An old approach to new standards
During my 1st year of teaching I had a fair of amount of success when it came to benchmark exams for a number of reasons. The most important being that I worked under the incredible principal Mrs. Davis. She much took me under her wing and constantly reminded me about the necessities to good teaching: data and student relationships. Any success that I’ve had in the classroom over this past year and half is attributed to her and I couldn’t be more thankful.
Another reason for my success was the way that I familiarized myself with the MCT2 testing format. For those of you who don’t know, the MCT2 was the state test that our 3rd-8th grade students took last year (SATP for high school). I constantly flooded my students with a lot of MCT2 style problems in my classroom; sometimes assigning students as many as 45 problems within a 1 hour class period that they would complete through various activities and games. Due to multiple choice selection strategies that I taught, calculator usage, and shortcuts, not only was giving students that many problems possible, but by Christmas Break it became the norm. The familiarity with this kind of test taking resulted in my students being very prepared for the final MCT2 exam at the end of the year.
I opened this school year with the mindset that I could take an MCT2 approach to the new standards that our students would be faced with under the PARCC exam. Sure I integrated new strategies this year like number talks, performance tasks, rubric rating, etc.; but so far this year I’ve flooded my students with math problems on a daily basis. This year my students can expect to see about 20 questions a day, most of which were uploaded from the Engage NY website along with example problems and explanations. This approach has backfired countless times this year. Taking a bunch of problems and lesson plans straight off of Engage NY seems like a good idea at first but because my students came into the school year with a significant amount of mathematical deficiencies, it made for completing the problems in one class period impossible (not to mention, an incredible waste of paper). Also, because of the lack of scaffolding that I did on the math problems, a lot of students had trouble following along with the material that I presented to them leading them to be quite discouraged about the content.
The struggles that I’ve had so far this year has given me a clear vision for how I want to start my third year of teaching come August. With every failure that I’ve experienced so far I’m keeping notes on the appropriate way to discuss the content in a way that makes sense to my students. This means understanding what standards I’m going to have to scaffold densely, what deficiencies will have to be addressed early on, and in what order should I teach standards in order for it to all make sense and connect for my students—because giving students the tools necessary to take on mathematical standards that are both connected and inseparable is the point of Common Core.
With that being said, I’ve spent this thanksgiving break trying to get my classroom back on track and make up for the incredible loss of time so far. The first is going back to Mrs. Davis’ teaching necessities: data and student relationships. I’m using the TFA MS math tracker to keep up with the progress of my students when it comes to mastering standards and continuing to improve their production on performance tasks.
I’m also going to prioritize giving more detailed feedback to my students on assignments as the year goes on. Not only do I feel that this will improve their mastery levels, but I also think that it will better their relationship with me as their teacher but more importantly, their relationship with math as a subject. I think with consistent feedback, the idea of math being this inherent thing that you’re either born with or not can be distilled, and students can view mathematics as subject that you continue to work through and improve on similar to how they feel about essay writing in their English classes.
Other great ways to provide feedback to students include student-teacher conferences during tests or after school, progress reports printed each week and given to students, and student controlled mastery sheets.
The most important adjustment that I’m going to make for the rest of this school year is scaffolding. Yes, my students have mathematical deficiencies, but what I’ve failed to wrap my head around this year is meeting my students where they are in order for them to get the most out of our class periods. With the material that I take off of the EngageNY website I plan on making sure to adjust problems so that students have a better chance at success with them. This idea of adjusting math problems to better fit the mathematical deficiencies that our students have will be further explained through the professional development that Dave Spallina and I will be hosting throughout the next couple of weeks, Mathematical Design 3.0: Remediation versus Rigor.
Also, I know that you all have had many different challenges and successes thus far in your classrooms, and that you have all made adjustments based on your experiences. The upcoming math extravaganza on December 13 will be a great way to share your experiences and learn from the experiences of others as we enter break. The event will have speakers to present best practices in their classrooms and discussions for teachers to share what has worked, has not worked, and ways to troubleshoot to ensure our students are successful. The event will be a perfect sendoff before the winter holidays, and will provide everyone with materials and ideas to make planning for the second semester more efficient and effective.