My gut reaction is YES! Especially those who are "high" academically. And I'll tell you why:
I have a class of "faster paced" students. They are mostly girls, mostly with great handwriting and organizational skills. They always bring their materials to class and meticulously write things down in their planner. They almost never forget assignments. (The fact that they are mostly girls who got accelerated is a whole 'nother post, or possibly rant. I'll save it.)
But they can't actually do much. No- that's not fair. Let me rephrase: they really, really struggle with tasks such as inference, breaking down large tasks into smaller ones (and not in an organizational way), and problem solving.
These are the students who are so afraid of getting a wrong answer that they are unable to make a guess. Or, their brain gets completely overwhelmed with anxiety that it shuts down.
I've seen this dynamic play out a few times in one particular class, and I vacillate between being incredibly frustrated ("Where do I put my name?" "Where it says Nombre!" I know, not fair of me but true.) and terribly saddened (What do you mean you don't know where to put your name? How is that possible? What have we/I done wrong?) What I notice is that often they don't know where to put their name because they are so terrified of putting it in the wrong place and...? Getting eaten by the no-name monster? What role have I played in creating this fear of doing anything wrong? Or how am I allowing it to continue?
I stopped calling tests and quizzes tests and quizzes. I made my assessments short and sweet, 5-10 questions, and usually unannounced, in the middle of the class period. That helps reduce anxiety, but I wonder if I am helping them (by reducing their anxiety, thus allowing them to demonstrate the language that they have acquired in a low stress situation) or doing them an injustice (by caving in to their absolute lack of resilience). I am of two minds. On one hand, everything that I've read (see sidebar for some links to great books about assessment) and come to believe about assessment, humanizing students, and recognizing that they are only 12 years old, indicates that they don't need more stress and that stress won't help them with my goal: to acquire language.
But I have to wonder: am I helping to create their helplessness?
There is also the question: are the tasks I am giving them too hard? If they are not being successful, one would think that yes, I haven't adequately prepared them. However, if I, for example, ask them to translate a sentence and ask them to explain it, most can do it 100% of the time. Today I was using the Tweetly Deet assessment from Martina Bex's Las Novias unit. I love this formative assessment because she has done an amazing job of finding authentic text (tweets, in this case), that use the targeted structures in context, and asking great questions that involve both knowledge and inference.
I discovered that my "helpless" kids absolutely panicked. For instance (and this is not an example from the text in order to respect copyright), they had to read Mi hermano va a la iglesia. (My brother goes to the church.) The question was who goes to the church (in English)?
When I pointed out that they could translate mi hermano va (my brother goes), they were able identify the brother. The iglesia could only be a church. Right? So about 70% of the kids got it, but the "helpless" couldn't think past the word that they didn't know. And those kids are the "academically advanced" in our school with high grades.
Later, we were doing a sheet that asked them to look at a diagram of a bull and answer some questions about it. Again, total panic from the helpless, and the kids who can problem solve were finished. Some kids couldn't get past the first question. I tried to give some hints: "What do you think that word indicates on the diagram? Which body part are the words near? Is it a cognate?" I tried to reduce the fear: "This isn't graded. " Still, after 20 minutes, I called a halt because some were almost in tears.
How do I teach problem solving? That inference/trusting one's instincts/lack of fear of getting it wrong? How am I not teaching it?
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