Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Teach Math Well: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Emails circulated about the value of using an online unit assessment versus the paper/pencil unit assessments of the past. It's a good question, and one that should be posed and discussed. Personally, I'm a fan of using multiple formal and informal formative and summative assessments, and I support the use of online assessments as part of that overall assessment approach.

I also believe that we have to be mindful to have a good assessment balance and not make teaching and learning all about the test--we have to make space for children to enjoy their learning. While it's important to discuss assessment types and the role of assessment when teaching math, there are also many more questions that beg our attention and discussion.

For example, one of the greatest math question that we face in our standards-based school communities, and how do we continually uplift and teach the students who are one or more years behind the expectations. Of course, I believe that math education should be progressive where every child is moving ahead from where he/she is and that the focus should be on that movement rather than if everyone is at the same level. For example if I have students at fifth grade who are testing at a second grade level and others who are testing at a seventh grade level, they all should be working to move up. I don't want those "seventh grade level" fifth graders to think they've achieved all there is to know in math and sail along without a good challenge, and I also don't want those "second grade level" fifth graders to get discouraged and always feel behind. So the question, How do we challenge all in positive, proactive ways resulting in good math growth, engagement, and knowledge?, is a great question to ask and discuss amongst peers.

Another good question to discuss in math is what are the best ways for specialists, assistants, coaches, and classroom educators to work together to maximize math teaching and learning for all. We have instituted Responsive to Intervention in creative ways that help in this regard. We also differentiate during core instructional times. The way we collaborate matters when it comes to uplifting children's skills, knowledge, and concept.

Further we can ask questions about content specific teaching and learning. For example, at a recent meeting, it was acknowledged that teaching the "behavior" of the base ten place value system is challenging. Students at fifth grade find it difficult to grasp that numbers increase by X10 as they move up each place in the place value system and decrease by 1/10 as they move down in value place by place. Fluency with that concept takes time.

Time is an important consideration. Many on the outside would like teachers to work like soldiers and be at the same place in teaching at the same time. This, in many ways, negates the where students are at and what they need. It also disregards the need for educators to make the curriculum their own and teach it with the artistry, experience, and analysis needed. Good teaching is not a robotic function, and good teaching makes good use of time. Unlike a robotic response, good teaching analyzes deeply and maximizes the use of time to teach all well.

Too often we spend time talking about questions that don't matter that much in education. Instead we should dig a little deeper and spend time discussing what matters--the big, deep questions that truly impact what we can do to better teach all children.