Re-2 part of statewide video production
Director of Districtwide Services
Students from Graham Mesa Elementary didn’t have to audition for their performance in a statewide video production last week. They just had to work hard and be willing to fail along the journey to finding the right answers.
Video crews from Climb Higher Colorado were at Graham Mesa last week filming fourth grade students, parents and math teacher Eunnyung Davis about techniques, philosophy and expectations used in Davis’ math class.
Climb Higher Colorado is a Colorado nonprofit organization with a message that “every child deserves the benefit of high expectations.” Through the video, they intend to illustrate how common standards can support parent partnerships with schools, support students that may move from school to school, and set high expectations for every student, whether they are struggling in understanding a concept or excelling.
One of the strategies that occurs in Davis’ class — and many others across the district — is the use of performance based math tasks. This is a different take on traditional math instruction — one that requires trust of the teacher, trust of their classmates, and belief that sometimes you must struggle and fail to get to the right answer.
“The traditional model of math instruction is ‘I do’ as the teacher, ‘we do’ together as a class and then ‘you do’ as a student,” Davis said. “It’s a very slow release of your control as a teacher. By the time the students are working independently on the problem, they really get very little independent practice.”
Performance based math tasks begin with the students digging into the work prior to the teacher modeling the correct pathway to the answer. Davis, Amber Tharp at Rifle Middle School, and several other teachers across Garfield Re-2 are integrating performance based math tasks into their Colorado Academic Units. Davis and Tharp have been learning about these strategies through professional development for a couple of years. Other math teachers in Re-2 are just being exposed to the strategy.
“Performance based tasks change the role of the teacher from the purveyor of knowledge to a facilitator,” Davis said. “The most important part of the lesson is the teacher finding a task where students of varying skill levels can be successful in engaging with the problem to some level. Some students will not get very far.”
Heather Fox, of Quick Fox Strategies, which is working with Climb Higher Colorado, was excited to be in Davis’ classroom to show how a teacher who had experience with Colorado Academic Standards could challenge students of all levels and see them be successful. They filmed students engaged in a math task requiring them to show how an alternative way of solving a problem could get to the correct answer, defend their answer, and then work a problem using the alternative method.
Once the students have worked as far as they can on the task on their own, the instructor regroups them into homogenous or like-groups based upon where their skills began to break down in the question. Those groups of students begin to work through the problem together with the teacher asking guiding questions to help them solve it.
“It’s a different way of looking at math,” Tharp added. “It takes extra time to do these tasks, but I’ve been amazed at how the tasks have increased the mathematical thinking in my classroom. It causes the productive struggle. At first, they really struggle through the task.”
Davis added that the productive struggle is a skill that all students should be able to carry with them through life.
“We’re building a life skill,” she said. “A pattern of learning habits — that it’s OK to fail, but that through perseverance and continual learning, you can arrive at the answer.”
Traditional, direct instruction still has to happen to lay foundational skills, Davis said. The performance based math tasks are a way to help students use all of their math skills in different ways.
Both teachers added that the new strategies have increased the depth of understanding of math concepts in their students as evidenced by more and proper use of math language by students-to-students and students-to-teacher. At first, Tharp said, the whole process was a challenge to both her and her students. That has changed.
“The kids (have) really bought into (the) process. They didn’t like it at first. They just wanted me to tell them the answer,” she explained. “Once they figured out the answer on their own, they bought in. They realized they found the answer — they did it through their own discovery. Now they beg for tasks.”
Climb Higher Colorado hopes to have their video ready for release by the first week of December. They spent time in several school districts around the state, showcasing teachers whose instruction holds all students to high expectations.
Theresa Hamilton is the director of districtwide services for the Garfield School District Re-2, serving Rifle, Silt and New Castle. Contact her at 665-7621.
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