Book excerpt — wading into controversial waters

Spread the love

book excerpt

Last year, I was expected to teach this book to a group of bilingual students with limited English skills. In one class, all but one student was testing at a third-grade level mathematically. Overwhelmed does not begin to capture my struggles. Try blasted for a description. Or demolished. Smashed. Disintegrated. Incinerated. Annhiliated. Obliterated. We could simply say nuked.

In these times of canned curricula, when both special education and bilingual classes are sometimes supposed to be on the same learning plan and even using the same materials as other classes — I sincerely hope readers are working in saner districts, but I know from experience that some will not be — you may come up against a challenge like this one. If you do, please remember that impossible remains impossible, no matter what rabbit holes administration seems to have fallen down.

Come spring, your first move should be launching a job search. Prepare questions that will help you determine whether or not a prospective district will allow you to appropriately differentiate instruction. Check the materials you will be expected to use and find out what supplementation is allowed. Don’t complain to prospective employers about the challenges you faced, but make your exit to a better-run district if possible.

In the meantime, you have a school year to finish. I recommend tutoring before and after school if you can make that work. I met with groups on Saturday mornings at McDonalds. However you have to arrange your time, your goal is to avoid nuking your students. If everyone is failing the quizzes and no one can do the homework, find out what your students know and then present them with the next level up. To pacify administration, you can teach more challenging, required material in bits and pieces, one story problem, short story or novel at a time.

Eduhonesty: Students who are trying to succeed absolutely must be given a chance to win. Your best bet will be parallel instruction. You can teach the appropriate and inappropriate material at the same time, grouping to make this work more efficiently.

I am sorry to have to even write this post, but I know some new teachers out there are about to get hit up the side of the head with these inappropriate curricular demands. One clue can be found in homework compliance. If kids can’t do the work, they won’t do the work. If most of the homework is not coming back and the quizzes are coming in with low scores or obvious cheating, you need to try parallel instruction. Do the MAP™ or other scores suggest your eighth-grade student is operating academically at a fourth grade level? Find that student fifth grade work and push hard. You have a lot of catching up to do, but that catching up won’t happen if a student can’t even read his or her assignments, let alone answer any questions.

That fellow Lev Vygotsky from your education classes? No one has ever proved him wrong. Students learn best in their zone of proximal development. In concrete terms, that means when a student finishes fourth-grade math, the next math that student sees should be fifth-grade math. A student reading at a lexile level around 500 can be pushed to read a book at a lexile level in the 600s or 700s, but not a book in the 1200s.

A few kids can make giant leaps, but those kids are exceptions.

Good luck. What I’m suggesting is not easy. As the title of a good book says, “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire.” You can do it.