After looping up to fifth grade with my fourth graders, I wasted no time in figuring out their strengths, weaknesses, gaps, and interests. I knew these students as if they were my own family and I wanted to make this year even better than the last.
Math has always been a passion of mine, but it’s a subject that so many students hate. Knowing that, of course, makes me the type of teacher who has a passion to change that. I wanted to restructure my traditional math block from last year and implement a more engaging, personalized approach. I was introduced to a more personalized model from the sixth-grade team at my school, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around the organization and structure in a way that would work for my class. Then I was introduced to OneNote.
OneNote Class Notebooks provided me with the structure to create a working system that promoted student ownership. The kids were able to work at their own pace, on the skills they needed, and in a way that best suited their needs. They became advocates for their own learning and developed a deeper level of understanding that not only illustrated skill mastery, but skill application as well.
How student choice works
Based on their personal goals, needs, and my feedback, students make their math choice at the beginning of each day. Through this process I have found that giving students choice and feedback is critical in creating autonomous learners. They can choose to work independently, go with a small group, peer teach another student, assess, or work on a more challenging problem if they have completed their assessments.
In the content library, students have access to all standards in the form of an “I can…” statement. They are provided with websites, videos, and other resources to learn and practice a skill. If they choose to work independently, this is their primary resource.
Before starting this math model, I found it imperative to take the time to teach kids what it means to be an independent learner. Setting this expectation right away and addressing it often helps to promote accountability. I have a few students that have come to realize they prefer learning from a small group or peer teach, much more than working independently. And that’s okay!
Small group instruction
Each day I lead two or three small groups based on student needs. These small groups range from 10 to 20 minutes and can have as few as two and up to twelve students. Students sign up for these groups based on their needs.
At first, I preplanned these groups at the beginning of the week. I put them in a calendar in the collaboration space on OneNote. I quickly realized not to set anything in stone, however, as students’ needs change on a daily basis. Now, I determine which skill to support in a small group based on a quick whole-group lesson/review at the beginning of our math block.
One of the highest levels of understanding of a skill is being able to teach it. My students have the opportunity to teach a peer once they pass a skill assessment. Watching your students learn from each other is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching. That’s when you know you have created a culture and climate where students feel comfortable and confident with one another.
Once students feel they’ve had adequate practice with a skill, they can choose to assess. Each assessment has anywhere from three to nine problems and often requires students to apply the skill in real-world problems, showing and explaining their work. If a student does not pass the assessment, they conference with me and we go over any mistakes. They then have two more opportunities to assess on the same skill. If they pass the assessment, they can write their name on the board under that assessment, so students know they can also peer teach that skill.
Once students take an assessment, they add that skill to their assessment tracker. This is where they reflect on the mistakes they may have made in their assessment. I also always upload pictures of their assessment so they can go back and make corrections.
Although all skill assessments have real-world aspects embedded within them, I like to always provide some sort of extra problem that promotes creativity and critical thinking.
For geometry, the kids had to design their dream house using geometric shapes, area and perimeter formulas. For fractions, student used mixed reality in Paint 3D to create a little avatar that represented a fraction of their height. The kids really enjoyed this and it was an immediate assessment for the skill of scaling.
The last and most important component to this math model is student reflection. During the last 10 minutes of every math block, students reflect on what they worked on that day. They address new learning, questions they still might have, and responses to my feedback from the prior day.
While responding to student reflections each night does take some time, it is so helpful for me to track student progress and learning. If your students can articulate the learning they accomplished, or the process solving a specific problem, it is an immediate assessment of whether or not they understand a skill. It has taken some time and modeling for my students to be thoughtful in their responses, but over time I have seen significant growth with their ability to verbalize their learning in not just math, but all content areas.
This model has been modified and refined throughout the year, through collaborative processes and restorative circles. It’s important to have systems in place that not only meet your students’ needs, but also work with your teaching style. Sitting down together and addressing likes, dislikes, concerns and questions really gave up ownership of this model. As with any system, it takes a lot of work to get it up and running, but the student growth and increased engagement are undeniable.