Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rave and Rant for Classroom Issues

Hearing from parents about classroom issues like homework.  Below are two comments (off-topic in Math Adoption thread) and we have heard enough of these to warrant their own thread.

Rant and rave away - please DO state things you like in your child's classroom as well as any concerns/unhappiness.
Anonymous Karen said...
I'm a parent of a 1st and 3rd grader. I want my kids to know math facts inside and out. Critical & creative thinking can come later.

Something that has really been bothering me this year is the "grouping" of kids. I don't mean by ability, but the way the teachers lay out classrooms these days. I don't need my 1st or 3rd grader sitting within touching distance of a student or facing two other students. When it's reader's and writer's workshop time, they just mess around the entire period unless it's the 5 minutes the teacher happens to be at their "pod". Let's go back to the old days of lining kids up facing the chalkboard so they might actually get something out of the reading and writing time other than more playtime. Our school days are already ridiculously short.

I have a kid in APP and in Gen Ed. The seating is a problem in both schools. Don't even get me going on project based learning. Maybe in high school, but for these young kids, they need to work independently until they actually know some stuff. Otherwise, we spend our little free time "unteaching" things they've learned from their podmates.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Off topic, but oh my goodness. We are dealing with this in middle school as well. It's becoming all projects all the time. There is such little emphasis on independent work - reading and writing, especially. There are very few tests or quizzes. I'm hoping it changes in high school. Please, please tell me it's different in high school.

Our child recently finished a history unit where each student studied a topic (independently researched online, no class text)and reported back to the class. Their end of unit test was based on their notes of classmates' summaries. My child had done some independent reading and reported to me that some of their information was wrong or incomplete, yet went unchecked by the teacher. And yet this was the basis of their learning - other students' 2 minute presentations.

Is this the style of learning the district is promoting? You can't think critically without knowing the facts. Critical thinking and factual knowledge go hand in hand.



Anonymous said...

So, if you set your 1st & 3rd grader facing the front of the dining table and give them a lesson (say, on long division) do they learn it? at home, I mean?

In those classrooms in elementary school, I spent the lesson reading books under the table. I'm not advocating for the pod tables (I don't remember them myself), but I'm wary of the idea that since we turned out OK, the methods used on us must have been better.

The only lessons I remember from elementary school are the ones where we did projects (the 2nd grade unit on breakfast, for example, and the project on Attaturk in the 6th grade). Now, I did learn to read and write and do math, so there must have been some learning I don't remember, but I certainly don't remember the teaching style in the olden days to be something I remember with fondness.


Anonymous said...

BTW, my child loves group learning (and is a very successful student, assessed individually). I worry sometimes that the love of the group (she likes talking to people about what she is learning, and so doesn't enjoy herself if she's just learning, without anyone to talk to) is a problem, but right now, I can't argue with the learning.


Anonymous said...

Group projects are a problem for us, too.

Looks like my straight A middle school student will be getting a lower grade for the quarter, all based on a group project. Scores on all other work total greater than 100%, but the group project got a low grade. My kid put in a ton of work on that, and complained that most others didn't do their parts. My kid got rewarded by extra points on the "contribution" portion of the scoring, but still, it looks like the overall poor group grade was enough to impact the final report card.

I understand it's important to learn to work in groups, and I think it can be a great strategy for motivating some kids, making it real, etc. That said, it sure doesn't seem fair for kids' individual grades to be dinged for the lack of effort by their peers. Middle school reports cards can, in fact, matter--both to very driven students, as well as to schools to which they may be applying.

Now I remember why I hated group projects so much when I was a kid!


Anonymous said...

And please note that the "straight A" comment above was not, in any way, and attempt to brag. My child's grades matter much less to me than they do to my child. It was purely to help make the case for how this approach to grading can impact kids unfairly.


Anonymous said...

I comments on this in the open thread. I think the group method of learning can work well BUT it's much better suited to smaller classrooms. Teachers have to be able to manage the class. If they can't, they should not be wedded to this idea. As far as Jane's comment, completely unacceptable! We need more rigor! Kids need to be using reliable sources.

Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Here is my comment from the other thread. Melissa you can delete the one above if you wish since this repeats information and the other one has a type:

Karen, this kind of working in small groups works well in small classrooms with a better student/teacher ratio than we have right now in SPS. With 28 kids in a second grade classroom that is going to be almost unworkable unless the teacher runs a REALLY tight ship. I have also seen it utterly fail in a small classroom because of poor classroom management skills. There should be the flexibility to NOT put kids in groups when the teacher can't manage the class that way. One of my kids has a teacher who runs a really tight ship and he manages to do ok with this kind of classroom even with a large class. He is very experienced. I doubt a new teacher could make this work with the kind of numbers we have now. Schools that can get parents to come into the classroom every single day to help have a better chance of making this work, but I don't think anyone should plan on this as a strategy. Jane, I agree with you. This is where we need more rigor in our Gen Ed program. What you describe is totally unacceptable and frankly it's just not good enough. I do think books would help here! Kids have to learn that just because I saw something on the Internet and printed it out doesn't make it a fact. They need to be learning from reliable sources. We need to expect that they will. More rigor in Gen Ed!!

Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

One other challenge of group learning is the difficulties introverted children have in this environment. I'm not talking about "shy" children but those that are truly introverted, who process information differently than extroverted children.

I do think introverted children need to learn to work in groups and group learning should be encouraged. However, if every project and every grade is based on group learning, introverted children will underperform. If the classroom is always organized in pods, introverted children will truly suffer.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Good point SWK. In a poorly run classroom group work can be an issue even for quiet (not introverted kids, just quiet thoughtful kids who don't speak up right away). My kid was pretty much run over in such a classroom and was pegged as an introvert but she's not even an introvert. I asked for intervention from the teacher (putting her with kids who would let her talk, putting her with other quiet kids). That didn't meet with much success because she'd been assigned the role of the one kid who never makes an out of control situation more out of control so she pretty much got moved from one overwhelming group to the next. I had to go in this year and say that as easy as she is, her need to learn must be taken into account when making up groups. It has and she's blossomed. It's all in the classroom management.

Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

My children have expressed similar observations - they are generally well behaved and suspect they are placed in groups as a mediator, or placed with students that need more support. And, you know, that's generally fine once in a while, but they feel like they aren't given a chance to be on the other side. Their group grade is then generally lower than their individual grade - as HIMSmom brings up - and they feel some students are simply riding on the group's work.

I could repeat HIMSmom's post word for word.


Anonymous said...

I think my daughter couldn't even participate in the work because she couldn't open her mouth. She read a book called "Out of My Mind" about a girl in a wheelchair who everyone thinks is stupid because she can't talk but she understands everything she just isn't able to communicate. She said she felt just like that character.

Another part of her problem was the split class issue because most of the kids in her class were a year or two older than her and most of them were boys. The physical difference alone was quite shocking and I can't imagine there was any way she wouldn't have been intimidated to speak up without some very skillful teacher intervention but instead it was put back on her "she's very shy, her voice is too quiet, she needs to learn to speak up". Any principal who ever thinks of putting a handful of younger children in a split class with older children needs to have a plan to address this issue.

Gen Ed Mom

Karen said...

I should have started with I love both of my kids' teachers. One is a first year teacher with great work experience (marine biologist)prior to becoming a teacher. The other is a veteran teacher. I think the Principals at the two schools we are in gave the directive that teachers must set up their classes with the "pods" of kids, a kidney shaped table for one on one or small group work with the teacher and a carpet. The one on one or small group at the kidney table never happens, but it must sound lovely to the folks studying education practices. Every class our kids have been in since starting SPS in K has had this same lay-out. That totals 6 classrooms between my two kids.

I get that the theory behind this is to put the kids in a group based on ability so the teacher can differentiate instruction. The reality is, as another poster mentioned, kids get moved around based on behavior not ability. I have yet to see this magical differentiation - not in APP or GenEd at our ALO school. Every GenEd classroom has had (sorry for the wrong term!) a kid with special needs of some type stuck alone facing a wall. It is SO SAD to see that!

zb - thanks for the snark. Why do you need to post such a question? However, I think, yes, the kids would learn the lesson better since they'd be forced to do some worksheets or independent work after the lesson was taught to help it sink in for the long-term. They can't focus in these close-quarter pods. The temptation to play/socialize is too strong.

