I started teaching because I love to learn and I wanted to make a difference in my students’ lives. I quickly learned that what a child was learning could be academic, social, or simply personal growth. Learning is complex. Teaching is complex. As a teacher I was making so many decisions everyday. When I taught math in 1st grade last fall, I experienced the complexities once again. I had students with very different needs, both mathematically and socially. I wanted to meet all my students needs, but also felt overwhelmed with the variety I had to deal with in the classroom. Today I want to compare how I addressed those needs before and after I understood student adaptive pedagogy. I would also like to talk about some of the tools I used to help me make the decisions that allowed me to create the space for students to learn.
As a teacher and a coach, I grew in my knowledge of different ways to present math concepts. I will never forget teaching lattice multiplication to my fourth graders. This method allowed my weakest student to be able to multiply 4,327 X 3,582. He was so proud of himself. I loved those moments when I saw my students feeling empowered. I worked hard to understand different ways to present concepts because I knew that not all my students might understand the same methods. I gave assessments that I created which allowed them to use these different methods. Some students still struggled, but I didn’t have any other tools to support them. Now I realize I was just training them with different methods, when the problem was that they lacked conceptual development. They had not made sense of the math.
Last fall, I used the structure of how I taught guided reading in math. First I interviewed the students individually. These interviews gave me insight as to how they thought about various mathematical tasks. From those interviews, I chose math learning goals based on the math they had learned or could potentially learn (their math sweet spot) and placed them in flexible small groups. Another of the new tools I have is the ability to recognize what mathematical activity might be near a student’s sweet spot. Common Core has written progressions based on the math concepts of adults, but I used a progression based on how students learn number, addition, and subtraction. This allowed me to match my students to students described in the research and use those examples to make decisions about the best next steps for each. Having a student adaptive pedagogy allowed me to recognize my students’ mathematics and choose activities in their sweet spot. I was able to meet my students diverse needs by engaging with my students using small group instruction.
In my next blog post, I will give some examples of small group activities done with my students that address different aspects of the research.