Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The students they are a-changing

My students were changed for this week. It is never clear how long anyone will be around. I used to have 4 boys and 1 girl in my main class; all of whom, except perhaps one, are essentially native English speakers. They might have been born in Korea, some of them, but English is their main language with Korean school on Saturdays only. That changed on Monday. A new group of students from Korea arrived for a summer English program. Actually, we aren't sure why they are here as no one ever tells us. They are just put into a class and the director leans in periodically and tells me to make sure they speak English a lot. So, the problem is that my class is supposed to be simultaneously math and an English program. I also got a new girl who just finished 3rd grade. The effect is that now the majority of students are female, and about half speak English and half do not. They also moved an older kid out and a younger in, so I now run 4-6 grade instead of 5-7. It actually makes a difference. You know it sure would be nice if this were a Chinese academy instead of Korean, since I did all those years of Chinese, but alas, I studied the wrong language yet again.

The result is a huge mix of students with vastly different backgrounds all sitting in a little room with me. For instance, the 3rd grader is still working on multiplication tables, while one of the 6th graders keeps begging for harder long division problems. I finally bit the bullet today and gave people different things to do in math. The two younger girls got multiplication problems; the two older boys got division probs (before you jump on me for gender bias in math, those are just how the grades work out; the gender difference affects their behavior more than their academic abilities); and the new students from Korea all got word problems, since their math is great, and they are here to study English anyway. So that's one way to do it in a math class.

The English background is of course the big deal in the writing and reading class in the afternoon. This weekend I decided to try a Narnia book for several weeks, with companion creative and analytical writing assignments as they read. It works pretty well for all the English speakers. It is just at the limits of their ability. But of course it is far too hard for the Korean speakers who just cannot follow that level yet. I am not really sure how to solve this problem. Again I could make different assignments for the Korean kids, but I think the entire reason they are here is to talk to English peers and learn, not talk to the same people they did back home. I don't know.

I won't go into all the discipline issues. That would just take too long.

I also have a tutee in supposedly 7th grade math. I meet with him two hours a week, and while he speaks little, it is a very good session. He is already in a pre-algebra summer school in the mornings (and our language class in the afternoon) before he gets to me. So I thought, "ha, since he is already studying algebra every day, I will do all the other stuff you are supposed to know in 7th grade." Well, I found out on Tuesday that his mother thinks the class is too easy. The director let me know. I have never met her. Talking with the student, I figured out that it really has nothing to do with easy or hard. It is that his mom wants him to be studying algebra. I think this is a dubious decision, as he won't be doing algebra seriously in school till likely 9th grade, and he is just entering 7th. But hey, she is paying for a private tutor, so I tossed the 7th grade math book away, and found an algebra text. It is more interesting for me anyway. Next week is exponents.

Many of these kids are a bizarre combination of spoiled and worked to death. On the one hand, many of them go to school in the summer 6 days a week. I think one kid gets more assignments from his parents once he gets home. On the other hand, you get the impression that many of them get any toy they want and spend every moment at home, when free, obsessively playing computer games. It is the classic I want to give everything to my child syndrome, including making him the best educated person in the state at the age of 10. But at the same time, sometimes you get the feeling that the parents aren't all that involved. They send their child off to school as daycare, but do they care what the child does when there? I like the mom of my new 3rd grader. First of all, I have met her. She has come in to check the place out. And she wants her daughter to work really hard. She even put in a request that her daughter take home homework, when generally we don't give any. But at the same time, it doesn't seem crazy. The girl has school in the morning, and then gets to be a kid in the afternoon with another hour of homework or so. She has a life outside of computer games. This seems far more reasonable, and considering how she is doing - well-behaved, hard-working, and smart, despite being the youngest in the class - it works. But OK that's based on 3 days.

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