My initial idea for the digital project was to “half-flip”, or “blend” my Math classroom. That seems like a long time ago now! I am glad to report though I did not pursue this as my #1 project, my Math classroom does not look the same way it did when I wrote that post on September 30! As a response to the diversity in my classroom (almost a given as there are 33), I decided to place my students in three ability-leveled working groups, with my enriched group using primarily online tutorials for instruction. Flexible groupings is something I have been wanting to explore; this year it is more of a necessity than an option. We finished our unit last week and I gave students an opportunity to provide me with some feedback on their experiences.
There have been definite benefits to reorganizing the structure of my room. One of the observed upsides is the ability to differentiate instruction more easily for each grouping. My enriched group is gaining the experience of working independently and solving problems together. They are able to move at their own pace through the unit. I have outlined the unit assignments and provided them with links to online tutorials (from the wonderful Jan Poiritt as well as the Khan Academy) on my blog. Though we encountered a couple glitches with the technology piece, it has worked very well overall. I gave each group a color name, and this group is referred to as the Red group. The feedback from the Red group was very positive. They are really excited about the new challenge. I think they like being trusted with the challenge, too. Feedback from parents at our recent conferences was also positive (something I wondered about, given the fact that this group does not direct instruction from me). The parents I spoke with were glad for their kids to be pushed.
“I enjoyed learning independently very much because if I got something fast I could just do it instead of waiting until everyone got it. I hope we continue doing this.”
My “Blue” group is the smallest but experiences the most difficulty in Math. The feedback from this group was also interesting, and close to unanimous: they like working with kids who are moving at a similar pace, and most like working together. They expressed the increased comfort and reduced pressure of working in smaller groups. These students often feel pressured by the scale and speed of the work done in the large group setting and it was advantageous to be able to work with them in one group. I wish that I could spend the entire lesson working with them as it feels very needed, but I have at least freed up a bit more time and flexibility to work with them one on one. In response to the prompt, “I do my best in Math when…”:
“I am relaxed and not worried that I am going to be the last one done or going to get a lot of the answers wrong.”
“I work with a group and when stuck on a problem to talk with others.”
“I work in groups that work at a similar pace.”
Of course, it’s great that students are enjoying Math more, but has their understanding of concepts improved? From the unit test, there was some improvement, but it is difficult to measure, given the change in the outcomes studied. However, multiplying and dividing decimals is often a challenging outcome for students, and they did well overall. I am continuing with the groupings for this unit, though I shifted a couple kids from one group to another. In this way, I hope to communicate with kids that there is flexibility in the groups and an opportunity for change.
This challenge has been good for me professionally. It’s good to be in learning mode along with the kids, and I have been open with them about my learning journey as a Math teacher, too. It was time for me to move outside of my comfort zone (direct instruction to a large group) and experiment with a new approach. I tried to remember Audri and his willingness to learn from both success and failure! I was also reminded of the importance of giving students an opportunity to give feedback. It is so simple, but I often forget to ask, and I found their responses quite revealing and helpful to my planning.
As I have expressed to both students and parents: “This is a work in progress, and that’s okay”! Next up: angles and polygons!