This is the fourth in a series of posts on baby steps in implementing the Guidelines for Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Please see these earlier posts on changing instruction, changing assessment, and adding options for other ideas.
Baby Step #4: Resource Sheets
Seventh graders struggle with fractions. At every school I have ever taught at, the 8th grade teachers always ask the 7th grade teachers why this is. And the 7th grade teachers ask the 6th grade teachers. And so on. Of course, if any of us actually had a viable answer, we would be long gone, kicking up dust on the lecture circuit promoting the answer!
Short of that, my colleague, Irene Witt, and I struggle along, year after year, assigning and assessing fraction review work, racking up a string of zeros for most students. Last year, we started a series of what we call “Math Blasters,” a weekly review assignment given on Tuesday and assessed the following week. We provide a list of topics, sample problems, and links to Khan Academy practice, and we also provide reminders about the upcoming assessment throughout the week, plus time to practice during the week in school.
The zeros kept racking up, all last year.
This year, as we started updating and copying the Math Blasters in the fall, Irene had an idea–could we consider providing students with a resource sheet, a one-page set of reminders about how to perform operations with fractions (add, subtract, multiply, divide) and two important aspects of that (rewriting a mixed number as a fraction greater than one/improper fraction and simplifying to lowest terms/finding common denominators). Students in our grade-level classes would have access to this resource on all assessments, at teacher discretion, including Math Blasters. Irene’s argument was that, every time students perform fraction operations with one of their mixed-up approaches (common denominators for multiplication anyone?), they were just reinforcing poor habits. Rather than continue with that, if students had the resource sheet, they would be responsible for correctly applying the algorithm. Every time.
No, I don’t have hard data and even our standardized test data from the State won’t really tell us if the students perform better, since fraction operations aren’t explicitly assessed in 7th grade, but my observational data tells me that fewer students are needing to redo fraction problems on assessments and Math Blasters. Instead, they are practicing the correct algorithm.
In a training I took with her, Dr. Katie Novak said that the smartest person in the room is Siri. Siri knows everything. In a world where the answers are a question away, our teaching needs to adapt–students need to know how to use the information Siri gets for them, rather than trying to memorize it all. Siri will always know more, but students have to be responsible users of what she finds for them. Providing a notes sheet and holding students responsible for actually using it is practice for the brave new world they will find themselves in as they move forward in school and work.