Last week, I was honored to be invited to discuss bringing a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens to some 5th grade math curriculum. As we talked, I realized that one way to approach revising the format of the curriculum is by making some easy tweaks.
Teachers in our district have been learning about and implementing the Math Workshop model. While I love the idea of decentralizing instruction, I believe that this particular model is problematic because it relies heavily on use of restricted time–all students move into and out of the stations at the same time. This particular set-up is built on the assumption that all students can do the work in the same amount of time, that there is no variability. Anyone who has worked with any students knows that is not true! A very simple tweak is to remove the timer/timing aspect of the Math Workshop model. Students can still visit multiple stations, although they might not see them all in the allotted time, but they can move into and out of stations as they achieve and demonstrate mastery of the content covered in that station. An easy tweak!
Change the direction of the slice
When you are given a curriculum, even one as good as Eureka Math, the content is sliced in a given order. For example, you might be faced with two days of tree diagrams where the second day is a repetition of the first day, just with a third stage required in each branch. Drawing the same tree diagram two days in a row is tedious and, for students with a certain set of learning struggles, mind-bogglingly difficult. When we found ourselves faced with this situation, my colleague and I gave ourselves two days to have students work with a larger set of models for organizing data (organized list, tree diagram, etc.) and met with students in small groups to reinforce the tree diagram concept, without repeating it twice. In other words, we sort of stacked slices of curriculum in a different direction and looked for patterns across multiple days in an overarching concept.
In both models of “tweaking” described above, it makes sense to identify core or priority work. That can be where the teacher(s) focus his/her time, perhaps requiring all students to interact directly with a teacher on a given concept. Students might be allowed to move equally through all other non-priority concepts or stations. Or, as in a recent of stations we did in Rational Numbers, students were limited to ten minutes of playing games, as they needed to interact with other material as well. In any organizational structure, this is also a way to use high-quality curriculum materials without having to create or re-create material.