2009 08:43 AM

I'm betting you're a wonderful tutor, Bou. If she truly learned the information and I believe she did... it will fall into place once more and then you can build on it.

I failed every math course I ever took... except for grade school. You can imagine all the tutors I went through...! Unfortunately they were all like the teacher, sitting looking at me as though I were purposefully not 'getting it', while I sat crying. It's hard work when your brain isn't wired for it...

Posted by: Pam at September 23, 2009 09:28 AM

Bou, may I ask a favor? You are probably doing this already, but one of the things I have tried to do with different topics is, if there is an alternate way of denoting something (even if if is not presented in the book), I show students other ways they may see the same information presented. The reason I have started doing this is that as students progress from one class to another, the authors of the texts may change and they may find themselves looking at the same information, expressed differently ... and it throws some students for a loop! I don't know if your student's materials were consistent from Algebra I to Algebra II.

So with the slope, for example, if the book uses (y2 - y1)/(x2-x1), you might also write it as delta y/delta x ... In fact I think that notation is a little better, since I have noticed students will do this, "Hmmm .... I can't remember ... do I subtract this one from this one, or this one from this one?" I think it is easier to just remember change in y divided by change in x, but some books don't present it that way.

Posted by: PeggyU at September 23, 2009 11:33 AM

I just realized that was a dumb suggestion! I know you adjust your approach to fit each student. And you've worked with enough students to know when something is working and when it isn't!

Posted by: PeggyU at September 23, 2009 12:31 PM

I'd never heard of test anxiety wiping the hard drive clean. Sounds worse than that to me.

There's some need for high school math teachers now, if they can get a school's test grades high enough to keep the Feds (No Child Left Behind) from making management's life hellacious. If I took a job under that circumstance, I decided that I would give so many tests (like daily) that the students would have their test anxiety ligament completely worn out and would face any test as just another day in math class.

Posted by: Carl Brannen at September 23, 2009 01:15 PM

I had a friend in high school who was the same way. I would work with him the night before a test and he knew it all cold. Come the test and a total blank.

He got to college and a different teacher nd now he is a college math prof with a PHD. I really think he and the high school teacher just rubbed each other the wrong way and it showed in the tests.

I had the same with an English prof. One I had and I just could not see eye to eye on anything. Another one thought I was the best thing since sliced bread and that my way of putting together a paper was so logical that I should have been teaching the class.

Posted by: dick at September 23, 2009 03:35 PM

carl -- as a first year high school maths teacher, I may just take your suggestion to heart!

bou -- it amazes me how many kids do something like this on a daily basis, and with regular assignments.[!] maybe it takes them longer to process. maybe it's the terminology that confuses them. it's tricky to know what will work best with these students, so that we don't end up basically starting over every day.

Posted by: amelie at September 23, 2009 04:05 PM

Bou,
Some of us will never get it and it is all about the method. Math, through geometry, was easy to me but Algebra was bad. So much of what was taught was taught with pictures on the blackboard..... turns out I was blind and my 10th grade algebra teacher managed to bring it to my attention. Yep, sent to the principle's office "for making faces" at the teacher. Squinting.... 20/400 vision. Memorization was not enough when it came to math.

I studied vectors in college and could not believe how significantly the ability of the teacher could be to understanding such a simple concept until I went on to study them under another person and had access to a text book that described them. What was pure chaos turned into the easiest math I've ever done.

Posted by: Curtis at September 23, 2009 05:29 PM

LOL! Making faces at the teacher? That reminds me of the first time our dog smiled at my mom. She had never seen a dog smile before, and she thought he was going to bite her. She slapped that poor little terrier across the kitchen! Glad they just sent you to the principal's office :)

Posted by: PeggyU at September 23, 2009 08:14 PM

First of all, her mom needs to go see that teacher and demand an end to those comments on the test. AND an apology!

Really. It's completely unprofessional and unacceptable. If the teacher won't do it, she needs to take it to the Principal. Last of all, would be a request for her to move to another teacher instead.

As for the girl herself. She probably thought she could give it the minimum of effort and slide through. Now she knows that won't happen.

I don't know what resources you have available, but some of the concepts finally became clear when I looked at several different text books - each explained slightly differently.

When you see her next week. Perhaps after the review time, you could have her turn around and explain it to you instead. Just like she's the teacher. Sometimes when people try to explain things to someone else, it finally becomes clear to them.

It's tough and this is exactly why I never became a teacher.

Posted by: Teresa at September 23, 2009 08:28 PM

I am completely changing my methods for her now. She and I totally clicked in Geometry, but Geometry is very visual, as I've been thinking today.

We're going pictures. And we're going to be finding slopes in every daggum thing we see. It's going to be a Math version of Where's Waldo, 'Where's the slope'?

Seriously, I failed her in this. I'm taking it very personally. It's not just THEM going in there to take the tests... it's me too. Their successes are THEIRS, but I am not letting them feel like they failed alone. I'm with her on this...

There are so many things I'd do differently now.

Posted by: Bou at September 23, 2009 09:37 PM

Well,come to think of it, I failed Trig, but aced Analytic Geometry, which made it all click for me.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at September 24, 2009 01:41 AM