Classroom Culture

Something that keep popping into my head as I go through my teaching days is classroom culture.  Now that I’ve been out of the classroom for a week, I think I can finally say something coherent about it.

One of the problems that my CT and I have been running into lately is that our students don’t seem to be making the choices we want them to make.  In particular, they are off-task during class time.  Mostly they are just talking to one another about lots of stuff having nothing to do with math.  Some students are trying to pay attention, but I think it can be difficult for them when so many people are chatting.  Most of the students, even those trying to pay attention, act as if they are bored.

To this I would add something interesting I noticed regading a disconnect between what the students think they know and what we think they need to know.  The day before giving our last group quiz, an overwhelming number of students said they felt ready for the quiz.  As it’s a group quiz one might logically expect that those few that didn’t feel ready would get help during the quiz from their classmates.  But overall scores were very low on the quiz, telling me that the students were not actually ready.

After thinking about this, I think a major problem is that there is a serious disconnect between what we as instructors are expecting our students to do and learn, and what they think they’re expected to do and learn.  I have a feeling that the responsibility for this disconnect lies largely with myself and my CT.    There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, we rarely explain clearly what it is the students are supposed to get from each lesson.  We appear to assume that they’ll just figure it out.  The recent group quiz scores are evidence that this isn’t happening.  Second, I have yet to see anyone in the math department at this school engage in anything like long-range planning.  I am not sure that the instructors know what’s really expected, so it’s no surprise that our students are feeling lost.

What I know right now is that we have covered the exact same material this year that we did last year.  And last year they did not cover some pretty important material.  Continuing to do what we’re doing will result in our again not covering what we need to cover (and yes, I realize that covering material doesn’t mean students are learning it).  As a student teacher, I realize that I have little power to make changes in the way this particular math department operates.  But what I can do is start practicing good habits for when I (hopefully) have my own classroom next year.

Toward this end, I’ve decided that during winter quarter’s student teaching experience, I will be writing my own unit plans and doing long-range planning.  Whether anyone else in the department makes use of this information is immaterial.  What matters to me is that I have a sense of what we’re doing and where we’re going.  That way, I can begin to make small changes to our current classroom climate by providing more of a sense of coming from somewhere and going somewhere else.  I think fostering the idea that there is coherence in mathematics is important.

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