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Success Breeds Success and Sometimes Failure Does Too
by Babak Mostaghimi

Wykeeshia: Mr. Mostaghimi, I cant use this ruler. The inches arent right. I think its broken.

Mr. Mostaghimi: What do you mean, howd you break your ruler already?

Wykeeshia: Well, Chakaylas got 30 inches on her ruler and I only have 12

Mr. Mostaghimi: (With a huge smile) All right umm ok. Wykeeshia, you are looking at Chakaylas centimeters.

Wykeeshia: Huh? No, Im not, Im looking at her ruler

Ever since my fifth graders took the Science Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT) in March, I have been given the role of preparing students for their Math MCT. My science class has turned towards teaching measurement skills and social studies class has focused on data analysis and probability. I now had seven weeks in which to teach students all there was to know about fifth-grade measurement and data analysis.

I had always wondered what it would be like to be given the opportunity to start all over again with the same students. Being a first year teacher, I had seen so many parts of my classroom that I would change if given the opportunity to start fresh, and with my new teaching assignment I was suddenly thrust into a completely fresh scenario. The first day I fumbled a bit as I attempted to use my science and social studies class point-and-note- taking systems while teaching math, only to realize that they did not quite match the content and goals I was trying to accomplish. I also realized that my students were much further behind on their measurement knowledge than I could have imagined. My children, to my surprise, did not even have a basic concept of what an inch is.

The first week I taught the basics of how to use a ruler in order to get them ready to attempt a diagnostic test on measurement. When I got my diagnostic results my worst fears were realized: all but a handful of students in my class would have scored better on their test had they randomly guessed on their multiple choice answers.

The following Monday I gave a brief explanation of the results and quickly started on the new content. As the week progressed, however, I noticed that my students no longer had the poise and focus that they had had when I was teaching science. As though we were at the start of the school year once again, students kept talking and playing rather than doing their class work. Fridays test showed precisely what I had feared. Students had assumed that they would do well on the measurement if they showed up to class and worked a bit here and there. All three of my classes scored a class average of an F, the lowest average since the first science test of the year.

Looking at the printed results in my car on the way home, I could not get out of my head that perhaps starting a new subject meant having to jump over all the same hurdles as before. Maybe there was no shortcut and the rest of the year would just be a repeat of the hard first weeks of school. I realized quickly that I had to somehow figure out how to isolate the most effective teaching techniques given my childrens quirks. After breaking out my new goals and expectations, I came to the conclusion that my new class would have to be based on brutal honesty if we were going to get to the depth of knowledge required before they had to take their math MCT.

On Monday morning when the students walked in, I handed each a slip of paper with their test grade on it. Silence pervaded the classroom as many students choked back the tears and others put their heads down in disappointment. On the board I broke out the student scores and showed them where we were as a class and where we had to end up. My brutal honesty about our failure on the test turned into a new rule system. Until every student was up to a 90 percent, there would be no room for any extraneous noise, talking, or playing in class.

When class began, each time a student talked out of turn or was caught playing, a simple reminder of our grades achieved a quick refocus of the entire class. Just as I had hoped, students began to retake a proactive roll in their education. They were no longer content with knowing the correct answer. All of a sudden students wanted to know how we got to the solution rather than just the solution and none would complain when we would repeat problems at the request of classmates.

The following day, I noticed students had stopped raising their hands to be recognized and began naturally taking turns to ask questions as they arose throughout class. The children became so respectful of their learning that at times I would have to step back to remind myself that these were fifth graders and not yet university scholars.

Our next test showed our drastic improvement and progress. Within a week student averages rose significantly across the board in all the target objectives. Our initial failure, rather than leading us towards more failure, became the rallying point of my students and the beginning of unimaginable success. If this is what it feels like to start over, I can only imagine what amazing fruits the rest of this year, let alone a second year of teaching, will bring.



Article by Babak Mostaghimi
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World



Posted 04/25/2007