Teacher's journal: Remediating & liking it

"I can't wait to get back to work!" Is she sick? Does she get paid $1000 an hour? That's a no to both. I teach remedial education at an alternative charter school in Denver. About 40% of our student population is six or more years under grade level in either or both mathematics and literacy. Another ten to twenty percent have smaller remediation needs. The Rocky Mountain News on 12/27 discussed the deplorable condition of our Colorado high school graduates entering college and needing remediation. They, too, applauded Adams School District 50 on their new innovative efforts at true performance-based education, which I wrote about in a 12/26 post on this site.

I am totally awed with the Wilson Reading System. I began using this reading system three years ago with very impressive results. For students with severe phonemic difficulties, the students have been able to grow a minimum of four months in six weeks. For students acquiring language because English is a second language, I’ve seen one year’s growth for every one week’s instruction, and of course, everything in between the two. I work with students who are at least 16 years old. My students come in reading between the second grade and sixth grade levels. Many have been instructed in local schools for most of their lives. The Wilson Reading System is an intensive phonics program and I use it additionally as a rich vocabulary building program. My first day back, I will be assessing my students’ reading. I hope, even though many are not reading during the two week break, that I will see substantial growth. I usually do.

Teaching reading is relatively new to me, but I have been teaching remedial mathematics for eight years. Mathematics is my relative weakness; however, it may be in my DNA. My youngest son will soon graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering and dual minors in mathematics and physics. Students at my school, who test in the second to fourth grade level on their initial MAPS survey benchmark test, get me for twelve weeks to teach new material, fill in the gaps, or dust out the cobwebs using Globe Fearon’s Pre-Algebra. My “advanced” class is made up of students who have passed the first twelve weeks with me or have failed the same “advanced” class with another instructor using College Preparatory Mathematics curriculum, a literacy-based mathematic curriculum, designed to be used for seventh graders. The last week of school before we left on holiday (Christmas) break, my students increased their grade level mathematics from a minimum of six months in six weeks to a maximum of four years in six weeks. Those who made the most dramatic changes also made the most dramatic changes in organization and their own time on task. These were students who completed all of the problems required whether they were regular problems or literacy-based problems.

I have friends who are curriculum developers for Sopris West Publishers. Recently, they tested ninth graders at one of Denver’s larger, urban high schools. Most of these students tested at the fourth grade level in mathematics. When my friends discussed this with the students, they were not only embarrassed, but said that when the skills and concepts were taught to them, they didn’t realize that they were important skills or concepts that they needed to learn. Another finding from this group was that once the skill or concept was taught, there was never any review. I have also noticed that unless students are recent immigrants from Mexico, they probably do not know their multiplication facts. This is a consequence from a teaching philosophy that the process of multiplication should be learned but the facts are not necessary---the whole language version of mathematics. Not knowing these facts makes division and fractions, then algebra, nearly impossible to complete in a timely fashion. Much like reading, if you spend all the time decoding, you forget what you’re reading!

Another reason why I am so excited about returning to work, even though there is a semester of testing---CELA (language acquisition), CSAP and ACT in April, as well as, a boat load of special education meetings and paperwork: yuck!---is that we are going to start a new mathematics remediation program for those students who do not fall in the regular categories that I teach. For one week, we will pull students from their art class and they will get intervention in a math difficulty whether that is multiplication, division, fractions, decimals or integers (negative numbers). I really believe this may work!

I really love my work. I became a teacher so that I could qualify for a principal’s license. I have the principal’s license, but I’m still teaching!