Monday, November 28, 2016

The ELA Teacher Teaching Math

As an elementary generalist I always planned on teaching multiple subjects. Depending on class configurations this may change from year to year, and for a few years I taught only science and ELA as other colleagues picked up the math.

This year I find myself teaching math again. Sixth grade math, to be exact, with a common core aligned Singapore math style program. And--wow! It's been an experience.

A Newcomer's Eyes
One aspect of teaching math that is both delightful and infuriating at the same time is that I see it from a newcomer's eyes. I'm in Year 19 of teaching, and nothing much surprises me anymore when it comes to teaching reading and writing--I've seen the pendulum's swing and maybe I've been hit on the head by it a few times. I've seen an entire curriculum that I worked on and cherished dismantled before me and that hurts a little! So I have a thicker skin when it comes to ELA, a measured and philosophical approach.

Math, however, is a different story. I taught sixth grade math twice and fourth grade math three times, so my relative experience is slight. I'm still testing the waters of the new program. I still find it thrilling to see a new connection between two seemingly distant lessons or concepts. I still delight in finding new manipulatives and new materials. Everything is still new and exciting!

I have a working strategy when it comes to lesson planning and thinking of new techniques for teaching. I start out by observing students carefully, listening in on their partner conversations and noticing what works and doesn't work in conventional instruction. Then, I try to design some targeted lessons to address the issues. After I've tried some of these targeted lessons I go back to the literature to read some journal articles to see if what I've noticed matches up with larger trends and suggestions, and then I refine what I've done based on both my observations and the literature.

Station Rotation
I have the luxury of an instructional assistant in my room during math class, so I've taken advantage of this by using a station rotation teaching routine. Using small group instruction is very helpful to me as I work through which teaching methods work best in which situations. I have some students who like to dive in to hard problem solving, others who prefer hands-on methods, and still others who like to work methodically and look carefully at each step.

I'm Working On...
Right now I'm fascinated by how different learners experience math. How can I make math instruction more friendly for students who have working memory issues? How can I design "low floor, high ceiling" problems that engage a wide spectrum of sixth grade learners? How does this all fit together? How can we make a day of sixth grade work across all content areas?