Friday, September 24, 2010

Student - Teacher Interviews

Assignment #1: Student / Teacher Interviews
Carly Orr, Donna Braaten & Hung Dang Le
September 24, 2010

Part I:  Student Interviews

One member of our group works in a tutoring centre.    A written survey that contained our top 5 questions was administered to about 20 students.  These students come 2-3 times a week for homework help and extra challenges.  They range from grades 6-12.    They come from both private and public schools, and different neighbourhoods in Vancouver.  The level of the students range from A to C+.   

From our surveys,  we noticed that the elementary school children gave mostly simple, and some one line answers.   The older students have more detailed answers, so our analysis is mainly based on these senior math students. 

Here is a snapshot of Student Responses:

  • Most students appreciate teachers who are patient, friendly, and care if you understand or not.  Being entertaining or funny was a bonus.
  • Most students appreciate teachers who take the time to help OUTSIDE of class time. 
  •  Most students (both the strong and weak ones) say they like Math, especially when they understand it, or when it is "fun". 
  •  Most students want teachers who are WILLING to explain more when students need it,   WILLING to offer help when kids are stuck after a lesson,  WILLING to take more time to mark homework and assess more frequently  to see if each student is "getting" it.
  •  Most students will ask friends first when they are stuck, or postpone asking the teacher until after class, or until they have asked a friend?
  •  What students find intimidating:  word problems, big numbers, not understanding something,  getting the "final answer" wrong (but did most of the steps right).

Based on the information gathered some reflections come to mind:

  • Math is fun (and motivating) only if you get it.   Therefore as teachers, we must do whatever it takes, to help students "GET IT",  both the process, and the final answer.   Otherwise it is frustrating experience for both sides.
  •  It is a fact that some students will need help outside of class.   How far am I willing to go in extending office hours to help these students?
  •  While peer-teaching is encouraged, we also want to ask:   Why are students not likely to ask teachers first when they are stuck?    Is it because they are inaccessible?   or do teachers make the students feel "dumb"?   or is the teacher not able to add any explanation that would make a difference?     Maybe teachers need to make students feel safe about asking "dumb" questions.      Maybe teachers need to offer more time after school.    Maybe teachers need to try explaining things from another perspective (relationally?) when a students consistently still does not understand after repeated explanations?     Am I willing to try another way of explaining an age-old concept?  

Part II  Teacher Interview

Ms. X is a math teacher at a high school in Vancouver not too far from UBC.  She has been teaching for about 7 years.  She was very willing to open her classroom for us to conduct an interview to provide insightful answers to our burning questions listed below:

1.     How do you know whether or not students are "getting it" during class time?
2.     What do you do if a student is too shy or embarrassed to ask for help?
3.     How much time do you feel you need to spend on class preparation?
4.     Do you have any methods, which help make a Math lesson more interesting?
5.     When you mark your students’ tests, which aspect is more important: the correct number (as an answer) or the method used?
6.  Although all of her responses were quite helpful, questions 4 and 5 revealed some particularly strong insights focusing on student engagement and assessment.

In order to make her classes more interesting, Ms. X referred to the field of “eductainment”.  She often uses humour in the classroom to keep the students engaged while also introducing them to new concepts.  Specific examples of this were as simple as putting as putting on “nerd” glasses to introducing new shapes by making the students think about what it could possibly mean (example below).  Many such pictures and graphs were placed around the classroom for the students to view.

Ms. X also had strong opinions when it comes to assessment.  She believes that the answer as well as the approach are necessary.  More importantly, she believes in assessment for learning and not assessment of learning.  She wants to keep the student engaged and for them to remain interested.  When students start to see signs of success, it keeps them engaged.  For regular assignments, she uses a 100 – 75 – 50 – 0 scale.  If a student does not like their grade on an assignment, they may resubmit.  Tests are different and cannot be redone.   In summary, Ms. X believes teachers are put into an arbitrator role instead of coach.  She believes a student should have every opportunity to improve during the assignments with the test being the final “game”.

Lastly, Ms. X provided us with a view useful links that we can use in the classroom. In particular, Ms. X. often uses the manipulatives available on line from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives – .  She also uses a popular blog with the students, FAILBlog - and asks students to find examples of math being misused.


  1. I really enjoyed your group's presentation! What I also found interesting was that most students choose to ask their teacher for help as a last resort. My guess for that would be perhaps they don't want their teachers to know that they are having trouble with something that seems to basic? I sometimes was hesitant to ask for help because of this reason.
    I also really like Ms. X's strategy in giving students opportunity to improve their mark, because it gives students some encouragement that there is still chance to do better.
    Great powerpoint by the way! (or is it something else? anyhow- it was wonderful!)

  2. I enjoyed your group's presentation very much, too! Just to echo what Min said about giving students opportunity to improve their marks. I really like the idea of allowing students to resubmit assignments and quizzes (though that means more work for us teachers). My high school Physics teacher used the same strategy, and I think that helps a lot.


  3. Your presentation was superb, I loved the use of Prezi. And I can see that you went an extra mile with that. Your research was extensive but presented concisely including lots of really valuable information about students. The teacher you interviewed seemed like a great source for us beginners. We should all try to remember her assessment "for learning" rather than "of learning" when we begin teaching. Her manipulatives link will also come in handy during our practicum. Great job.


  4. I think the idea of the 4 level scale for assignments is very interesting. It can be a very fair way of marking the students' assignments without discouraging the students who have made the effort. I like the fact that students can redo their assignments but a strategy of subtracting the lowest mark per term or semester could be an alternative solution. The students would still have to do all the assignments though.

    She wants to keep the student engaged and for them to remain interested. When students start to see signs of success, it keeps them engaged. For regular assignments, she uses a 100 – 75 – 50 – 0 scale. If a student does not like their grade on an assignment, they may resubmit.

  5. Yes I agree that as a math teacher, we really want the students to be MOTIVATED to succeed. When a student is motivated, they will learn. With a coaching attitude, and with exams and assignments to challenge students AT THEIR LEVEL, I believe there will be progress. That is what many of the after-school math tutoring centres aim to do. I once heard a quote: "wisdom is learning from your mistakes". This applies to math also.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed your group's presentation as well. You all obviously put a lot of work into it. I especially liked the insightful answers Ms.X had in response to your questions. Her belief in "assessment for learning" as opposed to "assessment of learning" pleased me in particular. I think this is an excellent approach to teaching as it strives towards students gaining a greater understanding of mathematics and not just towards getting a good grade. It is an important aspect that I think can often become overlooked when teaching.

  7. Your group’s presentation was very interesting, and I really liked the quote, “assessment for learning and not assessment of learning.” After all, learning is not all about getting better grades. Keeping students engaged and interested in math will encourage more students to like math, just like all of us here! That’s my main goal in teaching math. I think those links from Ms. X will be a great help for my teaching in the future.