Again: If you are not a teacher, or are not interested in reading about my teaching life, this probably isn't a post that you are going to be interested in! :)
This past month I have been doing a book study with a few people in the blog world. So I am linking up with Sherrie at Middle School Math Rules as she is the one that started this book study! I think I found her blog through Pinterest and I have loved reading her ideas for her middle school classroom. So when she posted she was doing a book study on a math book that guides you through doing workshop in your math class, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. The book is called Minds on Mathematics - Using Math Workshop to Develop Deep understanding in Grades 4-8 by Wendy Ward Hoffer.
Chapter 1 & 2.
Now onto Chapters 3 & 4.
Chapter 3: Tasks
Problem of the Day: How can we design math learning activities that generate student understanding?
Postulate: When we believe students' agency and efficacy as mathematicians, we prioritize time for learners to grapple with high cognitive demand tasks that catalyze their understanding of important mathematical ideas.
This chapter really reminded me of the saying: we teach a mile wide and an inch deep. We really need to move away from this and get deeper into the curriculum. As I mentioned before, a man named Mark Forget came and did a couple seminars for our school over the last couple summers and this chapter really lends itself to his teachings. He really encourages you to spend time discussing, asking questions, voting, having students explain, arguing, writing, and THINKING! All of his activities really encompass what this chapter is saying. At least once a week last year I really tried to do one of his activities in my classroom (hunt for the main idea, think pair share, etc). And (not surprisingly) those are the days I left feeling most accomplished and I felt like my students really took something away from my class. I know this needs to happen more often!
I was really excited last year because I was able to cover the majority of our curriculum, but I shouldn't have been proud of that or have even had that as a goal, we really need to be more concerned with understanding. That will be my main goal going into next year! Understanding, not covering.
After reading this chapter, I feel that I am doing everything backwards. I introduce a lesson, show them the how and then we practice practice practice and then (if time) we get into the meaty comprehension questions. I need to rethink my teaching and really pull the challenging tasks to the forefront of the lesson and start a chapter or unit with those types of questions. It might be difficult for the students, but we are asking them to THINK which should be our main focus. Page 39 sums it up by saying "We need to ask good questions, promote connections to prior knowledge, and encourage conceptual thinking rather than rescuing students from struggle by simplifying problems or offering algorithms to follow."
I need to remember that I don't have to rewrite the textbook. I just need to hunt for those good questions and then bring them to the front of the lesson (you may have to refine them a little, but the questions are there).
As I look over the Bloom's Taxonomy I realize that most days I don't ask my students to do more than apply. That means that I am depriving my students of analyzing, evaluating, and creating. I'm not saying I never do those things, but on a day to day basis my students get to apply. That was a wake up call to me to challenge myself a little more in my teaching skills.
A key point I pulled away from page 46 is, reflection time is important (which I mentioned from chapter 2)!! Sometimes we work up until the bell and I need to make it a point to stop and reflect on the day. I also need to think through my questions instead of just saying "how are we doing, do we have any last minute questions".
Chapter 4: Community
Problem of the Day: How can we cultivate communities of thinkers that catalyze math learning?
Postulate: Students learn best as participants in communities of thinkers that challenge, support, and appreciate all for their contributions to the understanding of the group.
This chapter was very interesting to me. It gave a lot of useful information and I highlighted many things because they are ideas I want to use next year!
1. To manage students behavior, we need to give up some control.
2. Twenty-first century skills that we need to foster in the classroom are communication and collaboration. These are practical tools that we need to start teaching and using in our classrooms to help our students become successful.
3. A learning community is a culture, not a structure. (It must include intention, interdependence, and homeostasis). This is why we must spend time creating this culture. It's not something you can expect without modeling and taking time to nurture and tweak throughout the year.
4. "Students adjust their attitudes and efforts in order to fit into the culture." This was very enlightening to me and it makes so much sense when you think about it. You must make it the cool thing to care. If a peer celebrates success, it's cool to care about your studies and it is our goal to make it a train that every student wants to jump aboard. - my question here is how?! Some students seem to always be "too cool for school."
5. I also liked the paragraph in page 52 about how the students are apprentices and the teachers job is to model. I plan on using that speech the first day!
6. I plan on making a poster or something that encompasses all the information from the chart on page 53. This is so motivating to me and I hope the students see that as well. These "Norms" are not only applicable in my math class, but they should walk into every situation with that type of attitude!
7. I really like that it mentioned instead of just saying "good job" it talks about really conveying what they are doing good at. "Great job at explaining your thinking, you really nailed it..." It shows that you are paying attention to that individual and complementing their specific effort. It's so much more meaningful than just "good job".
8. I liked the question on page 56, when a learner chooses not to do what asked, ask them "what is it that you need in order to engage as a learner today?"
9. Page 57 really maps out what a day should look like in your class. I'm going to copy that page and put it at the front of my lesson plan book as a good reminder what a day should look like in my room and how I can set myself apart from just being a typical teacher.
10. "My definition of a good teacher has since changed from 'one who explains things so well that students understand' to 'one who gets students to explain things so well that they can be understood.'" This is going to be challenging for me, but I really see the benefits. When you have the ability to explain something, you really understand it. That is a wonderful goal for all students.
11. I loved the idea about brainstorming all the problems that you can encounter with group work and discussing ways to overcome. Making posters and referring to them if that problem occurs. I plan on using that in my classroom as well.
12. I really liked all the ideas on how to self-monitor. It makes each student take ownership for what they contributed in a day.
There were a few other things I highlighted, but these were the ones that really caught my eye. This has been the most beneficial chapter to me so far. It really highlighted day to day things that you can do to have better community in your classroom that adds to the success of students.
I'm excited to keep reading!! If you are a math teacher and you find any of this interesting and you want to better your classroom, I highly suggest reading this book!