Saturday, September 22, 2012

Making "Effort" Transparent

So, one of the challenges that we face in teaching IB Standard Level Math in Germany is that German universities do not accept any lower level math as valid high-school graduation requirement, even though Mathematical Studies exists as a lower-level option within the IB program. So, as a result, a lot of kids who have a weak math background still want to take up SL Math to keep their university options open. As a school, we sympathize with kids and parents who have such goals, but we still need to make sure that we examine realistically whether a kid is correctly placed into SL Math and to either 1. realize that we will make an exception for this kid, even if it might mean that they get a 2 or 3 on the math IB exam, or 2. we communicate clearly to the parents that the kid is in jeopardy of failing the entire IB diploma if they continue to stay in this class (since a very low score on one IB exam will affect their cumulative score, and that can be a problem if the kid is already borderline passing in their other classes). It's tricky, because for all students the entry into an IB Diploma program can be a choppy transition (especially if they are coming from a different school), and so you cannot simply take into account a kid's current abilities, but also their motivation and commitment to improvement. Even in the two years that I have been teaching IB, I have already seen kids who came in being very weak, showing tremendous progress within the program.

So, one advantage that I have discovered with my 5-minute drills this year is that they help me to objectively determine who is committed to keeping pace with the class, and who isn't. Thus far in Grade 11 SL Math, we have had two quizzes after several days of consistent 5-minute practice. The first quiz was on finding equations of parallel or perpendicular lines through a given point (definitely a prerequisite skill to the IB), and about 1/4 of my class couldn't do it even after several days of practice. So, what does that mean? I gave back the quiz to the students and said simply that I cannot accept less than a perfect score on this quiz from any of them, because it is such a basic skill compared to the fast-moving curriculum. So, if they did not get full credit (4 out of 4) on this quiz, they must come see me within the week to get help, re-quiz, and get themselves off of my worrying radar. Immediately after that day, a girl went to change the class because she felt that the material was too advanced for her. Within the next week, 2 students came in for a re-quiz and one of them had to try three times to get a perfect score. A third student has not yet come in, so I emailed his parent and informed them that this is not a good sign to me in terms of his commitment to staying and keeping pace with SL Math. Simply, there are no excuses because I am always available during lunch, no appointment needed. A kid is either determined to catch up and seeing me for help/re-quiz, or they are not putting their action where their words might be.

The second quiz was on turning a standard-form quadratic equation into both vertex and factored form, and then sketching a graph using all info from all three equation forms. Again, a fundamental skill in IB math, independent of the application to webbed IB question formats. Some kids were able to do it correctly following our week-and-a-half of practicing during class, and others will be expected to come in for more help or a re-quiz on their own time.

I find it very simple and straight-forward this way. If a kid falls behind, they need to take responsibility to create extra contact time with me, in order to catch up. If they don't, and this develops into a consistent pattern, then they simply are not showing either sufficient understanding or a sufficient motivation to be giving SL Math a proper shot. At that point (still early in Grade 11), we would initiate the conversation with the parents to move the kid out of the class, with the understanding that it will impact their university applications. In the end, the decision will be clear as a combination of both their effort and their understanding, and we will be making the best decision to save the kid's overall IB Diploma result... This is much more rational and clear than in the past, when I had just feelings about which kid was doing something extra at home and which kid was not, in order to make up their existing gaps. This way, the expectation is clear and so is the result / necessary follow-up.

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