September 6th, 2010

Posted by Cam Mosher

I have been blessed with the opportunity to be an Adjunct Faculty member at Salt Lake Community College in Utah.  My assignment is teaching Developmental Math.  That is basically grade school arithmetic and high school algebra taught to adults in college who either did not learn it at a younger age or who come here from another country where it was not taught to them.  Their reasons for being in my classes vary but for most, they could not pass a college placement test administered to determine if they are ready to do college level math.

After a few semesters, I have noticed my students sort into three recognizable groups.

  1. Those who view developmental math (and their earlier math classes in grade and high school) as an unfortunate inconvenience in their lives and the college math requirement as an unreasonable and unnecessary obstacle in their career plan.  All they want to do is get it over with and will do just enough to pass.  They often do not pass the course!
  2. Those who view development math as a necessary evil to get past so they can move on with college.  They will settle for any passing grade just to get this non-credit requirement out of the way.  They often put it off until math is their last requirement to graduate, and since they can’t get required college credit math classes done until they have completed developmental math, they give up and quit college.
  3. Those who are eager for education and realize (perhaps finally) that learning developmental math is not only a college requirement but also a necessary skill for adult living in our society.  They work hard to not only learn developmental math but also to improve their study habits and attitudes and strive for good grades.  Some decide, perhaps for the first time in life, they deserve and will strive for an A in math!  Furthermore, they find that these improved study habits and positive attitudes transfer to other classes and education becomes a positive experience of success for them.  This success sets them up for future success in career and life.  If I were an employer, these are the students I would want to hire!

I believe these categories apply not only to math, but to all of education and to all of career and adult life!  I believe we can recognize these categories among parents, the workforce, politicians, educators, and professionals in all fields.  In which category are you?  Dislike, settle for, or strive for?  When you depend on someone else for products or service, which category do you want serving you?

I have a particular philosophy of education that seems to work well to sort people into these three groups.  As a professional facilitator (see the above tab Our Work in my website for what that means) as well as math teacher, I attempt to get my students to use my class as a mirror in which they can see how they sort.  It is my hope that at least some of my students in the first two categories will see that fact and make some different choices about their lives.  Here is my philosophy:

  1. The objectives of education are twofold:
    1. Develop Comfort and Confidence with the subject matter covered and one’s ability to apply it in life and career.
    2. Demonstrate Competence in applying the learning to life and career.
  2. Therefore, the learning experience is not complete until BOTH have been accomplished, AND grades should reflect the completed result, not the journey!
  3. So I use class time and homework assignments for the student to do the Developing of Comfort and Confidence, and the tests for the student to Demonstrate Competence, and I strongly encourage the students to view the tests as mirrors in which they can see deficiencies in their learning and do what it takes to correct the deficiencies.   
    1. I don’t believe learning has been demonstrated by a single test.  That serves only as a one-time mirror of competency. 
    2. If I had to accept what I see in the mirror in the morning just after getting out of bed, and expect my world to judge me on the basis of that, I would never lay my head on a pillow but always sleep sitting up in a chair!
  4. I then give retake opportunities so the students can demonstrate improved competency after further study to make the corrections.  I record the highest scores.
  5. The course grade is based on the highest scores achieved and is intended to reflect BOTH the actual learning achieved by the student AND the attitude applied to the process. 
    1. Those who don’t care will likely not put in the effort to actually learn the material and will likely settle for whatever they achieve the first time.  Their accumulating deficiencies (especially in math) will retard their learning all through the course. 
    2. Those who do care will make the corrections, retake the tests, and demonstrate both improved learning and the attitude of success that drives them in their education, and will propel them upward in life and career.

If our entire educational philosophy incorporated more of this philosophy from kindergarten on, perhaps we could foster a more positive result across our whole educational spectrum and we would not be falling behind among the educated nations of the world!  People may always sort themselves into these categories, but our job as educators is to shift more people from categories one and two into category three.

Cam Mosher

One Response to “SORTING PEOPLE 2”

  1. Leslie says:

    Hi Cam,
    I really enjoyed your firewalk and look forward to following your future blog posts!!!