Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Try Harder"

In my professional class this morning one of the instructors said something that I just had to take note of. I do not often take notes in this class since we also have readings to do and I get most of my notes from there, but from time to time one of the two instructors will say something that I add to my "Inspiring Things to Remember" section of my notebook. Todays entry reads, "Teach students to do things differently - 'trying harder' doesn't work if what they're doing isn't helping in the first place."

I could not even begin to count the number of times I'd experienced (or overheard) a teacher or parent saying "try harder" when frustration or misunderstanding were involved. It is a simple response when ones initial thought is "he/she has not really put effort into it and just wants an easy way out" but how often is this really the case and what are we taking for granted?

I remember times where I would get so frustrated when I would ask for help spelling a word and the response would be "sound it out" and then "try harder" when I still wasn't sure of my answer. Yes, it would have been just as easy to look it up in a dictionary at this point, but when you are struggling with spelling (and not definitions) this, too, can be a frustrating process. And when I am asking how to spell, I do not need the response to be one that makes me feel worse about one of my weaknesses. I am well aware that spelling is not my strength. Maybe there are ways to look at problems like these differently in order to help a student think about them in an alternative way - one that makes more sense to them.

There are SO many things that I have taken note of throughout the past three weeks. Sometimes it gets overwhelming to think of the number of things that I would like to implement in my own classroom, but I would like to think that many, if not most, of them are accomplishable. Being able to respond to a student's struggles without assuming that their only problem is a lack of effort should be one of those things, but it is going to take some effort to find out what those things might be. So my call to you is this - if you have ever had an experience like this as a student (or a teacher) and can provide insight as to what you liked about what happened or what you think would have helped you, please give me a shout!

Thanks for reading!

-----Amendment to entry, Sept 28, 2008----------

I have since seen this even more because of its application especially to special needs students (mostly those who happen to have a learning disability). This just reiterates the need for teachers (and parents and students) to be sensitive to things that someone is having difficulty with. It is also a reason to know your students well as individuals!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Position Paper

For my math curriculum class we were asked to write a position paper. Basically it asked us to write up to 2 pages, double spaced, about how we feel about math, where it comes from, what it means to be a good teacher, etc. I thought that this was a good chance to start to share some of my thoughts as I have started into my Education year. Hopefully it will provide a bit more insight into where I am coming from and who I am. Here is a good chunk of my paper thus far:


For me Mathematics is a language – it is a way to communicate some very complicated (and some very simple) aspects of our world in a logical and beautiful way. It can definitely be difficult to relate to another person who has a lot of trouble understand math and the reasons it is taught, but everyone has something that they don’t “want” to learn so that is what I try to think about. Mathematics is important to be taught throughout secondary school because it relates to so many careers. Many students that struggle throughout adolescents may find themselves in some kind of trade – and trades require calculations, spatial understanding, geometry, and/or problem solving skills. Further to that, learning how to problem solve in a math class has a great effect on students and their ability to problem solve in their daily lives.

Through my experiences I have found that, in general, secondary school students are not very fond of their math classes. There are always a few students that like the material being taught and want to further their knowledge – but even most of those that are there by choice in Grade 12 just want to get the credit so that they can be accepted into their program of choice in College or University. At least these students will have a drive to learn, just maybe not the desire to be educated that a teacher could hope for. The most important group is probably the one that does not understand why they have to continue taking math and does not want to be in the class. This is a majority of applied courses and even parts of the academic ones. I believe that these students did not receive the support that they needed at some point in their elementary years causing them to fall behind. At this point it is easy for a student’s self-confidence to falter and not know how to get it back. This is why I feel it is important to find the route of a student’s weakness and try to bring that confidence back up.

It takes a very patient person to be a teacher. It takes an even more patient person to teach something like math or any science – the basic concepts must be taught and understood well before one can move on, while, for example, in a history class if one does not understand the year 1899 this will not necessarily prevent one from understanding 1900. A good math teacher can find more than one way to explain a concept, creates a positive learning environment, and finds ways to help the students relate to the material. From what I have seen throughout my life it is really easy to fall into a pattern of using lecture style lessons in math classes and to forget that one needs to make it interesting and try different methods to get things across.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Beginning

I have been sitting here creating this blog for the last while. Trying to come up with a name and a URL that were both available and something that I thought reflected me and the purpose of this weblog. It is not easy to summarize a purpose in a few characters, never mind to create a description for a blog in 500 characters or less.

I wanted somewhere to come to discuss my thoughts, even if it is nowhere in particular as I have proved to myself in the past that I no longer take the time to keep any kind of hand written journal - even if it is a new years resolution!

In any event, these first two weeks of my B.Ed have proved to be trying - if only on my patience and my organization skills. It has been very introductory so far (although understandably so) but there are many things that we have been asked to do in time for next week (and I have not used an agenda since high school). Even still, I have already found quite a few things to write down...many of my instructors have said things or posted things on a power point presentation that have really made me think about what I am going to do in the classroom and how I am going to accomplish them. Even at this point I feel like there are many more aspects of teaching and managing a classroom than one person can handle. I am already feeling very unsure of myself in this regard, but am also really excited to go about trying it. I can't wait to continue thinking about how I am going to accomplish things and what my priorities are going to be - it's as invigorating as it is frightening!

Three more weeks left until I am off to my first "Final Year" Practicum!