Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Readin', Writin', and Arithmetic

 So. We are doing fractions, William and I, and he's struggling. I try to go through the lesson ahead of time, so I know exactly what he's dealing with, because one thing that I know for a fact is that William will not learn a thing scrolling through 15 pages of discussion about how to make an equivalent fraction or how to simplify a fraction. I had made circles on poster board and cut them into halves, quarters, sixths and eighths to give him a visual of equivalent fractions, as in 1/2 is the same as 2/4 which is the same as 3/6, which is the same as 4/8. There were strips of paper to prove the same thing. The physical concept was understood. I went on to show him how he could do that mathematically without cutting a circle into fractions every time.

Pay dirt. 

He was making equivalent fractions with very little problem. 

Now if we would have stopped there, it would have been good, but lo...there was simplifying fractions to contend with. 

We got the lesson summed up in two statements: The golden rule of fractions: 'thou shalt do unto the numerator what one does unto the denominator'. The other rule is when you see 'simplify' you are always dividing. 

We got it and he had 4 worksheets to turn in. 

I handed them to him and stepped back to see him go. He said, "I have to watch this lesson."

Me: "No. You don't. We've already done the lesson."

William: "I HAVE to watch the video. My teacher said if we didn't understand what she said, we had to watch the video." 

Me: "No. You don't William. Did you understand what I said?"

William: "Yes. But you're not the teacher and so I have to watch the video. She can tell when we watched the videos." 

Truth. In the other classes, part of the credit is gained from watching the videos and then answering the questions. I resolved the situation by e-mailing the teacher, explaining that like me, William learned by doing, and so the videos were not helpful. I asked her if teaching him the math concepts could be substituted for watching the videos in his math class. 

Meanwhile, William was going through the video about fractions. By the time he was at the end of it, he was quite sure that I had taught him wrong. I handed him the worksheets and he could not solve them. It didn't really matter, because he had another zoom class. 

He was upset at me, and let's be perfectly honest. I was more than a little frustrated with the boy and his focused 'but grandma, the teacher said...' 

He doesn't want to be in trouble. 

But we were both upset about math. He was going to have to stay later to get that done at the end of the day. It was the last day of school before the holiday. The last thing he wanted to do was to stay late. The last thing I wanted to do was teach that lesson over again. 

The phone rang and it was his teacher. She assured me that I was absolutely right. What mattered to her was that he could do the work. He did not have to watch the videos if he understood those lessons. 

I commented that I didn't know many kids who would be able to watch a video and walk away understanding the process, that really for William, they were a waste of time. I explained how we were doing the science videos. 

She said, "Oh, you're such a good little teacher." 

I stuttered a little. 

Then she said it: "I hate those videos and most of the teachers do. William is very lucky to have someone who knows how to teach him. We have a lot of kids who have no one. They're on their own. We hate the videos, but for some kids, that's all they've got."

That afternoon, at the end of the day in a zoom meeting, the students were all restless and ready for the day to be done, for Christmas to begin. The teacher said, "Listen, you guys, almost all of you have assignments that have not been turned in." And she began listing them by name. 

A little sick to my stomach, William and I listened for his name. Finally, it came up, and the teacher said, "William? You do not have anything past due. Good job." Both William and I did a fist bump in great relief. 

She went on. "Zach? You have not turned in one assignment since this all started." I recognized the name. The kid is also almost always late for the zoom meetings. It is frustrating for teachers, I am sure. "Zach? What time is it? What time are you supposed to be here? This is just like class. I expect you to be here on time! I've already begun teaching the lesson and you've missed a big part of it."

Now the teacher was saying, "Do you understand this Zach? You've got to turn these assignments in!"

And a boy answered. He was nearly in tears. "I don't know how to do it. I don't even know how to find the gradebook." My heart broke watching this exchange, and I thought of what William's teacher had said earlier: "We have a lot of kids who have no one." 

I was looking at one. 

Some of our kids are paying a terrible price in these awful days. 


  1. Oh, my goodness, my heart was breaking as I read this. You are a wonderful teacher for your boy because you know him best, love him and teach to his strengths. And his classroom teacher is an angel to be honest about those videos and take time and energy to CALL you and reassure you. As a retired teacher, what is being asked of teachers right now is a nearly impossible way to teach. And there are millions of kiddos like Zach out there who have no loving, caring, capable person to guide them at home.
    I know it’s hard but what you are doing is saving your grandson’s school year for him! Hang in there, and I hope you both enjoy this winter break, do some fun things together, and rest up for the next round.

