Professional Growth varies with Student Needs and Attitudes


As I was chatting briefly this morning, I thought – my professional growth needs sort of change depending on the students I have in front of me.  I pondered the reading I’ve done over the past 6 years…and how what I was seeking varied, depending on my classroom setting.

When I first participated in Kentucky’s Leadership Network back in 2009/2010ish, I read books they provided us over the three year period.  I was challenged by the reading – productive struggle, if you will – to evaluate my beliefs about learning and teaching.

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Classroom Assessment for Student Learning, 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, More Good Questions, 75 Practical Formative Assessment Classroom Techniques, Focus in High School Mathematics – Reasoning and Sense Making, Cooperative Learning & Mathematics.

I re-evaluated my purpose of grades and began to explore ways of reporting student learning differently, began having conversations with colleagues about SBG, assessments and student collaboration to strengthen their learning.

I began to explore, looking for books and resources on my own.

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I realized how I needed to “be less helpful.”  For years, I had demonstrated exactly how I wanted them to do the problems – I had stolen their opportunity to learn, rather than using their approaches as a foundation to continue building their understanding.  I began looking for ways to build through literacy strategies, listening to student thinking and reasoning, responding with questions rather than telling them whether they were right/wrong.  “Honors” students were both simpler and more difficult to try these new strategies with.  They thrived at the thinking, yet became frustrated when challenged to articulate their own thinking.  They did not like looking at varied approaches and making sense of them, yet – it expanded their own understanding.

Then I was shifted to Algebra 2 for students who “hated” math class – did not see a use or purpose.  I tried very hard to find ways of providing context to as much of the curriculum as I could.  I looked for structures like Number Talks, Counting Circles, Estimation 180, Visual Patterns, WODB to provide non-threatening opportunities for these students to grow in confidence as they began sharing how they “saw” problems…how they “thought” about them, how they “approached” getting an answer.  But when we would look at traditional approach to Algebra, there was a lot of hand-holding…I felt I had reverted back.

How could I change the culture in my classroom, so students were not afraid to “be wrong” and I wasn’t relying on the same five or six to interact with me, but I was intentionally, including every student everyday?  How could I restructure my lessons, present engaging scenarios that pushed students to think, talk and learn from one another?

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I see that with many who have struggled, I have to be very purposeful in building that level of comfort – giving them opportunities to make sense, wonder, ask their own questions.  Push but support.  Celebrate not only their successes, but also the small steps they are making toward those goals – reasoning out their mistakes and how to correct them / learn from them.  In education we claim to do this a lot.  But I think we do a lot of telling, “here’s how” rather than allowing them to do their own thinking.

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I wonder if I’ve not compartmentalized the topics so much, there’s a disconnect and students don’t retain.  How can I restructure my lessons, sequencing, practice/HW, quizzes and assessments that will maximize student learning?

I’m constantly questioning what I do, I never want to keep students from reaching their highest level of achievement.  But its a lonely road sometimes.  I see growth in my students, so what I’m doing can’t be completely wrong.  Its so hard sometimes to know what to refine, what to throw out – after all, each year is new, a completely new group of learners…what worked with one group may/may not attain higher results with this one.

Since 2010, I’ve been in 9th grade all Algebra I, 10-12 Honors Geometry, Algebra 2, AP Statistics.  Currently, I am back in Algebra I with APstats.  Next year, I will be Algebra I and 1 class of 12th graders Mathematics for Business and Industry.

Again, I am reminded that different classes of different students have different needs.  I must always be observant, aware and flexible, willing to adjust my sails, learn something new and not be be afraid to try it.




One response »

  1. Thanks for this candid reflection. You are absolutely right, that whatever ideas we have about teaching and learning, they are only meaningful if they work for the students in our classroom at that moment. We have to be flexible in our thinking and in our methods to work with individuals and not just our conception of how a student should be.

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