Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Benchmark just got higher


On 4th Dec 2011, 23 of my students appeared for NSTSE exam.

Picture this –

99% of my students in my classroom on July 15, 2011 were not able to answer the question:

Circle the sixth balloon.

And to prepare for NSTSE, on 1st Dec, I dare to give them a worksheet that asked them to solve:

Nitin is standing 5th from left and 6th from right. How many people are standing in the queue altogether?

When I was preparing that worksheet a night before, two other teach for India fellows said to me that you are being two hard on the kids. But when next morning I gave students this worksheet, after explaining few concepts around it, 80% of them got it right. Teaching the concept was needed but most importantly for me as a teacher, I knew the benchmark question, and I was able to build up the thought process in them. For two months, efforts like these changed the entire equation of the classroom. Earlier when I was teaching curriculum thinking that kids need to go by a step-by-step process, I restricted myself thinking that their cognitive abilities need to be developed in a slow and sequential manner. But I was forgetting that learning curve of the kids is so high and they can start connecting the dots and picking up quickly.

Within a span of two months, few kids got to the level of answering questions like “Write the smallest three-digit odd number from numbers - 0, 2, 1, 9’ when few days earlier they were still learning what a three digit number was.

Of course, not all students could do it. But those who could, they were hungry for these kind of challenges.

The day the exam got over, I realized I have created a big problem for myself. In my classroom, the divide became greater. The kids who solved questions like the above, cannot be given simple question now. They were done with the direct syllabus. While there were still few kids who appeared for NSTSE but would love a step-by-step approach and didn’t mind teaching of objectives slowly again. And then there were kids who still cannot answer  July 15th questions

 “Circle the sixth balloon’

“Circle the odd number’

“Circle the smallest number’

The way I used to teach pre-NSTSE days was of no use anymore. The level of customization that was needed now surpassed every kind of customization that I have done before. And teaching the NSTSE kids at supernova speed also led me to have lesser time for data maintenance about their mastering objectives of the prescribed syllabus. So, as a teacher I was basically screwed – I could no longer introduce a new concept in uniform way to the entire class, my data was messed up and I had no clue whatsoever how to teach different classes that I had created by MY OWN HANDS in what earlier was uniformly a 2nd grade.

I had to go back to the drawing table. I took the first objective – Number names.

And created four different worksheets that have questions for different students:

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High performing kids ; Write the number names of all 3-digit numbers that are possible from digits 0, 4, 6,7. (Lengthy questions like these kept them busy for a long time that I needed for kids haven’t yet mastered the objective.)
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Medium performing kids : Write the number names of all 3-digit numbers that are possible from digits 3,1,2. (These kids were occupied as well!)
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Non-NSTSE kids – First Group : Write number names of following numbers:

512, 521, 215, 251, 125, 152
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Non-NSTSE kids- Second group:

Fill in the blanks:

Color the right star:

672 is Six hundred and ______

Seventy Two          Eighty Three     (written inside stars)

They progressed to the worksheets of non-nstse first group after this
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Of all the worksheets that I have created these worked like a magic. Now while I test all the students with same objective, different kids got challenges at their skill level and not higher. And I managed my entire class with a very micro level of customization. My data could be maintained easily as well.

I have done this for three objectives so far in Maths and now everything is back to smooth yet again. But this work requires enormous amount of time in panning, checking and analyzing data. I fear what one of my friend cautioned me – of  getting burnt out. But I wish to do it exactly the way I described. Once you have seen the benchmark of level of customkization that is possible, you really cannot turn your back. It is a matter of 38 lives in one hand.