Sunday, April 14, 2013

Using Data to Drive Meaningful, Targeted, Brain-Based Math Instruction

     Imagine a student's face lighting up upon seeing a math quiz, running home to excitedly show their parents the current math homework, or begging for more word problems at the teacher table. Now envision your own contentment at knowing the math they are excited about is targeted directly to the needs of those very students. I want to share how I create this excitement in my class using data. I'm a data-nerd...I admit it.

     In Texas we have end-of-unit Curriculum Based Assessments (CBAs). Our instruction is delivered through the workshop model. The goal is to meet with our lowest students at the teacher table every day, all the way up to our highest students once a week. The teacher table does give us valuable information. However, life happens and there will inevitably be a group of students who don't get to the teacher table for one reason or another. Since there aren't "turn in" type assignments, I wanted an additional method of monitoring individual student mastery and need of intervention.

     The Solution
     My solution is a multifaceted approach. It involves knowing your students interests well, reflecting on the content you have already taught, what you will be teaching, student performance on past quizzes/CBA's, knowing the language your students need to know to be successful, and then it all circles around again. 

     To Begin
     As an example, if you are teaching 3D shapes next week, sit down and analyze what students need to know. Design instruction and stations around the content and language, and then blend in their personal interests whenever possible (music, sports, games, etc). Use data to determine which content you need in your spiraling stations. As much as possible in stations, use student names, names of their friends, other teachers, and school staff in problems. They will be more engaged with more brain involvement because the work will be more meaningful.
     The Language
     Before I explain "language," let me emphasize that I am not talking about teaching to the test. I experienced a pivotal moment when a woman named Sue McAdams told me that it is simply unfair to give students a test without preparing them for the language (or vocabulary) they will be tested with. I had never really looked at it that way.  For example, one of our 2nd grade CBA questions is worded like this:

  Which value is the shaded portion of the fractional model closest to?

     If I didn't prepare my students by using that language (value, portion, fractional model) in my daily instruction/quizzes/homework, they would likely be thrown off by the wording of the question even if they understood the concept. If I were teaching to the test, all of my instruction would be based around only what the test will cover. That would be just as unfair to kids as not teaching the language would be. Moving on...

     The Next Step
     At the end of the week, if you want to see what they learned and what they still need help on, you need data. If you were unable to get a class-wide feel for it at the teacher table, create a quiz. It is very important that you continue to use the language, names and interests, and spiraling content. Here is page one of a quiz I've written for next week.

     You'll notice I've used student names, interests, necessary language, and spiraling content while still maintaining a high level of thinking.
     When you grade your quiz, note the questions kids missed the most. I like to have a tally chart to mark each time a question is missed. If you notice a class-wide trend... it's time to reteach! Then be sure to revisit that concept on your next math quiz.
     Use the individual data to target your instruction at the teacher table.  For example, if I had four students miss number 4 on the quiz above, I would call those four back to the teacher table to work on two-step problem solving. As part of that targeted intervention, I create problems using their names and interests.  I am also careful to target their learning and processing styles during instruction. This is so important because you WILL get more engagement from them. They always ask for more!

Morning Math Talk
My student teacher, Mrs. Harris, working on the morning math talk.
     Every morning we write four math problems on the board for students to solve. The problems include content we know students need more work with. This is based on data from quizzes, homework, and teacher table discussion. Morning math can also include current and spiraling content.
     During morning math, students discuss strategies and different ways to solve the problems presented. This way, students get to hear how their peers think through problem solving in different ways.

     Homework can be a valuable tool if it is not overused.  Every other week our grade level team sends home math work. There are four days of homework with six to eight questions a day.  Again, we utilize current content, spiraling content, content that needs to be reinforced, student names and interests, teacher names, and even parent names. Additionally, trying to wrap content around a real-world theme makes it more meaningful and engaging for developing brains.
     For example, we are currently participating in a food drive.  One of the other 2nd grade teachers (Mr. Wandersee) has agreed to shave his head if our pod brings in the most donations. As a result, one page of our homework looks like this:

     On this page of homework, there are 3 current content questions, and 3 spiraling questions centered around a real-world theme students that are currently experiencing. Additionally, both teacher and student names are used, and a high level of thinking is maintained.
     In this next example, I spiraled content around one of our 5th grade math teachers. Mrs. Tipton asked me how we come up with our homework questions. So I highlighted her on a page for fun! Students will be excited to see her included in our homework. In this example, you will see that I opened with a current content question, then spiraled through several past units using real-world applications.  The brain looks for patterns and connections, the connections are obvious here.

     Through the spiraling content in homework, you are also given a peek at things students might be forgetting (although the hope is the spiraling will keep them from forgetting), or still struggling with. This gives you valuable data to drive your teacher table instruction.  

     If you are concerned about the time involved, consider involving the rest of your grade level team. My 2nd grade team is wonderful about sending me questions for the quizzes and homework.  That makes it less labor intensive.

     These techniques give you immediate data to drive meaningful, targeted, brain-based instruction.  Begin with in depth reflection on upcoming content. Weave the students names, interests etc. into morning work, daily instruction, quizzes, and homework. Use your data from your teacher table, quizzes, and homework to meaningfully drive your instruction and intervention. Wrap content around real world situations and themes.
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