Saturday 5 July 2008

What on earth are our teachers up to?

Schools seem to be mad about testing these days, which appears to make a change from say a decade ago when it was vitally important that parents were given no idea as to how their little dears were performing. Junior seems to be undergoing more tests than a sick character in an episode of House.

There's just one tiny problem with all this. Junior did a maths test recently and scored an almighty 12%. The last thing that I saw with 12% on it was a bottle of red that we drank last month. 12% is what Albanian illegal immigrants score when they go for their taxi license, and the taxi authority seems to regard that as a pass mark, but knowing only 12% in maths isn't going to get you far in life.

The score was abysmal enough to rate a phone call from his maths teacher, which did little more than alert me to what he had achieved, or failed to achieve. She seemed to be at a complete loss when I enquired what could be done to remedy the situation. Her job description did not appear to include anything to do with improving poor performance.

So J simply sat down with him one night and went through the questions one by one. It turned out that he just didn't grasp some of the concepts to do with fractions and decimals and things, but it didn't take long before he did. All he needed was an hour or two of tutoring to go from 12% to 64% when we got him to do the test again.

I then had a look at the questions that he got wrong on the 2nd time around. It was clear that he was completely confused when it came to multiplying fractions, so I spent 15 minutes making up about 50 of my own test questions, J went through the first few with him and then we left him to it. By the time he had done about 10 questions, he seemed to have it right. All it took was a bit of explanation, followed by a lot of repetition to hammer the point home.

It really was that easy. Explain it. Do it. Do it again. And again. And again and again and again and then about 50 more times. It's how I learnt to spell and add up and all that, and it seems to have worked reasonably well for me.

When we have sat down and looked at what Junior is being taught, we continually find that his teacher is getting his class to only do half the questions in his maths book, meaning that he is missing out on a big chunk of repetition. I have no idea why. The book was supposedly written by people that have a good grasp of what it takes to teach maths to kids. What's the point of missing out on half of it?

I can see that the rest of my year is going to be taken up with reading his maths book each week, seeing what's been done and then typing out about 50 sample equations for him to solve.

And people try and tell me that we have a good public education system.

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