When students leave out your classroom door for the day you as a teacher have little control over what they do until they come back to your classroom the next day. How can we help guide students (and parents) to use that time wisely to help fill in gaps that students have in their math learning?
Over the past few years in my classroom I have kept a separate class blog. With this blog I took time to stress to my students and their families to always check it first when working at home or if they had questions. We all know that newsletters are out of date before they even go home and with a classroom blog I was able to update regularly (most of the time on the day of the activity/assignment).
By showing completed examples of items we created in our Interactive Notebooks it allowed students to complete anything that wasn’t completed in class but also gave parents a reference to look at when helping their students with homework assignments.
Many of my blog posts also gave dates for quizzes, tests and due dates. Parents and students were able to easily opt in to receive an email of each post so that they didn’t have to remember to go back and read the blog each day, although many still did especially if they had a study hall class.
When introducing new units or giving extra practice for a concept, I was able to easily link to videos that my students could watch and benefit from. Linking videos and interactive games provide another avenue for students to build their knowledge beyond just the learning in the classroom.
Several of my students enjoyed being able to watch videos ahead of the lesson and have a deeper understanding once I taught in class. This also helped them be a step ahead of peers so they could then facilitate group learning and teach in a different way from what I had presented the material if needed.
To wrap things up….
Build the line of communication with your families and make it something that is easy for you to keep updated. Emails work but they are tedious and take time. Sites like edModo, a classroom blog, Twitter, Instagram, or even a private Facebook group allow you to be in constant and quick communication with students and parents. It is also OPEN RECORD so therefore no need to be fearful of what might happen online.
P.S. I had my blog comments on moderated until approved so that I could help prevent any spam or bullying.
What is a site, or sites, that you have sent home with students to work on for extra practice to fill in gaps?
Last week was all about Changing the Thinking of Students in Math as well as Finding the Gaps to Fill In to strengthen their learning in Math. As we continue to proceed through the series I want to take some time to talk about filling those gaps at school (today) as well as at home (next blog post).
As a teacher you are the one that completely controls the time in your classroom. No matter whether you have set curriculum, set class periods, etc. you still control what happens from the point your students walk in the classroom to when they walk out of your classroom. Fill this time to the brim and let it spill over if needed!
I’ve talked before about how I filled my time in my class periods that were 42-48 minutes in length and I know that many of you deal with the same issues of time. You have to first set a structure in your classroom and let it be known. You can’t expect students to be able to follow your schedule if they don’t know it and you don’t remind them of it regularly.
So, how do we, as teachers, fill those gaps at school?
Every year in my state the students take our state STAAR test. After the tests are scored we eventually receive an item analysis that is aligned with the reporting categories and we can see where the weaknesses for students were. The districts that I worked in also used DMAC where we could get much more detailed information for each student which proved invaluable. Where am I going with this?
When you set up any testing in your classroom, doing an item analysis is so helpful! I have taken a day and done them with my students before as a review for those who then were going to take a retest. Simply go through the different problems provided and align them with your standards. My rule of thumb was 65% or higher achievement (giving a 5% margin of error for those who had computational issues or read the problem wrong) on a standard meant I could move on with the class.
These item analysis helped build my groups of students. If 5 of my students were struggling on exponent rules, then there is a group right there! If another 5 students were struggling with scientific notation, then there we go! Using that data helped me build my groups of students.
I set my students up into six groups each week and some times they would vary based on the topic while some times they would be randomly grouped. With the six groups going on I could easily have six different activities where students were engaged in deepening their understanding. During this time I spend a lot of time moving around from group to group. I typically start with a group that I know will be able to do well with just the right guidance to start them off. This frees up more time to spend with my lower groups.
Once you have determined the areas of weakness for your students you need to focus on those weaknesses within small groups and even individualized practice. I can’t stress the importance of working with students individually as well. During this time you aren’t only their teacher and mentor but you are also their coach and celebrating the small successes as they build upon their foundation.
Dylan was a 7th grade who had not been in a real classroom since second grade. Dylan had behavioral problems and IEP paperwork that was several inches thick. No one believed in Dylan. During the beginning of 7th grade it was decided by the IEP team that we would gradually bring Dylan into the regular classroom. Dylan would start by joining my Resource Math class of 10 students. If Dylan did well in class then he could go onto Texas History with Coach, if not then he was back in the behavior unit for the day. Needless to say there was a LOT on my shoulders the first day that Dylan arrived.
Dylan came in and it was Work Station Day where my students knew that we would be in groups and working on different concepts based on their weaknesses. Where was I to put Dylan when he was on a 2nd grade level and the rest were on a 4th/5th grade level? I chose to have Dylan join in with the rest of the student and work on converting rational numbers (fractions, decimals and percents) because that is what I was expecting of the others. They were using a calculator and I had taught them how to convert using their tool so they were moving and grooving. This gave me time to teach Dylan what they had already learned.
Dylan and I worked through the process a few times and he exclaimed, “I’ve got this. You can go.” For fear of him acting out I listened but kept a close eye on what was going on while I was at the next table. When it was time to rotate to the next station Dylan refused to rotate. All of my other students were okay with not finishing something as long as they had been working but Dylan had started to learn something that was beyond his expectations and he wanted to finish. I relented and let him finish despite needing that for another student.
About ten minutes into our next station Dylan called me over. He saw that I had been taking pictures of other students working in centers and he wanted to know what I was doing. I explained that it was my way of showing to parents what students were up to in my class and allowed me to share successes with others. Dylan asked if I would take a picture of him. I noticed that he was very close to finishing his puzzle and we made a deal that when he did and could show me how to do any conversion I picked that I would take a picture.
