Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Math Year: September Thoughts

Yesterday when I met with our new math coach, we talked about the math year, priorities, and programs. I found it difficult to put into words how I teach math and why I teach math in the many ways I employ throughout the year. I read, research, and write a lot about math, but when faced with explaining who I am as a math teacher and what I do to someone who doesn't know me well as a teacher, it was tough.

Another factor that made it difficult to explain the decisions I make about math teaching and learning is that many of my decisions reflect new research and practice rather than practice of the past. For example, I'm beginning the year with a big focus on teamwork, a start well supported by Boaler's research as well as a lot of reading I've done about teamwork and collaboration. I know this kind of start will create a strong learning community. Further, we'll spend several weeks learning the essential tools, language, and basic elements of the fifth grade curriculum in ways that welcome all learners. This too is integral since it gives the whole community a common ground with which to learn and work together.

Once this team and their knowledge foundation is set we'll move into the curriculum program with strength. Last year I used a similar approach and all in all students did very well.

As the coach and I spoke, however, I did find one area that I felt would be a good target area and that was the area of the struggling learner--the children who come to math class one or more years "behind" the grade-level standards expectations. Often students who fall into this category have a lot of complexity when it comes to learning. The complexity can include any or all of the following factors: less facility with the English language, less academic support at home, health concerns, less experience with math learning, or untraditional/atypical learning strengths and preferences.

I think it will be great for the team to look closely at these students and discuss how we might teach these students better. As we speak, I think we can focus on the following attributes of teaching and learning well:
  • Adequate support 
  • Opportunity for practice
  • Consistency of instructor, program
  • IEP service delivery if that matches the child. 
  • ELL service delivery
  • Culturally proficient teaching
  • Meaningful and engaging content
  • Scaffolded, differentiated learning approaches
  • "Floor-to-Ceiling" project based learning
  • Coordination of the many educators involved and service delivery patterns
Boaler's research in her book, Mathematical Mindsets, sheds a lot of light on how to teach all students math well. Also the fact that our broad teaching team which includes special educators, a coach, ESL educators, classroom teachers, and paraeducators have substantial experience which gives us a good starting point when it comes to teaching these students well. 

Last year our team made good progress with students who struggle with math, and with a focused start in this area, I'm sure we'll make good progress again and maybe even better progress this year.