My initial comment was meant to center on reading and writing. Kids will improve reading and writing by DOING it. My experience in 6 classrooms now is that the kids do not sit and read. They mess around with their pod-mates until the teacher shows up at their station. This sitting arrangement doesn't work well for memorizing math facts - multiplication, addition, subtraction, division. It doesn't allow the kids who actually want to sit and read to do so. Same with writing. There is some fun learning in other group projects, i.e. social studies, but some important subjects really lose out, and, again, as someone mentioned, many, many "facts" kids report go unchecked and become actual facts for other kids.

One of my kids is in a class of 28. Again, the teacher is great. We were told at our teacher conference during Thanksgiving that she is great, well-behaved, not lagging in anything other than possibly science, but that was due to her science partner not being able to focus, getting in trouble all the time, etc. She was paired with this kid since she is well-behaved. She is his 4th partner this year. The hyper kid is smart and a sweet-heart. I like him. He just doesn't do well in this "free" environment.

The other kid only has 20 kids in the class. It is 1st grade. I went in one day to help during reading time which is an hour. The only kids (4) who were reading were two introverts and the one working with me and the one with the teacher. Same thing happened during writing. Some were held in from recess since they didn't write three things about the book they had just "read". My child almost didn't finish since he and his pod-mates were messing around. I could see his anxiety sky rocket when the teacher said whoever wasn't done had to stay in. He asked his buddies to leave him alone so he could finish, but they wouldn't. I had to step-in. I felt so bad for him and the other kids in the same situation.

Anonymous said...

Yea, as a well behaved quiet kid my daughter still struggled with this even in a pretty well run (but way too crowded) classroom. At her conference she said one of her goals was to be more patient with the kids who interrupted her learning. And I felt that was kind of her but we used that as an opportunity to talk to the teacher about it again and it is something I think she's going to struggle with throughout her school
career. Buy I do see that her needs are considered and the teacher is trying to serve all the kids. It's hard. The classes are too big.

Gen Ed Mom

Anonymous said...

Gah! Struggles. But


Anonymous said...

I worked in all kinds of teams and groups and whatnots in 2+ decades of various private sector things -

guess what happens to people who don't carry their weight? guess what happens when you got this billy gate$ stack ranking where everyone is gutting everyone whether their good or not? guess what happens when you're NOT the bosses pet AND you're cleaning up the mess of the bosses pet?

It really amazed me how much of my teacher training was "in-the-group-discuss-deeply-connectedly-critically..." & how group work solves all discipline issues & ... the group work lessons needed a LOT more structure, which the hand waving 'trainers' wouldn't deign to put together cuz they're too high-level to dirty their hands making anything actually work ... and then it dawned on me - what a Perfect Scam! do NOT deal with any of the real issues with any real plans supported with real money -

wave the magic wand of group work!! and


Anonymous said...

Would this turn around time for a 7th grade unit test in math be considered within the acceptable realm?

--Unit test on Comparing and Scaling taken on Oct. 21st

--Graded test returned to student on January 15th.


Melissa Westbrook said...

FedMom, my reaction is holy smoke, what happened? Was your child the only one to get it back this late? Did the teacher explained the delay?

Anonymous said...

How much homework do (a) kindergartners and (b) fourth graders in gen ed classrooms get? I feel that mine get way too much. The kindergartner maybe 30 minutes a day and the fourth grader an hour, sometimes more if the math is totally new and not something they have learned in class. I'm curious if it's a local school thing, a teacher thing, or the same district-wide and I just need to accept that modern norms are not what I like but I can't do anything about it.

-- Parent who remembers having very little homework until middle school

Anonymous said...


Take this up with the principal.

There is a certain # of teachers (not huge but enough) whom are often a month behind in their grading... and then whammo, four to six weeks of grades show up and kids grades dramatically change - even from A- to D... and by then it's often too late to do anything.

It then reflects poorly on the other responsible teachers. 1-2 weeks is acceptable for essays and tests, and sometimes teachers post scores quickly but do not return them (high school) until all students have tested to avoid incentivizing "blue flu" on test days to then get the test from friends. If at least the score goes on the Source and it then takes 3 weeks to hand them back I can see the reasonableness for tests, but 4-6+ weeks (2.5 months?) is unprofessional.


Anonymous said...

