by Kaarina McLaughlin (@kmteach6)
To begin, I am feeling overwhelmed with where to go next with my math instruction. I believe that I have established the community of learners necessary for truly valuable math conversation and learning. I have a growth mindset and help my students understand the value of making mistakes along their personal learning journeys. I really dig into the curriculum and try to make professional judgements on the amount of time that I spend on the various strands throughout the year.
I started teaching grade six last year after many years in grade four and I have to admit that I feel like I am caving into the pressure of provincial testing. Last year, I watched my very capable class break down during the math portions of EQAO. I had convinced them they were ready and had all of the concepts in their heads so now was the chance to “show what you know.” These students wanted to perform and tried their absolute best to handle the challenges put before them. It was difficult to watch them want to perform but feel helpless. I think they were more worried about disappointing me than about the level they would achieve.
We had many heart-to-heart conversations after the provincial testing as I asked my group how I could better prepare next year’s class for “the test”. The resounding message from them was that they felt ill-prepared for doing it all alone. How true!
In my problem-solving classroom, I began my lessons with an activation to get them thinking mathematically then they worked with a partner to work through an open-ended problem before going into math congress to highlight learning from the day. I made sure that there was an independent piece each day and I tracked their learning during that time. However, when you think about the independent piece, it was always at least somewhat related to what we had been working on so they intrinsically had a “way in”. Even many of the EQAO practice test questions we did were directly related to what we were working on in class at the time.
I was convinced they were ready, so what happened? We came up with the idea of doing an independent problem each day to begin the math period. This year, my class completes an independent problem at the beginning of each math class that is EQAO-like. I am not worried if every student completes the task each day but I hope that everyone has enough time to at least think of how they might begin to solve the day’s problem. Some of the students, especially those requiring more processing time, need more support. So, I now send the problems for the week home to be considered before coming into class. This has worked well and, on most days, everyone gets something started during problem solving.
So, now what about the rest of my math period? I am trying to come up with problematic situations that are open-ended and will push student thinking. Then, I feel the time pressure to cover everything and still provide enough time to practise the skills. I am working individually and with small groups who don’t fully understand a concept during breaks or during other opportunities throughout the day as I am trying to “leave no one behind”. My students are partnered for one month at a time and they truly help one another to understand the concepts being covered. For example, if Student A feels that they have tried to help Student B understand a topic but believe that Student B needs more help Student A advocates for his/her partner from other classmates or from me.
I guess what I am asking is how do I know that my students will be ready at the end of May? Last year’s test was tough on me as a teacher. My students actually performed very well on the testing but that is not my concern. I want them to believe they will do as well as they possibly can and feel confident enough to tackle the problems in the best ways they can.
Tall order? Don’t I know it!
Featured image by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash