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Vanessa Robin October 30, 2013 ELE Math Phobia Case Study Center for Inspired Teaching Rich

Description For the purposes of this assignment, I have chosen to write about a student in my class named Daniel. Daniel is a male Latino twelve-year-old who is repeating the fifth grade this year. At the end of last year, Capital City teachers and administrators concluded that he was not developmentally mature enough to progress to the sixth grade along with the rest of his cohort. Although I am unaware of the precise protocol for student retention at CCPCS, I do know that data indicating both low academic performance and high rates of significant behavioral incidences fundamentally supported the decision to hold Daniel back. Last year, before considering the possibility of retention, the school attempted to enroll Daniel in the child study process, a data-driven detailed whole-child analysis that takes place over time, but was constantly stymied when it came to reaching Daniels parents. Lack of parental involvement ultimately led to both Daniel and his fourteen-year-old brother, Jonathan, being held back simultaneously. Daniels parents have continued to disregard any contact that the school initiates, which means that we are still unable to commence child study in any formal capacity. Given the lack responsiveness on the part of his parents, my lead teacher and I do not know a great deal about Daniels life at home. Therefore, we are relying on school -based data in order to implement a successful intervention for Daniel. The inclusion staff believes that Daniels academic struggles and (perhaps consequent) behavioral issues stem from an undiagnosed learning disability. However, they were unable to conduct any relevant testing without parental consent. As such, in an effort to maximize Daniels learning outcomes, inclusion teachers have resorted to using Daniels status as an English Language Learner as the basis for accommodation. However, the ELL accommodations Daniel receives do not directly correlate to what the inclusion teachers believe is the root of his work avoidance. In my initial observations of Daniel, I was struck by his resistance to receiving help from teachers with whom he does not personally connect. At the beginning of the year, before I had established a personal connection with Daniel, he would become completely disengaged as soon as I started working with him with math. He would tap his pencil, slouch in his chair, sing, draw, poke and prod his peers, insist that he was incapable of doing the work, and demand to go to the 1

bathroom or get a drink of water anything to avoid doing his work with my assistance. However, his level of engagement when working with me one-on-one increased dramatically after he found out I was helping out with coaching the seventh/eighth grade boys soccer team. Once he realized that I shared his passion for soccer, his demeanor and attitude toward me changed completely. He now takes a proactive stance when it comes to asking me for help, sits up straight in his chair while we are working, asks clarifying questions when he is confused, and has voluntarily expressed his enthusiasm for doing multi digit multiplication by means of the area model. With a little coaxing, he is now able to complete most of his class work. Although Daniel has shown drastic improvement in his level of engagement when working one-on-one with me, he still struggles with staying focused and on task in math class during whole-class activities and group work. Daniel is already a naturally social and charismatic boy. His innate personality traits combined with the fact that he is chronologically a year older than his peers serve to make his behavior very influential. I have repeatedly observed his classmates circled around him, deferring to him as the authority on the challenges that accompany pre-adolescence instead of doing their assigned classwork. Furthermore, as a result of his elevated social standing, his peers tend to follow his lead in other domains. For example, when Daniel starts singing or dancing during class work time (which is often), certain other students typically follow his lead. Those who try to ignore his disruptive behavior inevitably end up off task anyway due to how frustrated they become with all the commotion. When the class gets totally derailed like this, my lead teacher tends to resort to taking an authoritative stance, to which Daniel does not respond well. On many such occasions, he has shut down, crying inconsolably, refusing to move or be helped. The fact that he is liable to throw tantrums in class has earned him a bad reputation with many teachers. Despite Daniels negative locked role, I really enjoy working with him one on one. He is a charming, friendly, and intelligent child. Furthermore I was able to use our mutual interest to form a connection and establish a good working rapport. I am able to use soccer references and analogies in order to whet Daniels interest in math content in which he would likely be otherwise disengaged. I have also discovered that Daniel is primarily a kinesthetic learner. As such, I have started to differentiate small group activities with this in mind. For example, last week when we were working on decimal place value, most children were practicing by drawing on decimal grid paper. I knew that this strategy would not be as effective for Daniel, so I made

sure to provide him with base-ten blocks and rods so as to enhance his learning outcomes through the use of manipulatives. By catering to his learning style and interests, I hope to hone in on Daniels naturally bright and energetic personality so as to help him apply his assets to boost his competency in math.

Data One of the primary data sources from which I am drawing information is the CCPCS fifth grade math benchmark assessments Daniel completed over the course of last year. The benchmark assessments indicate that Daniel did not successfully master the majority of content area falling under the umbrella of number sense and operations. An overview of the data suggests that he struggled with all forms of computation involving decimals and fractions. When I went through the benchmarks one by one, I noticed that Daniel was successfully able to memorize the algorithm for requisite computation, but failed to complete the corresponding computation with accuracy and fidelity. Moreover, it appears that he never internalized contextual clues that dictate when and how to use the various algorithms. In other words, while Daniel was able to set up arithmetic equations, he struggled with both correctly applying and executing the computation as well as employing appropriate problem-solving strategies based on the language of the question. For example, one of the Multiplication & Division of Decimals benchmark questions asked students to find the area of a room that was 6.4 meters by 9.8 meters. Daniel attempted to add 6.4 and 9.8 together, indicating that he did not have a solid conceptual understanding of how to solve for area. Daniel ran into similar problems with certain elements of measurement and data, particularly when it came to finding the volume of right rectangular prisms. Although application and problem solving were weak areas for Daniel, he thrived at understanding decimal place value and corresponding vocabulary. To me, this suggests that Daniel is relying on memorization as a fundamental strategy for learning. I wonder, therefore, how we might aim to modify both his schema and our modes of instruction so as to promote concept-oriented learning. Another source of data that I have access to is Daniels DC-CAS scores. He scored in the below basic range for fifth grade. According to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, this means that he may be able to perform computations with whole numbers and fractions, perform appropriate numeric operations, not always in correct sequence, and partially

solve real world problems; may be able to identify simple patterns; may be able to identify different types of angles, use scale drawings to represent data and use tools to determine measurements; may be able to determine lowest common multiples and greatest common factors; and may be able to extend a given pattern (OSSE). Daniels classwork is an informal source of data that corroborates this assessment. In fact, when looking over his classwork as well as the unit tests we have administered so far this fall, I noticed that Daniel has not gotten above a two on our four-point grading scale due to incompletion or substantial inaccuracy. Observation of Math Engagement One of the first things I observed about Daniel is that he has trouble motivating himself to start any math-based task. For example, each student in my class was given a math think journal at the beginning of the year. We start every class by doing a sort of warm up called the do-now. While most other students busily start working on the do-now in their journals within minutes of walking in the room, Daniel often does not even open his journal let alone attempt the problem. This is reflective of his general work ethic in math class. Daniel typically refuses to start classwork, and, on the occasion when he does start, he almost always stops as soon as he gets to a question or exercise that prompts him to use critical thinking skills. My observations of Daniel when he does at least start his work correspond to the indications of the data from the benchmarks and DC-CAS discussed above. I have noticed that he struggles with written computation and simple mental math. He has not yet technically mastered basic addition and multiplication facts, meaning that he is typically unable to give a quick response (in about 3 seconds) without resorting to non-efficient means, such as counting (Van De Walle, 165). Moreover, Daniels struggles increase exponentially when it comes to applying problem solving skills. It seems that he does not understand how to decode questions in order to determine necessary operations or steps for problem solving. When he and I work together, I have to be overly intentional with my prompts and questions in order to steer him in the right direction. Even then, he often gets stuck and gives up, visibly frustrated by how long the whole process is taking. I have observed that he shuts down when he is faced with any questions or exercises that do not overtly prompt basic arithmetic. When he sees problems that call for higher order thinking (such as word problems), he puts his head down on his desk and hums to himself in a way that distracts those around him. When my lead teacher or I try to get him back on track, he refuses to move and often starts to whimper and adopt a generally depressed affect. 4

Daniel has just as much difficulty completing homework as he does classwork. At the beginning of each week, the fifth graders receive homework packets, which are divvied up such that each night students are responsible for completing a page or two of exercises that mirror what we are doing in class. As homework grades are largely based on completion, I am responsible for walking around every day with our student list to check whether each student has completed the homework from the previous night. At the end of the week, we collect and grade all the packets, which helps capture where our students stand with the material individually and collectively. Daniels homework packets would be a particularly helpful indicator of how well he is grasping the concepts; however, Daniel almost never completes the homework. On days when he bring the packet to class, it is clear that he has not even bothered to open it, let alone start it, but more often than not he tries to excuse himself by claiming that he lost the packet. Once again, my lead teacher and I have tried to get in touch with his parents in order to relay the importance of helping Daniel come to school prepared, but they have yet to respond to either one of us.

