This entry is the first post in the series Getting Better Together: A Lesson Study
Don’t you just love those days when a math lesson goes really well? A lesson where, at any given moment, you could look around and see students engaging in a task, persevering through problems, talking with one another about the mathematics, making connections, and in the end, be able to demonstrate understanding of the mathematical goal for the day? While it’s an amazing experience we probably wish we could have every day, there’s also much to be learned when a lesson doesn’t go quite as well.
In math class, we often see students pull numbers out of math problems and operate on them without thinking about the context. Many students arrive at an answer, but don’t realize their answer doesn’t make sense within the context of the problem.
When this happens, we’re left wondering many things that are extremely important in our future planning:
- Are they struggling with the math?
- Are they struggling with comprehension of the text?
- Are they making sense of the problem as mentioned in SMP1?
After reading Brian Bushart’s blog post, I’ve found that taking the numbers and questions out of the problem itself engages students in making sense of contexts. Students are then able to notice and wonder about the context without the worry of having to solve for something.
Making change can be challenging. It requires us to take a step back, assess our current practices in schools and classrooms, and talk honestly about whether things are working for students. This often puts us in an uncomfortable place, because the safe feeling that comes with what we know, is often more appealing than fear of all the unknowns that accompany change. So even though we may know change is necessary, it’s still difficult and filled with many growing pains. Last year, my colleagues and I embraced the challenge of changing our school’s PLC structure to a more collaborative learning space called Learning Labs. I feel so fortunate to have had the support of my administration, teachers, and the Tch community to learn so much from the experience and document the journey.
This year, I’m excited to continue learning with everyone and working through another important change in the current state and district structure — RTI. For those who are not familiar with RTI, it stands for Response to Intervention, and I discussed it a bit at the end of my reflection post from last year. For RTI, we place students in tiers based on various measures, and pull the intensive students out of class for 50 minutes of extra support each day. While I love the idea of giving students the extra support they need, I can’t get past the labeling, grouping, and removing of students from their K-5 classrooms to get that support.
I love how my desks, tables, calendar, and plan book look at the beginning of the school year. They’re clean, organized, and every year I try to convince myself that I’m going to keep them that way all year long. That fantasy probably lasts all of about two weeks, when the crazy rush of the school year kicks in full throttle. While I wouldn’t trade that crazy busy whirlwind for anything, I still long for continued organization in my life throughout the school year. Even searching for resources feels like a never-ending scavenger hunt that sends me in so many directions.
Finding teaching resources online can often feel like a scavenger hunt. Even when searching one particular area of teaching, there are videos here, blogs there, and various conversations floating around social media. With such a variety of resources, it can take a great deal of time to learn in a progression that makes sense.
Teaching Channel just made this searching and learning so much easier with their new Deep Dives! On one page, dedicated to one idea, you can read background information, watch related videos, read blog posts, and ask and answer questions. It’s a one-stop shop for learning individually or as a team, as well as planning professional development for your school or district.
As teachers, we all know the cycle. It seems just as our heads stop spinning from the end-of-year craziness and we have some downtime, we just can’t seem to help ourselves from reflecting, reading, learning, and planning for the upcoming school year. Not to say this reading, learning and planning isn’t mixed with a healthy dose of beach, pool and golf outings, but no matter how hard we try to relax, we just can’t seem to shake the teacher in us. Now that my head has finally stopped spinning and I have some relative downtime, I wanted to reflect on what has been such an incredible learning year for me.
At the end of the school year, I always find myself in such a weird space. I’m exhausted, need a breather, and know I should take some time to get off the runaway train that is teaching.
However, that need to disconnect, decompress, and check out of education thinking for a bit is quickly followed with the excitement of finally having time to catch up on all the great educational reads I can’t seem to get through during the school year. As I start to make my list — and question whether I’m a workaholic unable to disconnect from teaching — I find so many teachers and coaches on Twitter asking for book recommendations. Whether it be recommendations for the following school year’s professional learning or simply for personal learning, I’m relieved to see I’m not alone!
I’m a huge fan of writing in math class! While I was teaching, I had my 5th graders write in their math journals every single day. Whether they used the journals before the lesson to write down estimations, during class to show their reasoning through a problem, or at the end of class for an exit prompt, the journals were always a safe and not-graded place for students to jot down their thoughts. No matter the prompt, I always learned so much about what they understood by reading their entries each day.
This year, as a math specialist, I get to see student writing in math classes across many grade levels, and it’s so incredibly interesting. I’m able to see where it all begins, in kindergarten, before students are even writing explanations in words, to 5th grade, where the writing becomes very articulate. In each lesson I plan with teachers, we incorporate a writing aspect that we use for reflection after the lesson. The students’ written pieces, in addition to our classroom observations, help to ground our reflective conversation after the lesson.
If you ask me what I do for a living, I would say, “I learn,” and when the questioning look appears upon your face at what seems like a fairly odd answer, I would continue “…because I teach.” I learn because I teach.
To me, teaching is so much more than my job or something I do; teaching is a passionate commitment to learning. A commitment that I believe we owe not only to ourselves, but most importantly to our students.
Each day we ask our students to be curious about what they’re learning in our classrooms, so shouldn’t we be as well? Shouldn’t we be continually curious about what they already know, curious about the ideas they are learning, and curious about how we can structure experiences that enable them to make sense of the mathematics?
I’m sure we’ve all seen it happen at one time or another in math class. We give a student a story problem to solve and after a quick skim, the student pulls the numbers from the problem, computes with them, and writes down an answer.
If the answer is correct, we assume the student has a grasp of the concept. However, if it’s incorrect, we’re left with a laundry list of questions: Do they realize their answer doesn’t make sense? Did they not understand the context? Did they simply pull the numbers and operate in order simply to finish or did they truly not know what to do with them? Most importantly, we ask ourselves, how can I help students make sense of what they’re reading and to think about the logic of their answer in the context of the problem?
If we’re lucky, we can identify the student’s mathematical misconception and work with that. Oftentimes, though, the student’s answer isn’t even reasonable. Then what do we do?