Each year, I choose one or two aspects of my teaching to evaluate, adapt and hopefully, improve. In 2014 I have chosen to reflect on my practices for teaching Mathematics. My goal is to personalise learning in Mathematics in order to improve student outcomes.
The motivation for my goal stemmed from three different triggers during November and December late last year. I feel that it is important to detail my thought process as it forms a rationale for my implementation of Maths Workshops.
TRIGGER 1 – REPORT WRITING
I believe it was in the midst of report writing. Now during this time, I always become highly self-critical and even a little self-deprecating. I never feel that my assessment data is “enough”. I remember being content with my comprehension/literacy data, noting the great amount of personalised data and comments, due to my resolve to meet individually with students on a weekly basis. This is summarised in a previous post which reflects on forms of feedback in the classroom.
In contrast, I reflected that though I had collected assessment data for mathematics, it was more generalised. I had information about what students could and couldn’t do according to the curriculum I covered in class. But where did I go from here? What happened after I finished teaching the topic? What happened to those students who missed or couldn’t quite get on top of certain concepts or skills? Particularly for number. The curriculum is so jam-packed. When I need to move onto an applied maths topic or multiplication and division, how can I make sure that Student A understands renaming for subtraction? These weren’t only questions about assessment but of my maths lessons.
University studies, PD and school based initiatives have cemented a certain approach to teaching mathematics, which I firmly stand behind and continue to adopt. There is opportunity to extend and enable students. However, where is there time to practise and consolidate skills? This occurs briefly during the Tools Session at the beginning of the lesson. All students play a short and sharp game that may relate to the content of the lesson or be based on number skill. But how could I make this time more explicit for the needs of the students? How could I personalise the learning experiences to suit their individual learning journeys?
TRIGGER 2 – ONE SCHOOL’S USE OF EXPLICIT TEACHING
Shortly after report writing had ended, I bumped into an acquaintance who teaches at an open plan school. This school has created their own personalised learning framework, which may appear radical to some, however has had extraordinary results. In their fifth year of operation, this school has three open plan learning areas which are not organised conventionally (e.g. Preps, 1/2, 3/4 etc.) Instead, each learning area contains a combination of P-6 students. Students are not taught nor organised according to their year level but rather their point of need according to their learning journey. A lot of conferencing and goal setting is done in conjunction with the students so that they are fully aware of their own learning strengths, challenges and goals. Students choose workshops to attend according their learning needs. These workshops are short, sharp and EXPLICIT. Students then consolidate skills by selecting from a range of learning experiences designed and provided by teachers.
Grade 3 NAPLAN results from the students who began as Preps in the school, were extraordinary. 85-90% of students’ results were within Bands 4, 5 & 6 for all areas of NAPLAN. Irrespective of one’s opinions about this school’s structure and pedagogy, these results speak volumes. Anecdotally, other teachers from the school speak highly of explicit teaching and its benefits.
My own observations have noted the power of explicit teaching, particularly in Literacy, where I use explicit teaching on a daily basis in small groups as well as one on one. This got me thinking about utilising a similar model for Mathematics. If the students worked in small groups, organised according to their point of need, this would allow me an opportunity to work with students and provide explicit instruction for a skill they needed. While I am working with other students, then the remaining groups of students could complete activities that would provide practice and consolidation of these skills.
TRIGGER 3 – PINTEREST
I took to Social Media to find examples and previous models of Maths Workshops/Maths Groups. Twitter, Google and Pinterest are great sites for teachers to share and discuss ideas. Pinterest was particularly helpful during my search. You can view some of my pins by clicking on the following link: http://www.pinterest.com/jillybaby38/maths-workshops/
I found that most models had the same three components:
- Explicit teaching – Teacher Focus Group
- An opportunity to practise the skill learned with the teacher.
- A game to practise mental computation skills
Hence this is what I aim to replicate within my version of Maths Workshops. Most importantly, I do not wish to replace Maths lessons with these Maths workshops. In fact, I envision that the Maths Workshops will run like a Tools Session but for a longer duration. Therefore the time I commit to Maths is virtually the same as in previous years but organised in a different way.