Ideal Intervention When I spoke to my lead teacher, John, earlier this year regarding my concerns for Daniel, he told me that he believed Daniels mathematical foundation was very weak, which was perpetuating his feeling of incompetence, and, in turn, his math avoidance. In other words, according to John, Daniel slipped through the cracks early on in terms of math content, having never fully mastered or conceptualized the skills required for basic arithmetic. Everything we do with him, John told me, we have to start with the basics adding, subtracting, single-digit multiplication, etcetera. Daniel was passed on from unit to unit, despite the fact that he never fully grasped the essentials. With this in mind, I wish Daniels previous teachers had proactively sought to work one-on-one with him to increase his understandings and learning outcomes, and keep him in sync with the overall progression of his cohort in terms of math content. Furthermore, when Daniel initially exhibited a lack of understanding, it would have been helpful for his teacher to have taken an asset based approach in order to assess what he can do not what he cannot do so as to intentionally build off of his apparent strengths. I believe this type of approach would not only serve to advance Daniels content related skills, but would also function as a booster for his sense of confidence and competence, which might have had a

profound effect on his work ethic. It seems that past teachers have failed to consider what actions they might take in terms of catering to Daniels specific learning style and interests. I think there is a lot to be said regarding what could have been accomplished by using a problembased task approach, as teaching with problem-based tasks is student centered rather than teacher centered. It begins with and builds on the ideas that children have available (Van De Walle, 38). Ideally, Daniels previous teachers would have employed this method early on and in their teaching practice and continued to use it to use it to direct differentiated instruction and assignments for Daniel. Ultimately, I wish Daniels teachers would have kept working with him and trying different approaches until the found a strategy that yielded the most success for him. Unfortunately, from what I can tell and from what John has told me, many teachers gave up on Daniels ability and intellect early on. If I were lucky enough to have time for a one-on-one lesson with Daniel tomorrow, I would try to merge his learning style with his interests to stimulate engagement and introduce an element of fun. I would take Daniel out to the soccer field and have him use soccer skills to foster mastery of basic addition and multiplication facts. I might start out by asking him to juggle the ball and skip count by twos or fives or tens every time the ball touched his foot. Next, I might introduce fractions by having him shoot a certain number of goals on me and asking him how many out of the total he scored. There are several math activities I could incorporate into soccer, and it depends on what specific skill or concept we are working on, but I believe the best approach is to use Daniels interests as the basis for instruction.

Action Plan John and I have collaborated to come up with realistic long term and short-term goals for Daniel. Our vision is that by the end of the year, Daniel will have mastered computation with numbers up to the hundreds place. We plan on fostering incremental achievements by using both traditional and differentiated methods to increase learning outcomes. We have already begun to differentiate his homework assignments so that they are accomplishable. The fifth grade math inclusion teacher believes that much of Daniels math avoidance comes from a constantly deepening lack of self-esteem. Hence, we want to create assignments that are realistically achievable for him in an effort to redirect how he perceives of himself and his abilities. To that point, we are in the midst of developing a developmentally appropriate comprehensive base-line

assessment, which will allow us to see what Daniels assets are, and probe how we can build off of them. Next, we plan to start meeting with Daniel multiple times a week after school, as he is most productive when he works with teachers one-on-one (Daniel has already agreed to attend these after school sessions on a regular basis). Over the next few months, we will focus on mastery of basic computation. We will start by exploring conceptual models of multiplication with Daniel. Once we are confident that he understands the big picture and overarching themes, John has suggested that we use of old-fashioned methods such as flash cards and fact games, [which] can be effective if used wisely (Van De Walle, 167). We have established a regimented timeline, which we ultimately hope will lead to mastery of triple digit arithmetic by June. Our timeline and action plan for the coming months are as follows: Mastery of multi-digit adding and subtracting by winter break Mastery of single-digit multiplication facts by the end of January Mastery of double-digit multiplication by the end of February Mastery of triple-digit multiplication by the end of March Mastery of double-digit division by the end of April Mastery of triple-digit division by the end of May

Reflection There are several big questions that I find myself pondering as I try to help Daniel. Glassers ABCDE model of learners needs would suggest that Daniels behavioral problems are likely due to his sense of incompetence. Most of the math content we have covered so far has had to do with number sense. I have not gotten the chance to see Daniels work in other math content areas. I wonder how he would do with geometry, as it requires a different kind of thinking. However, I fear that at this point, Daniel has gotten to a point where any kind of academic work, specifically math work, triggers some sort of internal alarm. He starts out assuming he is going to fail, and if he refuses to do the work, then failing is a safe option because it is within his locus of control. I believe that for Daniel, having given up on himself academically, the classroom represents a huge risk zone. I therefore wonder how we might be able to use out of school experiences (such as adventure trips) to help Daniel modify his the way he thinks about himself and his abilities so as to promote a growth mindset. Adventure trips foster a different kind of learning, but are still related to school. I wonder if such experiences

might allow Daniel to finally feel as if he is learning quickly and performing successfully. Daniel needs to believe he is capable of achievement and I am determined to find a way for that to happen.

References: Office of the State Superintendent of Education. (2013). DC-CAS Performance Level Descriptors: Mathematics Grade 5. Retrieved from mance_Level_Description.pdf

Van De Walle, J.A. (2007). Elementary and Middle School Mathematics: Teaching Developmentally. Pearson Education, Inc.