Renote’s assessment consists of the pre- and post-paper-and-pencil test, together with student observations and comments that she noted throughout the unit (see Figure 8.6). She also noted the number of times students asked higher-level questions. Although changes in self-confidence were not readily evident in other content areas, Renote noticed that the students progressively
FIGURE 8.6 Types of Request for Assistance Week 1
demonstrated more confidence when programming the Roamer. Even the shy students tended to take a more active role or even emerged as leaders during the activities. She noted these as signs of growing intellectual independence. Her notes show evidence of students’ demonstrating higher levels of thinking and also geometric understanding. Expansion on these aspects is in the discussion.
Discussion between Colleagues
What is your philosophy of teaching mathematics?
Mathematics should be taught in a way that allows students to see its usefulness in their lives while helping students acquire other necessary skills.
Do you lecture at times?
I am glad that NCTM and CCSS advocate for schools to move away from this practice. We used block scheduling at Wilson, and that length of time could make a traditional class quite boring for students. We used a model where the time is subdivided into sections and students work on activities lasting no more than 20 minutes based on the following routine: (1) begin with an open- response question, which students first try to answer alone; (2) students then share ideas with a partner and then with the whole class; (3) they review homework; (4) they teach a mini lesson; (5) students practice; (6) they assign homework; and (7) they reflect on what they’ve learned.
How are literacy students placed?
If students fail the entrance exam, they take the literacy test to determine whether they are low performing or literacy students. Haitian students are tested for reading and basic math in Creole. There also is a test in French for students who are not fluent in reading and/or writing Creole. If such students cannot function in the regular bilingual program, well, that is when they come to me.
What are the preferred learning styles of your students? How do you accommodate for these styles?
My students come from a system in which memorization is the focus. When they first arrive, they are usually very, very dependent. To accommodate them, we use discussions, different reading strategies, graphic organizers, and hands-on activities. While they are with us, they progressively discover their learning styles.
Explain what you do in the lesson in the light of the cultural makeup of your students?
As much as possible, I try to find ways to build their self-esteem. My students are not only behind their grade level but also are bombarded with negative images from the media about Haitians. I stress that we are a proud people and that we have made and continue to make great contributions to society. They are all surprised, for example, to learn from your article (Germain-McCarthy, 2001) that Haitians have positively affected many facets of New Orleans’ culture or that the African American museum in Chicago is named after the Haitian, Jean Baptiste Du Sable, who founded Chicago. This unit on the Haitian revolution includes readings highlighting the fact that Haiti was the first black republic to win its independence and that in 1779 Haitians also helped the United States win its independence.
Are there any teaching practices that you consistently apply based on the culture of your students?
I do a lot of small and large group discussions because our culture is more of an oral tradition. I often have students write the results of their discussions in order to learn to function in their new environment. I have them do problems through Think-Pair-Share cooperative activities that require them to first think about it, then share with someone else, and then extend that to the whole group. Collaborative grouping also works well because back home the coumbite means everyone sticks together and is the pillar of the rural communities.
What would you say is most challenging for your students?
The students bring to school rich personal experiences. However, they are overwhelmed by the vast amount of information they have to process in their effort to deal with the cultural shock and by needing to learn the rules required to function in a new academic setting. In Haiti experiences, they did not have a voice because of the linguistic barrier of having to speak French; they knew very little French but were expected to converse in and to read French. They also come from a teacher-centered, rote-learning environment, which contrasts to the open-ended and critical- thinking environment that I like to foster. Initially, they come lacking self-confidence, together with an accompanying reliance on the teacher to tell them what to do, to ask questions for them, and even to articulate their thoughts. Therefore, thinking critically, solving problems, and managing a minimum of intellectual independence are very challenging for them. Now, the language of mathematics poses its own sets of problems. However, they can be helped to develop these understandings and competencies over time.
Since 1986, both French and Creole are official languages in Haiti. Are you finding students coming to you with good literacy skills in both?
For Haitian students, L1 is definitely Creole, but many of them have good skills in French too. Because of the diglossia in Haiti, students, even when literate in Creole, develop familiarity with more academic content in the French language. Thus, their capacity to use both languages is never balanced. It will take a while before we can witness true bilingualism in Haiti.
In general, what did you learn from the assessments and your observations?
The results of the pretest and of the posttest showed no significant difference, again because writing is not their strong area. Aside from the comments in the posttest, yes/no questions appear in greater numbers in the students’ responses to the situations presented in both the pretest and posttest. Most students wrote very few comments on the discussions, and their journal entries also did not capture the in-depth discussions that took place in the planning and analysis processes. However, this is not surprising since these are literacy students who are still struggling with writing. Thus, it was very important that I kept notes on discussions and observations. The questions and comments I recorded during observations of small group discussions reflected in-depth thinking. Students also persevered because they were interested in predicting and checking results.
What are your views on ESL students and technology usage?
In school systems that are addressing some of the technology issues, decision makers are not clear on how to best use technology to benefit at-risk students. Students fall under the category of at- risk because of one or a combination of the following: socioeconomic status, gender, race, limited English proficiency, special needs, or low academic performance. ESL and bilingual students quite often fall into several rather than just one of these categories. They are swept aside unless they are able to make their voices heard with high-scoring test scores or performances in math, science, or technology Teachers in bilingual programs, on their own initiative, often have to adjust to what has been decided for the mainstreamed students.
What recommendations would you make to a teacher who is about to begin teaching in your school?
I would recommend that he or she read about Haitian history to understand that a student coming from a country of unrest may perform at two to three years below grade level and yet be very bright. I have some very smart kids in this class. The history also needs to be shared with the students so that they come to learn that their ancestors’ contributions are still appreciated today