One week into the second semester, I received permission to split each of my three algebra periods into two sections each. Students who demonstrated proficiency with their prerequisite skills, most of whom passed first semester, are to stay with me in an algebra 1 focused section while those who were unable to show proficiency are to be “transferred” into a special intervention course with me, which I will run in the same classroom concurrently with the algebra 1 section. While many districts offer intervention courses, either supplementing an algebra 1 course, or in lieu of algebra 1, I am not aware of many who let a teacher manage both types of course within a single class period, much less for three periods.
As I failed forty-three percent (43%) of my algebra 1 students first semester, with another nineteen percent (19%) receiving Ds, I decided those students who failed or received Ds required immediate and sustained intervention to address their deficiencies in basic mathematics, which most likely held them back from passing, or receiving a C or higher letter grade, in algebra 1 first semester. The following figure, from an earlier post summarizing my algebra 1 students’ semester 1 performance, shows students concentrated in four distinct clusters denoted by the red, orange, yellow, and green boxes.
The most advanced students are shown in the green box frame. Advanced is a relative term, however, as some of these students still struggle with basic arithmetic operations. At the same time, they have the greatest potential to master new, or more advanced, content much more rapidly than the bulk of students.
Students who are closer to demonstrating understanding of linear equations while possessing stronger prerequisite skills are boxed in the yellow frame. Hopefully, they can fill any gaps in their understanding in a short period and move forward with newer content.
Students in the orange boxed frame seem to need a little more intensive intervention in prerequisites before they solidify their understanding with linear equations.
Lastly, those boxed in the red frame seem to require intensive intervention in prerequisite skills in order for them to move forward.
For many students, there are other factors besides low skill with prerequisites that contributed to their failing ranging from excessive absences to behavioral challenges to not studying or seeking help. Combined, these factors derail too many students from attaining success in algebra 1. Notwithstanding these additional factors, students must understand the essential rules, properties, and procedures with arithmetic well enough to make sure they do not interfere with the student’s ability to show proficiency with algebra 1. Throughout the semester, while correcting student assessments, I continued to notice simple mistakes, misconceptions, and/or misunderstandings in their work preventing them from attaining proficiency. They needed to relearn their basic math skills.
As I mention above, I plan to run two different sections in my classroom for each of my three algebra 1 periods. There are two, key enablers for doing so: 1) our 102-minute block periods, which occur twice per week per period and 2) a dedicated Chromebook cart with more than enough units for each students to use one in my classroom.
The following figure illustrates my general plan.
Students who either failed first semester, or received a D, are to be transferred into a new section with me that will run concurrently with the existing algebra 1 section. The intervention section will allow students to relearn and to improve in their basic math skills such as the following topics.
The Focus and Flow
My view on how to run two sections at the same time, each with different content, follows.
Fortunately, our school switched to a modified block schedule this year. Mondays are structured as traditional 55-minute periods for six periods while Tuesday through Friday consist of three 102-minute block periods per day, with each class period meeting twice per week for this duration. I find this mostly to be beneficial, especially in the case where I wish to attempt something quite unique as I show above.
This approach hopefully will enable me to offer whole class instruction to all students on second semester topics to make sure everyone has the opportunity to learn these topics. At the same time, students who failed first semester are unlikely to master the new content given the holes in their prerequisite understanding and skills. Hence, they will focus their effort on re-learning and developing proficiency with those items for which they need remediation. Upon mastering those topics, the belief is they will be better prepared to master the algebra 1 content, whether it be from first semester or second.
Additionally, every student who failed first semester, or received a D, will have the opportunity to have their first semester grade changed to a passing grade, or raised if they received a D earlier. Many students seem to be quite interested in this offer. It is my hope that many, if not most, or ideally, all, benefit.
I eagerly look forward to starting this plan next week. It is still developing, and will evolve over time. Nonetheless, it is my way of going above and beyond what is detailed in any contract, ed code, or other policy to make sure all of my students are able to redeem themselves from earlier failings, whatever the original reason.
Many of my students simply do not understand the ramifications of failing. They may have failed many courses in middle school. Yet they were promoted to the next grade level eventually arriving in high school.
My fourteen and fifteen year old ninth graders have not felt the full weight of an F grade in algebra 1, in spite of my repeated talks about the importance of the course, and the fact that it is a legal requirement to pass algebra 1 to receive a standard high school diploma. My sophomores in the class seem to have a better awareness, if not begrudgingly. My juniors are more aware, if not downtrodden. Finally, my seniors are keenly aware that the course is critical to their graduating.
Unfortunately, their awareness kicked in very late in the game with very little time left on the clock. While it is not impossible for them, it will take something close to a miracle for them to progress far enough this semester to pass both semesters.
Irrespective of the likelihood of a student passing, I intend to provide each of them with every possible opportunity to do so. For that is why I decided to become a teacher in the first place. Failing nearly half of them every year is not what I expected when I made my decision to teach. I refuse to accept that as the norm either. I must find a way to help students break free from the hold of whatever binds them from passing this subject.