Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Guest Blog: Transforming Math Instruction (Part 2)

Last week, you might have read: Guest Blog: Transforming Math Instruction (Part 1) written by Kellie Lambert. This week, we are proud to share Jessica Beeler's perspective on how she has transformed her approach to math instruction. Be on the lookout for these two educators during February Conference this year. They will be offering a session on this topic if you are interested in learning more about their success in teaching math differently!

What's that saying? An insane person does the same thing over and over again expecting different results.  Every year that was me.  “I will start fractions earlier, harder.  I will talk louder to make them understand.  If I say the same words just a few more times than I have for the past 13 years of teaching fourth grade the students WILL get it this time.  Yes, of course, I am just not being emphatic enough with my standing at the front of the room and telling them what fractions are.”  Eureka!!

Um, no.  Not even close.  So when Beth Chinderle was visiting Kellie Lambert I heard the discussion afterward. She was showing Kellie student work and going over the different levels of student understanding.  I saw what she was talking about all the time in my classroom.  It all makes sense,  so many kids understand more than I am giving them credit for.  So many still need time to practice and grow.

Actually it was a two-part moment of discovery for me.  Months before at February Conference I went to a class about fractions and they put a dividing fractions problem on the board.  My old learning kicked in and I quickly whipped out my algorithm that I had stored in the back of my brain, applied it to the problem, got my answer, and then...THERE IS NO WAY THAT IS RIGHT!  This is a dividing problem, how did I get a bigger answer? I proceeded to rework the problem and forced it to get an answer that made sense.  Ah, much better.  Then the ladies presenting the class used the same numbers in a word problem.  I swear someone started playing background "Hallelujah" music.  It all suddenly made sense.  My original answer was correct.  Why did no one show me this sooner? I would have been saved a lot of grief as a child/teenager. Just seeing the same information in a real world context made all the difference.

So Kellie and I talked.  And talked.  And talked.  Why not try a different approach? It was not as if I had been using the perfect way. If we did not like it we could always go back to our normal routine.  Let's try it together.  It is nice to have someone to jump with you.
Ok, where to begin? In years past I have stood at the front of the room, taught a skill, had the students take notes, done practice problems, then set them off on their own to apply their newfound knowledge to the worksheet or activity I gave them.  Then I collected all the students that did not "get it" and retaught the skill so they could get a better grade on the assignment.  I can still hear the student groans.  

Today.  A paradigm shift. A new concept? Let's start with some sort of problem solving.  At first the students were very hesitant, "but I don't know how to do this." My reply, "just try something." It was slow.  They were unsure.  They were unwilling to take the risk of getting a wrong answer.  It took some coaxing.  Ok, a lot of coaxing.  THIS IS NOT FOR A GRADE.  Not everyone tried that first time.  Some did not try very hard.  That was okay.  I walked around, asked questions, gave some reassuring back scratches, and let them get it wrong.  I learned SO much.  I quickly saw which kids had no conceptual understanding, which kids had only a little, and which kids understood what the problem was about.  I also saw where there were misconceptions.  A wealth of information, and I had yet to teach a thing!!!! That very first day I was hooked.  Fail or succeed I knew I was going to see this through.

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your journey. Please leave her a comment or question below!

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