"Students in My Math Classes Next Year Will Do a Lot of Writing. Here’s Why." according to Amy Shapiro, She has 16 years of experience in education, 10 as a classroom
teacher of math and physics and six as a program officer at an education
non-profit. She is currently a STEM specialist at a small independent
school in upstate NY. This fall, after six years out of the classroom,
she will return and teach 7th grade math and science and 11th grade
I started my teaching career at a large comprehensive high school, teaching math exactly as I had been taught. Each day, I introduced my students to a new type of problem, solved a problem for them, and wrote the procedure in listed steps alongside my solution. Then I assigned them additional problems to solve on their own using the procedure that I provided. My students’ progress was slow with this approach, and I felt like I was struggling to reach them.
After four years of teaching, I switched gears and spent my fifth year teaching physics to 9th graders at a new engineering-themed small school in the Bronx borough of New York City. That year was completely different from my past teaching experience, both in terms of the content I was teaching and the type of instruction I was trying to provide my students. I used an inquiry-based curriculum with project-based assessments in this physics course with mixed success.
I finished the year feeling like the course had gone better than the teacher-centered math courses I had taught during the previous four years, but I wasn’t able to instantaneously change the learning in my classroom as much as I had hoped. Again, I found myself struggling to accurately assess what had gone wrong and how to improve.
My principal contacted me over the summer because she was looking for someone to attend a training on teaching English-language learners. Our district’s department of education required someone from each school to attend a weeklong summer professional-development course, and no one else from my school was available or wanted to go. Initially, I felt like the training wouldn’t be applicable to my practice, but I decided to attend mostly to “take one for the team.” But, in fact, it was this PD experience that opened my eyes as to what had gone wrong the previous year and started to provide me with concrete strategies to improve the teaching and learning in my classroom. I learned, specifically, about the central role of language development in learning, even in math classes.
In the PD, all the activities presented were those that would be done in an English class. I was immersed in a classroom designed with ELLs in mind and I participated in all the activities as if I were a student. For example, before we read a short story, we completed an anticipatory guide, a strategy used before reading to introduce students to some of the vocabulary and ideas they were going to encounter in the story. While an anticipatory guide might be old news for an English teacher, it really opened my eyes as a math and science teacher.
Through this activity and others like it, I started to think about how much vocabulary my students actually needed to learn in my classroom, especially if I was going to talk to them with appropriate mathematical and scientific words as they learned the new content. Regardless of whether my students were ELLs or former ELLs or neither, all the new content they were learning required them to learn new academic language as well, and I needed to teach this language to them. At this point in my career, I made a commitment that going forward, I would make a conscious effort to help my students develop both spoken and written academic language.
I continued to teach a variety of math and science classes for four years after this eye-opening summer training. I experimented with different ways to get my students talking and writing about math and science. I tried grouping my students purposefully, providing different participation structures like “round robins” and “novel ideas only,” and asking my students to write lab reports in science class and essays to identify and explain their mistakes in solving problems in math class. I even had my calculus students read a nonfiction book in literature circles about Newton and Leibniz’s independent discoveries of calculus and required them to keep a journal about their reading and the connections they were making to their own learning in calculus.
It was an exciting time for me as I tried to help improve the teaching and learning in my classroom, and I definitely felt more successful as a teacher. My students’ written work gave me insight into what they understood and what they didn’t in a way I had never experienced when the majority of the assessment in my classroom was summative and focused on correct answers rather than explanations and processes.
Source: Education Week