  2. What is being asked of students, parents and teachers isn't just difficult, it's downright impossible. Some parents and parent figures are making it better, as are some teachers, but it's a no-win situation. Good for you for bridging a little bit of the gap.

  3. My mind has been pondering this question for a long time already. How is this going to affect these kids in the next few years, or perhaps decade? In our case, despite full time in person learning, we still have perhaps 20% that choose to do 100% virtual. What happens the year when they are back in school as normal and those who had someone or attended in person learning are so much farther along than those who were virtual and had no one? Are we going to leave those kids behind or are we going to slow the 80+% down to allow the others to catch up. I suspect I know the answer to this and either way, a lot of kids are going to suffer.

  4. As we go into a lockdown here, I was talking to a teacher yesterday who revealed that we don’t really have a good structure or whatnot in place here to do this properly. It sounds like it is true for you as well. Teachers are doing their best, but this is new territory.

    The other thing is that math is done differently now.

    I like the golden rule and the other.

  5. Oh, God, that's so sad. I know some kids are struggling, especially when they're navigating all this on their own. Poor Zach! William is lucky he's got you to help him, and that you can make things so much clearer.

    As for the videos, assuming they really ARE unnecessary, you should start them on the computer and just let them run while you and William do other things. It will look like he's watched them, but without the potential complications!

  6. You are an excellent teacher and working with William very well, although I know it's frustrating at times. My heart broke over poor Zach and so many like him. :( I don't know what the right answer is except that we all need to get vaccinated ASAP and get rid of this virus.

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  8. What breaks my heart is simple: Zach is seeing himself as a failure. He's 9 years old. His parents are not helping. Perhaps they can't. Some people are working to keep a roof over their heads. Perhaps there are other children. Perhaps...perhaps...there are a hundred reasons why some kids are going it alone. I get up early and I organize the day so that I can lead both boys through their day. I often feel harried and like I'm flying by the seat of my pants. The teacher's validation quite nearly made me cry. But mostly, I struggle with the fact that Zach is going into Christmas holidays with such a heavy burden on his little shoulders. He's got a lot of things to do and doesn't know how to do them, or who to ask for help. My biggest struggle is that I want to reach out and offer him some help over the holiday to get him caught up. What stops me? What if he's got an actual learning disability? I cannot take on the responsibility for that. I am stretched thin as it is. What if there are behavior issues? I say it again: I am not a patient person. This school year has been a struggle. But I really cannot get this boy's face out of my mind. He was struggling not to cry because all his classmates were watching. He obviously didn't want to be behind. I felt awful for him and his little face has been on my mind.

  9. I am sorry - the teacher belittles the kids in zoom meetings?!!

    That should have been a one on one discussion. I know that teachers are having it rough and she is in a tough spot with the virus and the virtual learning stuff and being tied to a curriculum and some carers unable to take on this load - but going through and calling out the kids who haven't done?

    She should have seen the flags when he wasn't able to get his act together for meetings before the last lesson of the year - and she should have shown some compassion.

    How many years have we had "not everyone learns the same" and here we have a petri dish to actually find ways to stream to what works for what kids.

    In March, I can understand the being unprepared for how to work with remote learning, but surely we have a bit more of a handle on it now?

    Sorry - just think that Zach is being heaped on by the tools of the system as well as the pandemic and home. Poor Zach.

  10. You are absolutely correct Jeanie. No argument that it was handled poorly.

  11. Will we somehow muddle through this school year and students graduation at all grades will be delayed a year, at age 18 or 19 instead of 17 or 18? Not thrusting them into feelings of failure during this year would be vital and is under any circumstances anyway. On site school classes starting in Sept. ‘21 all can resume for a school year presumed to be lost. At best, maybe just keeping students at their level where they were before this pandemic could be the focus, so refreshing at the beginning of the coming year would need to be only minimal — then moving through the grade studies they missed.this year later. Would that be so disastrous? Some will have grasped their virtual lessons this year that can be addressed, but just approach the Fall ‘21 school year as though all had not. In the meantime, perhaps we will have refined learning in virtual classes — quite tricky with so many different learning styles. I’m not a classroom teacher, so don't presume to have the answers for those on the firing line. :-)

  12. Very interesting. Reminds me of the primary teacher telling us my son could not do maths... Well now he as a PhD in mathematical physics and a string of scientific research papers to his name.


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