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Oregon Family Magazine

Juggling Struggling and Advanced Students in the Classroom

09/01/2021 ● By Morgan Jemmali
It wasn’t too late for many distinguished linguists to start learning their first 2nd language from scratch in college. Unfortunately, math doesn’t give students or their teachers that luxury, as they go through the math building blocks since first grade. It’s a 12-year race until college, where we can finally choose a major in science or art, often depending on our math skills, and just like in the Olympics, many fall behind in a marathon, and some can’t even finish the race.

This fall, after a 4-term Covid slide, on top of the summer slide, K-12 teachers will experience the largest scale of disparities of skill levels among students, and math teachers will witness more and tougher cases than their colleagues. This isn’t because math is harder or boring; it’s because math accumulates skills every week (for 12 years), so students can’t afford to fall behind. And struggling math students may not get a decent chance to earn an “A+” each new term like they might in other subjects. Kids can go through difficult school terms for various reasons during childhood. So, what might teachers do this fall to reduce students’ disparities in the classroom?

  • Start each session with “review” questions, then finish practice pages with “challenge” drills.
  • Students have different learning styles, so teachers should use different teaching techniques: mental, verbal, visual, written, and tactile.
  • Teachers can sometimes use more advanced students to assist during practice activities.
  • Give students chances to earn extra credit, to encourage them to make faster progress while improving their grades and feeling rewarded for their extra efforts.
  • During group activities, teachers might put students into groups based on learning level as it relates to curriculum - then give each group a level that challenges them, but they can prevail.
  • When facing a long problem to solve, many students can feel overwhelmed and immediately think: “I can’t do this.”  To help kids feel more in control and confident, teachers can offer hints and break down a problem into mini steps with multiple questions, to guide some students through the problem, while making them feel successful every time they complete a step (like in a videogame), instead of losing confidence when they can’t solve the whole problem.

Remember, children don’t hate school or math. They do hate being confused and intimidated at school. With understanding comes passion, and with passion comes growth. May the force be with you this fall!

Morgan Jemmali (or Coach Mo, or “Mo the Math Pro” on STAR 102.3’s weekly show, “Become a Math Ninja”) has 2 kids in 4J French Immersion programs, and he coaches tennis at YMCA and soccer at Eugene Timbers. He has taught math, accounting, marketing, Excel, French, and Arabic for over 20 years, and is currently the Director of Mathnasium of Eugene. Mo can be reached at [email protected].

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