A few months ago, I was talking to Dr. Katie Novak about a classroom observation she had done in an ELA classroom. I was struck by her description of the structure of the class. Dr. Novak said the teacher had an essential question that drove the class and had also presented some curated resources, while also inviting the students to add their own resources if they thought they would better answer the essential question.
This approach empowers students to be in charge of their own learning rather than passively waiting for the teacher to provide materials, resources, and direction. With that said, it’s challenging to apply this in math. As you know from my earlier blogs about standards, for much of math, there really is a right way (a “method”) to do certain things. How can I ensure that my students learn those important methods while also encouraging them to become far more self-directed and less dependent on me? I don’t know that I have an answer, but I’m challenging myself to see if I can try something new.
By the end of class….
These documents, which I call the “By the end of class….” sheets, cover everything from a single day to a series of days. As in the ELA lesson described earlier, these documents begin with an essential question and key vocabulary. Students have options for work, sometimes divided into sub-categories that support the essential question, including options for self-directed extensions and teacher-created video lessons.
I have been using these, with my colleague, Irene Witt, to identify “chunks” of content that we used to teach over multiple days, which was often repetitive for most of our students. The students who “got it” were bored and the other students were overwhelmed and lost trying to keep up. The “By the end of….” documents allow us to tailor instruction on the spot by showing students their end goal (the essential questions) and providing materials and support, including small-group intervention, without requiring students to learn in lock-step as a class. We have used these documents for a wide-ranging selection of topics, from tree diagrams to slope-intercept form to self-directed MCAS review.
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