In this One Thing You Might Try . . . blog post, math coach, Alex Lawrence, shares how she’s taking a strategy learned from online teaching and transitioning it to the in-person classroom.
Flash back to last school year. As a math coach in an elementary school, I’d been working alongside teachers in my building to elicit more discourse during math lessons, and we had begun to see success. Our students were enthusiastically verbalizing their thinking and engaging with each other’s mathematical ideas. In their discussions they found connections between and value in each other’s strategies.
Then COVID hit, and we had to switch to remote instruction. We wanted to maintain the momentum we had built around discourse, so we decided to try taking our conversations online with Flipgrid. We’d post a mathematical problem for the students, and they’d share their strategy in a short video that their classmates could watch. Along the way, we stumbled over some unexpected “Ahas!”
Sadia is an English language learner with a flair for drama and a big heart. She entertains her family reading Dory Phantasmagory in character and draws elaborate pictures for new classmates to help them feel welcomed. Sadia has always enjoyed literacy but approached math with less confidence and gusto. In her Flipgrid videos, though, we saw a Sadia who explained her math strategies with great enthusiasm and clarity. What, we wondered, was going on here? Why was Sadia reluctant to share her mathematical thinking in class but not in a video? Our hunch was that it was a few things:
- Time to think. Even with lots of wait time in the classroom, Sadia didn’t usually complete a problem before the class discussed it. At home, however, she had all the time she needed before posting her video explanation.
- The opportunity to rehearse with a trusted adult. Sadia’s older sister is very invested in her siblings’ success and helped Sadia work on her video until she was satisfied with it. If Sadia didn’t like how her video turned out, she could delete it and try again.
Great—a silver lining to remote learning! But now we’re back to in-person school.
Once we were (thankfully) back at school, we wanted Sadia—and other students just learning English or reluctant to share math ideas—to continue contributing their thinking during mathematical discussions. We decided to replicate the conditions that had been in place during remote learning. Our ELL teacher, Jill, had a plan.
Jill decided that during her pull-out sessions, she would give her students problems taken from their homeroom’s upcoming math lessons. Her students would have a ‘first pass’ at the lesson, including the time to think through the problems and the opportunity to rehearse an explanation of a strategy with her. Jill knew her students didn’t need her to water down the problem for them, they just needed the space and time to show what they could do.
But…is working on the same problem twice a good use of a student’s time?
Yes, for multiple reasons! When Sadia moved from being on the edge of math conversations to being able to contribute a strategy—the one she had rehearsed with Jill—her identity as a mathematician began to change. And now she would sigh dramatically if her work wasn’t one of the examples displayed under the document camera!
Also, because Sadia was familiar with the problem and knew at least one strategy well enough to explain it, she could begin to access her peers’ strategies as well. The unfamiliar approaches discussed during the lesson held more interest for her now.
Shouldn’t time with a specialist, like an ELL teacher or an interventionist, be used to catch students up on unfinished learning?
Yes! But addressing unfinished learning can be incorporated into the grade-level work. When Jill was working with students on a problem that required using mental math strategies to solve 17x6, she knew they weren’t yet fluent with their facts, nor did they have a lot of practice using “the break-apart strategy” (distributive property). So, Jill used part of the period to dig into how 5x6 might be used to solve 7x6, before asking students to think about how 7x6 could be used to solve 17x6.
Instead of going back to an earlier grade’s lesson on the distributive property, Jill gave her students just enough background to help them solve the grade-level problem. They had the additional time they needed to understand and find a solution to the problem, and then rehearsed an explanation of their strategy. Now her students can go to class ready to share their ideas with their mathematical community. When they see problems in class for the second time, they can engage with twice the confidence!
Alex Lawrence is a Title One Math Coach at Gerald E. Talbot Community School in Portland, Maine. She loves helping students and teachers feel confident in the classroom.
Go here to see the complete One Thing You Might Try . . . blog archive.