Just Smile and No One Will Ever Know

I was talking with friends today and I wanted to share this story. We all laughed, but it bothered a lot, especially when I was driving home afterward. I’ll tell the story as if I am the friend who shared it. She’s in her early seventies, but regularly works with youth.

My niece lived with me for a while during her elementary and high school years. She was never good at fractions. In grade five, my son was tutoring her to give her a hand with this somewhat challenging topic for her. One day, he turned to me and said, “Mom, I think it’s hopeless.”

I loved baking with my mom as a child, but I can imagine that not understanding fractions could have changed my opinion of it rather quickly. Flickr Photo Credit to CaroleChapman.

I knew from that point that she wasn’t all that bright, but we kept up with school. Never once was she held back due to her grades. She got into grade nine and we were baking a cake one day. I used the one-cup measure to pour some milk, but she needed to measure out a cup of sugar. Naturally, I grabbed the nearest measuring cup, which happened to be a one-third of a cup measuring cup,and said, “Here. Just use this.” She turned to me angrily and asking, “What am I supposed to use this for?”

The next day, I went straight to the principle. We talked to her math teacher and, sure enough, she had received 2% on some assignment or test. She was still struggling with her fractions. According to the math teacher, she sat in the back and just smiled every day, so he had no concern as to her learning.

The discussion that followed this story talked about how easy it is to “fake it” in school. I can’t say that I’ve often times just smiled and nodded in school, but I can imagine it happens a lot. That’s a scary thought. We talked about how it would be really hard to ask a question when you feel like you are so far behind that you don’t even know what to ask. Again, I guess this is true. I have been so blessed to not be in that situation, but I can imagine it’s a pretty scary place. What startled me the most is that this is what my friends (age range: 20 to early-seventies) considered a normal for a math class. It seemed like the teacher was completely off the hook for not showing any concern over 2% on an assessment (granted it was likely more of an evaluation, based on the limited facts I have). Where were the teachers in grades 6 – 8? Should they have not made a fuss over the fact that she didn’t understand fractions?

I stayed pretty quiet during this discussion, since I know that I can get pretty passionate about education, and it was pretty lighthearted, but it’s been bugging me for the last couple of hours. I know more than anything that I desperately need to set my classroom up so that I can truly assess each student to give me an idea of where he/she is at all times. I don’t have the answer for this, but I certainly don’t want to have any students “faking it” with a pasted on grin and a few bobs of their head every time I explain something.

Should I flip my class? That would probably be the first step, but even then, I can’t stop there. Diagnostics? Well, they are pretty exam-like, but they do give a pretty good survey of knowledge, provided I design it so that I find out what I want to know. More parent-teacher communication? Absolutely. More manipulatives, inquiry, technology, etc.? I’m sure the list can go on. What do you suggest? Have you had kids “fake it?”

One thought on “Just Smile and No One Will Ever Know

  1. You have described some of my frustrations as a 5th year teacher exactly. Kids these days are very good at faking it, and unfortunately, even the most diligent and caring teachers can have trouble cracking that facade. I do not have an answer to your questions, but I can only hope as we continue to try new things and reach every student that eventually those numbers will go down. I feel like our kids get very good at “playing the game” that eventually they are in so deep (i.e. 9th grade and can’t work with fractions) that they have a long ways to swim to even get back up to surface level, let alone climb higher. I just blogged about some of my similar frustrations last night (http://flippingwithkirch.blogspot.com/2012/05/student-responsibility-and-motivation.html). Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and keep up the great work with blogging… you starting to develop your PLN and share ideas before even beginning your teaching career is such a great step that I wish I had taken!

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