Friday, April 10, 2015

Hope Can Raise More Than Grades

Many years ago in my first 9th grade Algebra 1 class I had several students that entered the school year having always struggled in math, had low math confidence and were lacking the skills required to be successful in Algebra.  I started math help sessions in my classroom after school for anyone that wanted to attend.  Some students were "forced" to attend by their parents, but eventually they saw the benefit.  During this school year it started as Tutor Tuesdays, then Want Help Wednesdays and finally Math Mondays.  The expansion to three days a week was to supply enough help for the demand coming from my students.

We used this time to supplement Algebra with the concepts they were lacking from previous math classes.  Numeracy, fractions, decimals, percents, integers and basic math properties.  The road was rough at first, but as we drew pictures and developed a better understanding of how numbers worked in relation to each other, tremendous gains were made. Students who once failed an assessment on two-step linear equations, were solving systems of equations with ease.  I was curious as to how well these students would do on assessments from earlier in the year, but first semester grades were "final" and we were approaching the end of third quarter.

I asked my school registrar about the possibility of changing someone's first semester grade because I no longer felt it was representative of their knowledge.  I was told it was not possible from her point of view, but that the Principal can override the rules.  So I was off to plead my case. Luckily I work for a  Principal that is all about whatever is best for student learning, and keeps kids on track to graduate. I began reassessing these students and everyone one of them increased their semester grade by at least two letter grades.

Since then I have used a Recovery Contract in which students can recover their first semester grade if they are willing to relearn concepts and reassess.  The offer is made to anyone that earned a D or F first semester. Of course I do not inform my students of this contract until late in first semester because I do not want students thinking they can slack off and then just recover their grade later.  And I have been amazed that students from year to year do not talk about the contract and thus incoming students do not have a clue until the time comes.  No one has ever declined the offer either.

Using the contract the past two years have been particularly inspiring for me and my students.  One particular student this year has made all of the extra hours of tutoring, designing new review materials, new assessments and grading worth it!  She transferred to my school because of the progress her cousin made in my class (on contract) last year.  Her childhood has been rougher than most students.  She now lives with her cousin's family and English is not her first language.

When she transferred to my 9th grade Algebra class in October, we spent three weeks learning integers.  She did not understand the concept of that positives and negatives cancel each other out.  We drew pictures, number lines, used mini poker chips and when I finally put some cash money on the table, she finally started to get it.  From there we worked on combining like terms, distributive property, equivalent expressions and two-step solves.  While the rest of class was working on systems of linear inequalities, she and I worked on ratios/proportions.  She finished first semester with 26% on Alg 1 assessments.  Today is the end of third quarter and she has now earned an 86% B for first semester, and is up to a B+ for second semester.

The hope of recovery has led to a completely to new student. A student that needed help with her math on a daily basis is now helping other students.  Her complete lack of math confidence is now climbing and is having a positive impact in her science and tech classes.  A student who saw a gloomy future, is looking towards an open and bright future.  Hope.


  1. Wow! Your level of faith in students, inspiration for how to change the system, dedication, and teaching ability are amazing!! I hope your administrators and colleagues appreciate what you are doing; it's clear your students do.

  2. Thanks Julie! I'm still trying to reach the one contract student that is resisting. Gotta make that connection and build a relationship he can believe in fast!