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Monday, April 13, 2009

Practice like you play

Am I showing my age by titling my post with that old adage, "Practice like you play?" I mean, do kids nowadays just not GET that, or do they not HEAR it very often except from old fogies like me?

I probably don't use those actual words too often in class. After all, the kids tend to hear the word "play" and think "run around outside like chickens with their heads cut off" as opposed to "taking the TAKS test." However, I emphasize the meaning of the words all the time.

For as much good as it seems to do...

I find it very frustrating when we've spent an entire week of our lives going over the steps for labelling a picture representation of a fraction ( ?/total ), practicing it in class, honing the skill, doing it on homework and classwork, and then when we take a test and there is a fraction question, the kids just pick an answer without drawing a picture, without labelling an existing picture, oftentimes without even circling (and thereby acknowledging recognition of) the word "fraction!!"

I have tried pleading with them.

Me: Please, if you want to do your best, you need to do it the way we've been practicing, NOT by closing your eyes and doing eeny-meeny-miney-moe!

I have tried scolding them.

Me: If you're not going to do the steps and strategies that we've learned and practiced in class, what was the point of last week??

I've tried giving them analogies. (without burdening their brains with the actual word "analogies)

2 of my favorites are as follows:

The Baseball Coach --
Imagine if I was your baseball coach, and you were on my team. I've spent all this time teaching you the right way to hold the bat, the right way to stand at the plate, the right way to swing and hit the ball so that you get a homerun every time. All of that practice, and you know exactly what you need to do to get a homerun.

But then when we have our first game, you decide to stand with your back to the plate, holding the bat by the wrong end, swinging it like a golf club (I of course pantomime all of this).

You MIGHT get lucky and hit the ball. Probably not, but you might. But you certainly aren't going to do your best and hit a homerun that way.

The Piano Teacher --
Imagine if you were taking piano lessons from me. Every day, we've practiced how to play a song, where you put your fingers on the keys, how fast you need to play, how to move your hands. After practicing so much, you know exactly what you need to do to play the song beautifully.

Then, on the day, of a big recital in front of your family and a big crowd, you decided to sit down at the piano and start pounding the keys with your elbows (again, pantomimed, with cacaphonous sound effects).

Why would you do that on the day when it counts, after practicing the RIGHT way for so very long??

Every time I tell these stories, the kids laugh and tell me, "No, Mister Teacher, that would be silly! Why would anyone do that??"

Yet, getting these kids to show their work on a test (or even homework sometimes) -- work that we have practiced for days, weeks, or months -- is like pulling the back teeth of a narwhale!

I feel like this is where so much of the frustration of teachers comes into play. The teaching is great, the imparting of wisdom is great. I enjoy showing the kids how to figure out a certain type of problem, and what strategies can make it even easier.

I just don't get why it is so incredibly difficult to get them to actually do these simplifying steps on their own!


Becky said...

Please, oh please, someone tell me the answer to this problem that also exists in my classroom also.
The first day of our state, MAP, test I peeked over shoulders at their work and had to constantly reach out for the nearest desk to steady myself. What were they thinking? Or where was their thinking?
On the second day, I just shrugged my shoulders if I happened to glance at their answers which contained none of the weeks of strategies we'd covered. By the fifth day, I didn't even care if they just scribbled and drew cartoons in the margins of the test.
The NCLB it me or the test?

Christy said...

I hold to the giant sieve theory....there has to be a giant invisible sieve on my doorway - and when they leave my classroom, they sieve out all knowledge gained within and leave it in steaming piles on the floor.


Unknown said...

I believe it's "narwhal." You would have known that had you practiced your marine mammal spelling the way you play.

So I was picked in 7th grade (or whenever) to take the Duke-sponsored SAT. I got so frustrated that I started making shapes with my bubbled answers. When I told my mother (the calculus teacher), she cried. Oops.

Mary @ StaleCheerios said...

How much credit do you give for right answer and how much credit do you give for showing work? If most of the credit for the problem comes from showing the work, then it encourages the kid to write out all the steps. If no credit is given for showing work, the kid has little incentive to show work.

I remember several jr. high teachers I had who were huge on trying to get us to show our work.

On a 3 point problem, 1/2 a point might be for getting the correct answer, and the other 2.5 points would have been for various things related to showing the correct steps and drawing a correct picture.

It probably took more time for them to grade, but it also meant they could look at our steps and see exactly where we were messing up.

Of course, this strategy can't be used for standardized tests. However, if showing work becomes a habit throughout the semester, the kid will be likely to do it on the big test.

Mary H.

Tracy W said...

Just a guess, but it sounds like your tests are multi-choice questions. If that's right, are you giving kids questions with multi-choice answers in class? Or are you giving them open-ended questions?
It may be that that difference is foxing them - they're reverting to old habits when confronted with the slightly different situation of a multi-choice question. Especially when mixed with the stress of a test.
Or I might be totally wrong. I'm just guessing here. You know your class.

Mister Teacher said...

Becky, that sounds exactly like my first year, when we were actually able to be in the room with our kids during the test, and there was nothing wrong with looking over their shoulders. 2 kids sharing 10 apples? 10+2!! Perimeter? Draw a line of symmetry! AAARGH!

Lily, I liken their brains to a beach ball with a slow leak...

Carolyn, keep that to yourself! It's too depressing! (Plus, I never got to take that Duke SAT, and of all the people in my class, I was the one who wanted to go to Duke!!

Mary, you have an excellent point, and I do a bit of both. I usually do check each step and take off points if the kids don't show their work. And I always tell them in advance that I am going to do that. (I usually don't take the points off when I put the grade in my gradebook, but to the kids, it sometimes looks as though they've gotten all the answers right, yet they scored a 68).

Tracy, I mix them up. Most of what we've done this year has been open ended (and thus hopefully more rigorous), but there have been some multi-choice in there as well. The kids who don't show their work seem to be equal opportunity slackers...

Lightly Seasoned said...

Oooh, I'm feeling ya. We have end of course exams next week and I have no idea what the kids are going to do. It does count for part of their grade, so I hope they at least try... but our department is flipping out (for various reasons... no support, AYP designation riding on us, etc.)

At least with the AP exams next week I know my kids will be giving it their best shots.