Loosing Momentum and Catching It

May 13, 2015

For the last two weeks, Robert and I were working with Momentum Math 6th Grade. It was the third time we used this curriculum.  Since the last time, Robert had many opportunities to practice similar skills with the help of different programs and with the added support of a few worksheets I designed for him to address areas of weaknesses.  Moreover, the first 10+ units didn’t seem to present any new challenges for Robert but to the contrary allowed him to have a better grasp on general ideas and their connections. So, I expected smooth sailing through the chapter addressing placing fractions on number lines.  Many times Robert placed fractions on the number lines while working with Saxon Math grade 4th.

He knew…. Well, he was supposed to know that the  algorithm to complete such tasks began with counting into how many parts one unit (for instance between 0 and 1 ) was divided. He was supposed to know that, at least I thought so. But he didn’t know.  He was frustrated and I was frustrated as well. I had a feeling of being a failure as a teacher not because I didn’t teach Robert, but because I didn’t know why Robert didn’t know what I assumed he should have known.

Although frustration is not a good addition to the lesson, nonetheless it does happen.  The worst thing teacher can do in such situation is to continue subject pupil to similar exercises over and over without taking time to understand the roots of the problem.

That is what I did.  We finished the whole section, which meant that  Robert wrote all the right answers but he didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t learn anything.  How is that possible?  Yes, it is possible. The student follows the teacher and is able to write the correct answers, but doesn’t  have a slightest idea of what he or she did and why.  It is much more common that any educator would like to admit.  Of course, I felt like a failure. And that is not a feeling that supports learning.

What should I have done instead?  Take a break and give Robert a break. During the break,  analyze what had happened, and understand the nature of Robert’s confusion.  I could quickly made a few easy pages requiring Robert to place only halves, thirds,  and fourths  on the number lines.

I should make the task  clearer, almost self explanatory  with small denominators. I should.  I haven’t done that yet. Instead, in the following days,  I asked Robert to work with me on problems in the following three chapters- adding and subtracting fractions. I knew that he could solve many tasks independently and a few with my minimal support. I just wanted him to regain momentum.  And he did.

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