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How to Plan for Recovery (Part 3 of 3)

recovery math

We all have regrets about the paths we never took. In my case, I have always felt as though I missed out on pushing myself in STEM courses. When I struggled in math class as a child, I was told that I was not good with numbers, and I believed it. As an adult and a teacher, I realize how much damage we inflict upon children when we put them in boxes of “can” vs. “cannot,” and I wish it were not so pervasive to give children the irrevocable impression (girls in particular) that math is not their skillset. There is no question that learning mathematical concepts is a challenging task, one that requires excellent instructional skills, but all children can be successful with strong first instruction. In this coming school year, the process of recovery across all grade levels in math involves the best practices that we have long engaged in with students, even prior to the pandemic. Here are some reminders of what works best.

Build on Prior Knowledge           

We learn more about students when they have opportunities to make their thinking visible. Suppose we begin the class period with a routine designed to promote prior knowledge. In their book High-Yield Routines (2013), authors Ann McCoy, Joann Barnett, and Emily Combs share a strategy called “Today’s Number.” Let’s say class begins with the teacher presenting the number 22. Students are asked to share what they know about this number. Some might note that 22 has two of the same number in it (i.e., two 2s). Others might observe that the number is a double-digit, or that it is the product of 11 times two. Whatever students see, they share their ideas with one another in a low-risk space. Furthermore, wherever the learning might go from there, everyone has had a chance to feel confident with what they already know before moving into new content. And most important, when students are more comfortable in class, they make gains more quickly.

Maximize Instructional Time           

Time is like space: it always gets filled up. We never feel like we have enough time, and that is even more true when we’re talking about instruction. An ideal math class should be about an hour long, but the time teachers are given is often shorter. How can precious minutes of instruction be used as productively as possible? One helpful strategy is to alternate how students learn, moving from a whole-group space to smaller groups. That allows for processing time with a teacher and then with peers. Another way to make sure we reach students with varying learning styles is to allow proper time for processing. After every 10 minutes of instruction, let students think or talk for at least two minutes. Along the same vein, if the class has been sitting for 30 minutes, let everyone stretch for at least 90 seconds. These short breaks will get everyone ready for the next portion of learning and take the most advantage of the instructional time provided.

Discourse and Questioning           

We learn so much more by talking to one another. The National Council for Teachers in Mathematics (NCTM) recommends that teachers encourage students to engage with the content by asking questions to promote inductive reasoning. Furthermore, the types of questions that we ask matters. Instead of phrasing a math problem in a way that can only produce one answer, keeping the phrasing more open can promote thinking. For example, instead of saying, “Write an equation that best depicts this graph,” students should be encouraged to “Explain what you see when you draw a graph that represents this equation.” The opportunity to add more ideas and expound upon their thinking will increase student awareness of the concepts in front of them and promote their growth.

Formative Assessments...As Always!           

When we hear the word “assessment,” we tend to freeze up. Or at least, our students do! But it doesn’t have to be that way. Formative assessments come in all shapes and sizes, from quick checks for understanding to slightly longer tasks. In math, these assessments can even look a lot like a game. Not only are online quiz platforms very doable in math (Kahoot, anyone?), but there are also a wide variety of in-class activities we can do with students. For example, math mazes are a popular way to help teachers see what students still struggle with. Math problems are placed along the pathway of a maze, and students must solve the problems correctly to get from “start” to “end” without incident. The benefit of an activity like this is not just that teachers can see what students know; kids can also get a very clear picture of what they need to work on, and the game like nature of the activity makes them more likely to engage in learning, which will promote their overall comprehension.

Team Collaboration             

As we know by now, teaching in a bubble is not a good idea. We all need to support one another, and we do that by working together when we plan lessons, analyze student progress, and reflect on future steps. One constant focus to bear in mind is that when we focus on student skills rather than their grades, we tend to help them more effectively. Grades are an indicator of progress, but knowing what we are looking for as a team helps us with collaborative problem-solving. In addition, when we take advantage of the strengths on our team, we tend to be more successful in the long run. One teacher might be very well-versed in the curriculum, while another might be technologically adept. If we can divide and conquer the steps of our instructional planning and reflection process, the entire team benefits from what we do together, as do our students.           

For the past three weeks, this column has explored the most productive strategies for recovery in well-being, literacy, and math. Now, the real work begins. As students enter our classrooms this month and next, we will all be so excited to learn in a joint space again. While we are all focused on recovery, we have another, more important feeling to remember: joy. The happiness of being together is the absolute foundation of why we are so motivated, year after year, to help children no matter what the surrounding circumstances may be. Last year was rough, and this year will likely be somewhat atypical as well. If we keep our attention on the kids and how thrilled we are to share space with them, recovery will flow naturally from there.

Related articles:

How to Plan for Recovery (Part 1 of 3)

How to Plan for Recovery (Part 2 of 3)

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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