Yesterday, I learned from Mrs. Toller, my mentor teacher here, how she teaches math, and thought it was pretty cool.
She begins the year by having all students take a diagnostic test to determine the level that students are operating at when they walk in the room. She then assigns them a level on a computer program called “MathsBuddies” and a math booklet and tells them to reach the end of the program by a certain date. The students then teach themselves math at their own pace, reaching the checkpoint by the assigned time, and also going beyond–something that Mrs. Toller finds completely ok.
Once they reach that date, Mrs. Toller switches instruction so that it is not students only doing individual work, but there is also large group instruction happening. Of course, some students are already beyond the topic of instruction, but Mrs. Toller takes the opportunity to reinforce their knowledge with more practice or clear up any confusions if they got stuck on this area. This can look like a workshop led by Mrs. Toller, or it can look much different. Sometimes, while everybody is working on their individual MathsBuddies, Mrs. Toller pulls aside a small group of students and teaches each of them either one single math concept or each a different math concept. She later has them as workshop leaders, where each student is at a table to teach their peers or students rotate around to the different tables to learn the different skills from another. Her role as the teacher is simply to support instruction for the students who are having a more difficult time at it and to manage behaviors.
At home, students continue to work on MathsBuddies and reach their individual goals which they set together with Mrs. Toller at the beginning of each term, but in class is a time for clarification. On Wednesdays, Mrs. Toller doesn’t have any instruction but dedicates “Maths Time” to meet with students and individually tutor them at their own level.
Hearing about how Mrs. Toller instructs math has kind of made me wish I was a math teacher, and I’m already trying to develop ways to achieve a similar dynamic within my own classroom, possibly through the use of lit circles. While it may seem like an ideal once again, Mrs. Toller told me that not only is it extremely effective with the upper level students she has this year, but that even when she had lower achieving/mid-range students last year, it boosted their math ability as well. In fact, her class last year was a fairly typical CP class, but by the end of the year half of them were moving on to Honors in high school. A large part of this is possibly from the development of the classroom ethos that everyone is there to learn and to teach, helping the students take ownership of their education, which is really what education is all about.
As a quick side note, Mrs. Toller and I have decided that it would be great if I took over some language features (literary devices) lessons and a 1.5 week mini-unit on Romeo and Juliet. I’m really looking forward to learning more from her about English instruction and creating some lesson plans based on personalization!
Featured image by David Goehring