My Reaction to the School in Community Context Study
When I started this assignment, I did not know much about Petaluma High School; however, I did know a little bit about the city of Petaluma. I assumed that there would be mostly white students from middle class families attending the school. I also knew that there is a lot of farmland on the outskirts of Petaluma and many students probably commute to school from the farms. I also knew that the school was located relatively close to downtown Petaluma and assumed that the students would like to go there and hang out after school. I knew that Petaluma High School was an older school and their classrooms were mostly in one building with indoor lockers as a result. As the school had an increase in enrollment, they built a couple larger buildings outside of the main building in order to house more classrooms. I assumed that they had pretty strong academics based on the demographics of the area and the fact that Petaluma High School was in a good school district. I had heard previously that they had switched to the integrated math program as opposed to the traditional style of math (integrated 1, integrated 2, integrated 3, etc. vs. algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2, trigonometry). Since they switched to a more common core aligned system, I assumed that they would have a very strong and progressive math department. I think the school has a tremendous advising department. The advisors do their best to make sure students are put in the right classes and they are really good at following up with students when they are struggling. The math department is also great at being collaborative. The math teachers hold meetings every Wednesday to create pacing guides together, create exams or essential standards tests, discuss new units, share lesson planning ideas, etc. This helps keep the classes more consistent from teacher to teacher. The math department is also very supportive of one another and they all help each other to succeed. While their “academic” level math classes are very cohesive and organized, their “remedial” classes are lacking. Their remedial class is called Algebra Academy. The title in and of itself is ironic considering the school has shifted to the new integrated system of math. The students that end up in Algebra Academy are those that have either failed Math 1 or have severe mental disabilities. The class is run by a teacher who does not really know math that well. In this class, the students are handed worksheets with a bunch of algebra problems on it where they work independently. From my observations, most of the students just stared at the worksheets for the whole period and barely got anything done, whether this is from boredom or lack of understanding I am not exactly sure. This class is meant to get students to be able to pass Math 1 in the future as part of a graduation requirement, but it does not seem like the curriculum will help them with the structure or content of a Math 1 class at all. I was surprised at how smoothly the students seemed to be able to transition in the way common core standards and their CPM textbooks teach the content as well as structure the classes. I heard that parents and students were getting frustrated by the changes made to both the way the content was taught and the way math problems were phrased. I did not really seem to see any of these complaints at the school. It seemed like the students had been working in groups collaboratively on math homework for years and it was not just the routine of the class. It was really refreshing to see the transition to the new standards and pedagogy of teaching mathematics going so well, at least at this school. I was also surprised by how collaborative the math department was. Before coming to teach at Petaluma High School, I heard that it was very rare for teachers to come together and share ideas as well as come up with a mutual agreement on pacing. At Petaluma High School, the entire math department meets once a month as a check in to make sure everyone is doing okay and to share ideas with one another. In addition to department meetings, teachers that teach the same class meet every Wednesday to discuss pacing, how their students are doing, any problems that have arisen, and to write quizzes and exams together. While it is great that they are so good at being collaborative, this does make some of the teachers feel like they have less freedom when it comes to their own pacing and lesson planning. However, having these meetings keeps the classes much more organized and consistent with one another. Historically, Petaluma High School, like many other schools, had a very traditional pedagogy when it came to teaching mathematics. The teacher lectured and gave examples, then the students worked on problems similar to the examples individually, finally they would correct these problems as a class. This way of teaching marginalized English language learners. Due to the traditional pedagogical approach to teaching mathematics many of these students would end up in remedial math classes, even though they may be great mathematical thinkers. Lecturing students that are still learning the language, with no visual representations or any kind of scaffolding is damaging. EL students feel isolated and confused resulting in many of them rejecting the idea of learning mathematics. Eventually, Petaluma High School switched from a traditional math textbook to the CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics) textbooks. CPM is primarily comprised of activity based learning and guided discovery. These activities are visual, interactive, and collaborative. CPM also, gives every student access to their EBook in Spanish. The switch from a traditional textbook to CPM was a huge win for EL students. While not every teacher has perfectly implemented the art of activity and discovery based learning, it is much more prominent in the classrooms at Petaluma High School. After the implementation of CPM, Petaluma High School began the RSP class “Algebra Academy” for students that struggled in Math 1. Most of the students placed in this class have failed Math 1 or are in danger of failing Math 1. This class is primarily comprised of EL students. Putting them into this class is very isolating and they are not taught through collaboration and discovery based learning, they are taught in the traditional teaching method. The fact that EL students are still not having success in mathematics (even with the switch to new pedagogy) and are being placed in a remedial class that does not follow the new pedagogical approach to math education means ELs are still being marginalized. Although Petaluma High School has made great leaps to make their math classes more equitable for EL students, there are still some improvements that can be made. I think the next step for Petaluma High School would be to start trying to build their math classrooms into a “Community of Learners” as in Barbara Rogoff’s essay Developing Understanding of the Idea of Communities of Learners. In the words of Barbara Rogoff, “the idea of a community of learners is based on the premise that learning occurs as people participate in shared endeavors with others, with all playing active but often asymmetrical roles in sociocultural activity” (Rogoff 209). However, in order for this to happen teachers need to first build the community within the classroom in which productive collaboration is possible, despite differences in language, culture, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The Story of Two Quilts (1999) by Judy Logan brought to light the idea of bringing up each person’s cultural differences as well as their different life experiences can actually bring them together. This is where community building activities and restorative justice is crucial within the classroom. Students learn best from sharing ideas with one another and being guided towards their own mathematical discoveries as opposed to being told what they should know by an authoritative figure. Once the community is built in a way that is conducive to collaboration between students, we need to relabel what it means to have a “disability” as in the essay Culture as Disability by Ray McDermott and Hervé Varenne. Not knowing the main language does not mean that a student is disabled, they just know a different language. We need to take this into account and not discredit our EL’s ability to have conceptual understanding of mathematics based on the language barrier. This is why we need to do everything we can to help EL’s still be allowed equitable access to their own journey to mathematical understanding.