Sunday, October 31, 2010


As I struggle with getting my Fundamental Level and College Prep students to succeed, I am running into some serious roadblocks which may prevent me from reaching our goals. Here are the roadblocks:

1. My students are reading well below grade level.
Q. If the state standards expect student performance at grade level, shouldn't our classroom tests also be at grade level? And shouldn't all students be judged according to the standard?

2. We have a glaring achievement gap.
Q. If our highest achieving students are reading Shakespeare, shouldn't our lowest achieving students also be reading Shakespeare? Otherwise, doesn't the gap continue to grow?

3. My lowest achieving students don't attempt homework.
Q. Should I read the text to them?

4. A small but dominating number of students disrupt our halls during class.
Q. Should I close my door and ignore?

I've found myself in a troubling predicament philosophically. On the one hand, I believe in the idea that all of my students deserve a college prep curriculum. However, it seems that too many of my students don't buy into that same belief. While I am asking my lowest performers to attempt their readings each night so that we can work on chunks of text in class, they are not even bothering with it. My lowest performers are being given the same novels and short stories as my college prep students, but I can't "differentiate" if none of the students try the reading.

I want my school to operate successfully. I want our hallways clear and free of distraction so that my students can find success. I don't want to allow the disruptive students to get away with distracting our school, but if I interrupt class to call security, I take away instruction time from my students. If I simply move the disruptive students along, I'm tacitly allowing the disruption to continue.

I want all of my students to succeed at grade level and to the same standard. If I lower the reading levels of my novel selection to match where my lowest readers are at, I am suggesting that these students are not capable and thus lowering my expectations for them. By not giving them an honest college prep curriculum, I am, again, tacitly allowing the achievement gap to continue and grow.


At 8:34 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are failing grades motivating to your low performing students? How would they react if you gave them a thoroughly manageable piece of text to read for homework, and then a small quiz the next day at start of class? I've started to eliminate the type of homework that needs to be turned in and graded. If I give a reading, I expect the students to perform the reading, complete the homework, or notes, and then use that written work to perform successfully on a quiz or test. High-performing students appreciate that they can use the scaffolding they've built for themselves to perform successfully, or they appreciate that they are going to be graded on an effective measure, not on penmanship skills (I only grade the quiz or test because having "stuff written down" doesn't prove mastery). Of course if you're not allowed to give a failing grade, or if you're accused of not assessing students "authentically" (about as hilarious a concept as "teaching with integrity") then your hands are sort of tied, aren't they?

Reading comprehension - HUGE issue in all schools. For this reason, I am having my students do a lot more in-class reading this year. The goal is always to answer the question - what was the meaning or importance of the text - don't tell me what it was "about," because the answer to that question is too obvious.

I feel for you on the hall noise problem. I presume your school doesn't have any administrative staff that attend to these kinds of disruptions. Handling hall noise during class periods shouldn't be a teacher's responsibility.

At 1:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you are presenting material, you know that the student must make connections and attach to past knowledge to understand and store the info for future processing/use.

If someone has information and understanding at a lower level you have to attach there for him/her to make sense of material.

Using my favourite train analogy:

If you are travelling to Boston and the high school train starts in New York, you can’t pick up the students in New York if they need to come from Pennsylvania.

You cannot start the lesson and move forward if the students are not in sync at the start. Perhaps they can play catch up faster than younger students and even faster if they are motivated.

So I’d not be teaching exactly the same material in the same way to the same depth to students beginning in different places.
Yes, you want the endpoint to match, but the trip must be different and may take longer than your semester/year.

On discipline in the hallways:
First it sounds like a sad situation overall for generating a committed learning culture.
It seems that you have your responsibility to keep order in your room when class is in session. You have other times when you must assist when assigned and when possible to keep order.

You may need to make statements to your classes that you are dedicated to assist then in learning and that your have a primary responsibility when class is in session... to cover any ideas that you do not ‘care about what’s happening in the hallway.

That said, no learning can take place without disciple both for the self, and the environment.

At 2:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. McNamar, you have a concept of closing the achievement gap that is different from what is typically meant by that phrase. To most of the education world, closing that gap doesn't mean somehow getting those who come into your class years behind to perform at the same level as those who come in at grade level or above. Instead, it means getting all the students to achieve at some basic level of skill and knowledge. And to be honest, by high school you'll be doing well to get all your students learning at an acceptable rate, which means they all gain one year's worth of knowledge and skill, even if that means going from 6th grade level to 7th grade level for your more challenged students -- never mind the achievement gap. Resistant students can't learn as quickly as eager students; absent students can't learn as quickly as students who are there every day. Stop beating yourself up; you sound like a conscientious teacher, and you can't make up for every deficit your students bring to school with them.

At 2:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And in addition: please forgive me for being critical, but it's not encouraging to low-performing or resistant students to be told that they have to go to college. Many of these students (I have nieces and nephews who would fit this description) are not thrilled by the idea of busting their butts for four years sitting in a high school classroom, only to be followed by 4 more years in college, when they have little interest in academic subjects. We should be telling them that their education will need to extend beyond high school (mostly because high school diplomas no longer mean much), but that that further education can look like many different things: apprenticeship, Community College technical certificates, 4-year college, the military, volunteer service . . . in other words, lets' not discourage them by telling them they're losers unless they aim for and achieve a 4-year degree. That's just arrogan.

At 3:01 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

What I preach is college readiness. I am always repeating that my job is to prepare my students for college but it is up to them to decide what to do with that readiness. In the end not all students are four year university material. Thanks for reading and responding. It makes for good critical thinking.

At 7:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a logic flaw in this earlier post:

"which means they all gain one year's worth of knowledge and skill, even if that means going from 6th grade level to 7th grade level for your more challenged students.."

If the job of a teacher is to move a student's achievement forward one year regardless of their real level at the start of the year, then in theory all the students should be at the same place each year. Seems to me that if you have a student in high school who performs at the grade school level, some middle school teacher(s), or school districts, were unconcerned about that rate of advancement.

How is it reasonable to expect a 10th grade teacher to move an individual underperforming student from 6th to 7th grade when they haven't been achieving at that pace all along, and when the teacher is supposed to be teaching at the 10th grade level, not at the 6th grade level?

At 11:43 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Well, depending on your level of belief in remedial programs, students who are behind grade level should be placed in more intense support classes. For reading, programs like Scholastic's Read 180 have demonstrated some success in moving students quickly towards grade level when used in addition to a regular English/Language Arts class.
Interventions need to be used. Unfortunately, interventions usually cost a significant amount of money and thus become too costly for poor districts lacking political connections.


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