Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Helping Every Learner

The little boy looked at me with his big eyes and asked, "Are you going to be here this afternoon?" Unfortunately I was not able to stay after school that day, but I realized that our time together a week or so ago after school was meaningful to him since he was asking if I was going to be there again. This showed me that he was eager to learn, and that he trusted me. A few others have asked me similar questions in the past week demonstrating a desire for that small group or one-to-one help with the math--it's clear they want to learn, but need the extra support I am able to offer before or after school.

Then I read this article about in-school tutoring on Politico, an article that affirmed the value of small group or one-to-one intense support with tutors that care, tutors students may build a great relationship with. Now I'm wondering if we can look a bit more deeply at our teaching/learning practices to empower our learners more by providing more deep and targeted learning experiences both in school and after school. I'm wondering if it is more impactful to lessen group size and work with greater depth for periods of time to truly grow students' knowledge, ability, and interest in any learning topic?

This strikes at a conversation I had related to this topic yesterday. During the conversation I wondered aloud about the strength of scheduling interventions and services in ways that matter. Further, I discussed the idea of placing greater attention on service delivery maps that are carefully crafted so students' needs and services are prioritized in ways that they are not missing essential learning and teaching to receive services or in ways that extra services are well coordinated with content/concept goals. To do this would require substantial time up front before the year begins to make sure that every child's schedule targets their main learning goals and needs including the need to feel like a vital and valued member of the learning team, and in ways that allows students to develop their rich interests and talents. For example I believe all children deserve to learn in the arts, and that arts should not be traded for basic skill instruction.

As I think of this more, I recognize that I am often thinking about the learning quotient. For example, I'll often accept a fair level of noise, movement, and what may look like confusion in the classroom, if I know that there's a lot of learning going on--I can tell that the learning is going on by the conversation I hear, the student-to-student helping, data streaming in from tech sites, and the questions asked. I'm more concerned with learning than management although I recognize that there needs to be some order and routine to foster good learning.

So as I think more about the learning quotient, the amount of learning or growth children achieve, I am prompted to invest my energy in the following efforts:
  • Before and after school help/tutoring available to all
  • Opportunities for one-to-one and small group deep learning when possible
  • Lots of active learning
  • Number play, exploration, and problem solving
How does this focus translate into action?

Collegial Share and Planning
Currently I share a weekly schedule with colleagues who teach math with me. That schedule includes a loose-tight focus (loose to respond to where learners are at, and tight to make sure we cover all standards), targeted learning events/support, study guides (packets), tech menus, online homework, and lots of learning-to-learn and mindset coaching with regard to how to ask questions, use positive self talk, and apply strategies for optimal learning. To develop this more, I want to be able to assess our efforts in more pointed and ongoing ways to determine the learning quotient we are achieving, and to refine and revise our efforts as needed. I re-looked at state scores last night with regard to math growth scores. Although it is only one measure, I noticed again that attributes that led to positive growth included greater use of visual models, good use of tech integration, attention to language/reading, deep one-to-one support (tutoring), regular assessment, and family-school communication/teaming. In a couple of situations where the growth was less, I don't think we took the progress monitoring seriously enough since those students displayed little growth throughout the year, and I wonder if they would have increased their success if we had stopped and looked deeply at what we could do to truly help those children succeed and then revising our supports to make that happen. In two cases, students learning took a turn midyear, a turn that signaled exhaustion and struggle. Fortunately we've changed our curriculum a bit to respond to that midyear downturn so that might help this year. We're also offering more supports with regard to language development which might help too. I want to continue thinking about this with colleagues so we can do better.

At-School Tutoring and Extra Help
Better than sitting on the couch at home correcting papers is the effort to offer extra study support during the week. Fortunately I can do that this year due to the fact that my own children are older and need less after school support, and I don't have an extra job to pay the bills which many younger teachers do have. I want to continue to build this in-school tutoring/extra support effort in ways that matter and translate into good academic growth and success with students. I will think about how I can make this happen in the weeks ahead.

Study Packets
Utilizing an idea that arose from our Middle School efforts and a conversation with a highly qualified mathematician in our midst, I've started using the unit packet study guide to guide our teaching/learning efforts. This guide includes all major visual models and learning efforts and allows educators, assistants, and students a guide to the most important skills, concepts, and knowledge for each unit. The use of the study guide enables us to work with more time focused in on the most essential content.

Tech Integration
The use of Symphony Math, That Quiz, Google apps, TenMarks, and a few other games gives us a good tech infrastructure to work with to help students succeed in math. These platforms offer educators the opportunity to personalize the exercises for each child if needed. These platforms also work like the study guide as one way to organize and lead the learning--a method that students can use with each other, on their own, and with educators for practice and self-learning. I wish we could use Khan Academy, but at this time, our system won't allow it. I continue my advocacy with little success so far since I believe that Khan Academy is a super tech platform for math learning and support.

Projects, Problems, and Exploration
I want to add more of these to our math program, and that's an area that I am exploring at this time. 

Interdisciplinary Math Education
I also want to integrate our math teaching/learning with other topics regularly, and that's another area I'm working to improve on. 

Students Helping Students
We use this strategy often in class and it is a very successful research-based strategy, one I want to use more. 

Educators everywhere are always thinking about how they can help every learner. That's a challenge when we're working with lots of children--a challenge I'm committed to meeting with greater success in the days ahead.