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Friday - October 10, 1997

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the responses in the journals I collected in Algebra I. I was expecting a few thoughtful responses coupled with a bunch of "this class sucks" entries. In fact, I received only a tiny handful of the latter type and a majority of the former. Atrocious spelling and grammar notwithstanding, they kids obviously put down exactly how they felt on paper. They raised a number of valid concerns and I felt that I had to address at least the common ones. I told Maureen that I was thinking of addressing some of the classes' concerns in class and she thought it was a good idea.
    So I compiled a list of the most common concerns (a 2 page list!). At the beginning of class, Maureen sat down in the front of the room and started her talk. This wasn't a lecture, like she delivered last week. Rather, she tried to discuss a little with the class exactly what algebra is. For nearly everybody in the class, algebra is the first time they have ever had "abstracted" math. Until this point, for instance, they could always demonstrate what they were doing with a physical model ("one apple plus one apple makes two apples"). Variables defy such a simple model and this is throwing a lot of students. She tried to reassure the class that even if they aren't "getting it" now, they probably will as time goes on.
    I addressed some more specific concerns. The most common complaint, by far, was "You don't spend enough time on the sections." In retrospect, they were probably right. Unfortunately, I didn't know this at the time. As I've said in a number of journal entries, the class asks very few questions. I realized that there were a number of people who weren't getting it. I didn't realize that almost the entire class was lost. So I stressed to the class that communication and feedback was of the utmost importance. This was a continuing theme throughout my talk. The class needs to get more involved with their learning.
    There was also a number of people who complained directly about me. I am thinking, too, that if the class didn't know that I would be reading the journals, then I might have had quite a few more personal attacks. As a whole, I was knocked for going too fast and not explaining things simply enough. With 40 people in the class, though, I wasn't surprised to see a variety of reasons why I wasn't any good at teaching. I read that "Mr Granroth never teaches the same material the same way. Every time he says how to do something, he teaches it differently and I get confused." Okay. I do try to vary my explanations if I see that the the questioner is not getting it. But then I read another paper: "Mr. Granroth always explains things the exact same way. I didn't understand him the first time so I won't understand him if he just repeats himself." Huh? This is the same class listening to the exact same lectures. Yet I get two totally different perceptions of what I am doing. I have no clue how I could possibly reconcile both parties...
    There was still a few minutes left after Maureen and my little talk, so I started lecturing on the new section. As luck would have it, it was an "easy" section and the class could leave in relative good spirits.
    All in all, that went pretty well. We'll see if things will change at all...

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