Dylan called me back over in about 2 minutes telling me he was done. I was amazed to not only see all the pieces in the correct spot but when I chose one for him to show me the conversion of he easily completed it without any reminder of the steps to work through. Dylan had not only filled gaps that I didn’t even know he had but also had quickly picked up on something once I took time to teach him the process and let him show me.
To wrap it all up (because I could ramble forever):
1. Use an item analysis to determine the weaknesses of your students. These can be grade level weaknesses or even prior grade levels.
2. Set up regular group work based on those skills that students are weak in. Allow students to not only work on areas they are weak in but also those that they are successful in so that they will stay motivated.
3. Work with students individually to celebrate the small successes. You will not only build the relationship with the student but you will become their coach to motivate their learning.
4. Find resources that work for your students from trusted resources. Using resources from resources you trust will make your life easier and free up your time for planning.
5. Celebrate all successes no matter how small! Call home, share with other teachers, and brag all that you can to build student’s confidence in their learning.
Question to you…
What is an invaluable resource that you have found that has helped you fill in the gaps in your classroom? Share a link if you have it as well as the concept and grade covered as I would love to compile the list and add them to my Pinterest Boards.
When I wrote the original post about Changing Students Thinking About Math, I never realized the feedback that I would get. Not only did I receive comments but also had emails and people asking me questions on my Facebook Fan Page. Wow, I hit a topic that people wanted more info about!
I decided to not respond right away because I wanted to plan things out and really make this a series of blog posts (currently a total of 5 are planned) and make it full of information for you to use to make a difference in your classroom.
So…. How do you go about finding gaps in your students thinking so that you can build a solid foundation of skills?
1. Assess! Yep, it’s the root of all evil to assess students over and over again but it must be done to determine if what you are teaching, or what has been taught, has stuck with them. Now when I talk about assessment I don’t always mean paper and pencil assessment. Heck, I don’t even always mean computer based assessment. You as the teacher are allowed to determine what assessment best fits the skill that you are teaching in your classroom. Yep, I give you permission. (Now, I know we all have to give school/district assessments as well but that’s another day and another story.)
Informal assessment can be anything from having a student do some practice problems, to orally explaining a process to you, writing in response to an open-ended response question (gotta love Post-It, Prove Its), CGI word problems that they can journal about and more. It doesn’t end there!
How do you know when to assess? Well, I found this amazing flow chart that I think is just the bees knees (yep, I said that!) over on C.Jayne Teach. Jump on over to her TpT store for a FREE printable copy of this and KEEP IT handy!
2. Talk! Yes, sometimes it is a simple as building that relationship with your students on a one-on-one basis and just talking to them. When they have developed the level of trust with you because of building that relationship they will share with you their struggles.
Myles was one of my most stubborn students. He hated coming to my class because I was hard on him. I made him come to class with his notebook, his pencil and without his backpack (school rule). I made him get his papers as he walked in the door that he would need for the day. I made him not talk to his friends as he was preparing for class and getting his Interactive Notebook ready for the day. I made him keep his head up off his desk during the class period when he got frustrated. I made him answer questions randomly.
I didn’t make him come to tutoring, his reluctance to do homework made him come to tutoring because he wanted to play football. Myles hated tutoring because it meant he had to work or I kicked him out and I would follow through by letting his coach know. Myles knew that telling coach meant running laps and possibly not playing in that week’s game.
After serious conversations with Myles about the important of learning so that he could not only play in the game each week, Myles started coming to tutoring outside on Friday mornings (I had car duty) and sitting with a group of about 5-10 students who were getting last minute homework help because it was due that day. You know what, Myles started to talk to me. He started to tell me where his weaknesses were just by the questions he asked and because of this I was able to ask him to start coming to my after school tutorials where we played games. Myles didn’t know that those games were going to help him be a better math student. Myles came with reluctance but after the first session, he was hooked. Myles now keeps in contact with me regularly and enjoys math.
This is Myles in my classroom last year playing a game that not only taught him about ratios but helped fill his gaps on equivalent fractions, factors, multiples and basic multiplication facts.
3. Track and Analyze! This is probably the most boring of the three things I will share with you today but also probably one of the most important. Tracking data for each student (not just the class or your entire group of students) will help you as a teacher determine weaknesses and strengths not only in your teaching but also in your students learning.
In my classroom checklists, like these created by MissMathDork for Common Core, and my handy-dandy clipboard were my best friend. I could go through and mark the skills that students were mastering and keep dates of when it was tracked all in one location for each student.
There were also times where I would print out a class roster and use it for documentation purposes for a certain skill. Many times as I was looking at their Post It, Prove Its or Exit Tickets at the end of a day I would easily be able to mark whether a student has mastered a concept, needed a bit more practice, needed more instruction and practice, or needed a complete reteach of the skill. It was that simple to help differentiate my next days lessons in my classroom.
(More on tracking and analyzing is coming soon, I promise! This blog post has spurred some great ideas.)
I won’t say that this came to me in my first years of teaching but rather took until about my 7th year of teaching to even start doing this. Now after two years of starting to put it in here and there I saw the value of these methods in my classroom. I started to fill in those gaps that my students had from prior grades. Did it matter what caused those gaps? Nope. Was I going to dwell on it and make excuses? Nope. I knew I was at a crucial point in a students math education where if they didn’t master some of the critical skills they were going to be SUNK in high school.
If you have made it this far, thank you because as you can see I had a lot to say on this topic and I only gave you three tips. Now comes my call to action…
What can you do in your classroom tomorrow to help change how you fill in the gaps for one student, a small group of students, or even all of your students?