Stretching in Math Class

Screen Shot 2019-03-08 at 8.10.26 PM

This post has been marinating for a while and I’ve been waiting to write it up.   State testing is just around the corner and I feel like this is a good time to press send.

One huge emphasis that I see in schools is related to the idea of student growth.  This is communicated in schools, during teacher pd meetings, when talking about Hattie’s next best effect-size list and can even be part of teacher evaluation criteria.  I see this when school districts use MAP, state testing, or a similar type of tool that measures growth over time.

Schools, teachers, and parents want students to grow.  In schools the focus of growth primarily related to academic content.  How is that measured?  Well that depends on the teacher/district/organization.  Some teachers go the route of using a pre vs. post-test.  Others give multiple formative checkpoints and then use them along with student reflection components to show growth on the summative.  Case in point – there are multiple methods to show student learning and growth.

Here’s my not so small gripe.  In an effort to show growth some educators may feel rushed to “get through” as much content as possible.  I hear this a lot more in math classes than other content areas at the elementary level.  Math has a subjective linear vibe that I think some teachers hold onto. This idea is often reinforced through the structure of some of the adaptive standardized tests that communicate math growth to teachers and school administrators.  This can be a bit troublesome if these types of tests are used for evaluation purposes as it brings along additional pressure.

I find students make meaningful math connections when they’re given time to process and apply information.  I believe rushing through concepts or stretching to just expose students to higher-level concepts that aren’t part of the lesson isn’t as beneficial as it seems.  Moving off the pacing guide or lesson to stretch to other concepts might not be the best idea. When I first started teaching I remember having a teacher talk about exposure all the time.  The teacher would say, “If they’re just exposed… then they’ll complete those problems correct and that’ll push them to the next concept.”  This teacher was truly amazing (and made some great coffee in the mornings), but I questioned this then and still do now.  If we’re exposing students to math concepts so they’ll score well on an adaptive test then that’s another issue altogether.

If a lesson is looked through a linear math lens a teacher might feel as though they should introduce fraction multiplication if students are doing really well with multiplying whole numbers.  Is that the right move?  Should a teacher stray from the lesson plan to possibly reach a few kids that seem like they’re ready?  I’m not saying yes or no because it depends on the station and students, but I’m more in the no camp.  Stretching math concepts in a lesson/task for exposure sake doesn’t last.

Last summer I was able to reading Making It Stick and came away with some applicable ideas related to changing my study guides and how retrieval practice benefits those wanting to learn.  I find that there’s sometimes pressure to stretch to another concept for exposure sake.  Instead of stretching concepts, there should be opportunities for students to enrich their understanding through connections.  This looks different and is more challenging in my opinion than just pressing the accelerate button temporarily.  I believe that taking time for students to process, reflect and engage in meaningful math tasks will last more than a glimpse optimistic exposure that may soon be forgotten.

Student Self-Reflections

Reflection
photo credit: karola riegler photography via photopin cc

Over the past few years my teaching practice has evolved.  Growth in the teaching profession often occurs through experience and professional development.  As continuous learners, teachers generally hone in on their craft over time.  I believe reflecting on teaching experiences plays a role in the professional growth of an educator.

  • How often are teachers able to reflect on their craft?

I’d hope that it would be more often than not at all.  Personally, reflecting on past experiences can lead to better decision making and goal setting in the future.  They’re many ways in which educators can reflect.  Off the top of my head I can think of:  after a professional development session, reading or commenting on a blog post, participating in an education twitter chat, attending workshops, and many more.

  • If educators feel that reflecting on experiences is important, why not give students opportunities to reflect on their progress?

Absolutely.  One way in which reflection has been beneficial in my classroom is actually rooted in the formative assessment process.  Local formative assessments give quality information that can be used to drive instruction in the classroom, while other data (standardized assessments) are used for district/state/nation purposes.  Formative assessment data not only serves the teacher, but it also informs students of areas of strengths and concerns.  Last year I decided to have my students use a reflection journal to analyze their own achievement levels in class.  Students reviewed their formative assessments, usually in the form of exit cards, and wrote a short paragraph regarding how they performed.  I asked the students to write a few sentences related to how close they are in understanding the concepts observed on the exit card.  Every so often, generally after a grading period, students were guided to setting individual goals for themselves. These goals were based on the journal entries and learning experiences throughout the grading period.  This process required modeling during the introduction phase, but after two grading periods the students were ready to complete this independently.

I vaguely remember using journals during my K-12 experience.  The teachers that assigned the journal entries rarely wrote any comments back to me.  This peeved me as a student and I’m over it still does as an educator.  Therefore, I make a conscious attempt to review all the student reflection journals and write short individualized comments to the students.  The comments show the students that their teacher is aware and cares about their progress.  This action is especially important to students that might not be as assertive in class or might be embarrassed to state how they truly feel.  I place an emphasis on the student created goal. Student goals are highlighted  as I will often share them with the parents to ensure that we’re all working towards the same end goal.

I also find that the student reflection journals show student growth on a personal level.  When growth is evident, students often gain confidence in setting new goals.  Reflecting on progress made can be a tremendous opportunity to set goals.  These goals can empower students to own their learning.

Side note:

 Reflections can take on many different forms.  Incorporating various prompts throughout the entire school year also communicates to the students that goals don’t have to be directly associated with scores.  In the past I’ve used field trips, current events, literature, and problem based learning activities for reflection journal prompts.  

* Feel free to visit Helen Barret’s reflection for learning site for more information on this topic.