Rant: To the entity that decided to declare our elementary school Common Core with no and no communication to parents (I suspect someone(s) at JSCEE). The reality is that the students are taught via Writers Workshop and EDM, but the tests are a photo copied Common Core worksheet. EDM and Writers Workshop don’t cover the same stuff, so unless you are supplementing with tutors or lots of time at home your kid won’t do well. Common Core has only been communicated as being more in-depth and mastery of a subject. That sounds great. But, if a parent does not know what is expected or tested, we can’t get ahead of the ball to supplement what is not provided in the classroom. If an individual teacher sticks to EDM and WW and does not adjust/supplement to aide a kid to meet Common Core then the kids are sunk. I don’t disagree with the expectations of Common Core, but I do disagree with the maximum frustration to students and parents of teaching one thing and then testing for another.

Rant: To punishment homework. Student does not receive a high enough grade on an end of unit test so receives a massive homework assignment that must be completed over the weekend. And as bonus punishment the “make up” work has zero relation to what was supposed to be learned. You failed the social studies test on the three branches of government, so now write a three page essay on why horses are pretty. No learning and punishment to both student and parent for what?

Rant: To 3+ hours of homework a night in elementary school. Serious!? I am one mom with three elementary age kids so calculate how late I and they are up at night.

Rave: To those amazing and marvelous teachers that set high expectations and let my kids soar as far and as high as they are able. They recognize the political restraints and manage to sneak in what a kid will need to not only ace the test but learn the skills needed to succeed in the brass knuckle world. (Trying and not succeeding is not a failure. The only failure is not getting up and trying again.)

Rave: To those teachers that really love and value their profession. That put our kids learning foremost. That put in beyond overtime hours to wrangle District dictates while also supporting our kids to great success. They are studying and learning what the kids are supposed to know (per mandate) and supplementing the curriculum and knowing their students as individuals to get them where they need to be. It is a truly an awe inspiring task to maneuver the politics and manage to dodge and survive in a way to benefit my precious child. Thank you.

Rave: To those Principals that support and shield these brave and hardworking teachers as mentioned in paragraphs previous.


Melissa Westbrook said...

So Step J, thank you for all that. I think it sounds familiar to many.

On the regular curriculum work and CC testing, I know this is a huge issue in California. I was talking to a teacher there (who likes CC) but they are very upset that the kids have to take the CC-based state test when they have not been using CC regularly. Not enough PD or materials and yet the kids will be tested on it AND, of course, their teacher scores are based on it.

They are asking for one lousy year that the scores don't count against students or teachers (Jerry Brown is in support of this).

It's funny that you worry about just being able to support your student(s) at home. I had another mother tell me that she wants to help her child but that she, herself, does not know what CC is about. The mom knows what the homework is looking for but doesn't know the CC way so she's frustrated in how to help her.

That was an EDM issue and we were promised on-line materials so parents would know how to help. Not so much. And now comes CC.

I was told recently by the director of math, Anita Box, that there WILL be online resources for parents who need help in guiding their children with CC math.

Naturally, that assumes you may not have multiple kids, you can easily read English, have online access and have the time.

Anonymous said...

"zb - thanks for the snark. Why do you need to post such a question? However, I think, yes, the kids would learn the lesson better since they'd be forced to do some worksheets or independent work after the lesson was taught to help it sink in for the long-term."

I really wasn't being snarky. I wondered if that method does work better for some subset of kids. And, you're actually answering the question in the affirmative. the lecture method worked poorly for me and one of my kids absolutely hates it -- though the other can tolerate it.


Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with everything that's been said about the limitations of group learning in middle school. Our daughter is at HIMS and the teachers seem to assigning this type of work more and more.

The main issue is that the teachers don't do any teaching/guiding around *how* to work in groups. So, the kids are flailing around, trying to figure out what to do. The kids who are prone to be responsible do most of the work while the kids who are prone to slacking off do less work--and it's all treated as "equal."

My daughter is also one of those "more responsible" kids who is always put in with kids who need extra help or extra monitoring. She is then expected to serve as the hall monitor for these kids and for the project. It's demoralizing and exhausting for her--and no fun. And I agree--every so often is OK, but not all the time.

Also, I'm dismayed by the amount of video watching that happens in the classrooms. What happened to using free time as reading time? Nowadays, if a teacher runs out of material for a particular day, they put on a video that is fun (not even vaguely educational). It boggles my mind that this happens so often.

another HIMS mom