Effective Math Practice

This is my seventh year teaching grade 6 math and love that I’m still learning new things about the opportunities and challenges of teaching that age group and teaching math in general. One of the battles I have fought for years is to get students to check their work and do corrections when they complete practice assignments. I’ve tried all kinds of strategies, including flipping my classroom, but even with students doing work in class, they often forget (or neglect) to check their work before moving on to something else.

This week in my class, students have been working on a review problem set in preparation for the unit test that is scheduled for next week. It’s the first unit test of the year, and we’re spending a lot of time on review so that students can brush up their skills but also so that students can develop a sense of how to practice math skills effectively. While they have had a lot of time to practice the various skills they have developed throughout the unit, this is the first time this year that they have done a cumulative review in preparation for a test. It was interesting to see how the students’ attitudes shifted as soon as they knew that they were getting ready for a test. Whereas earlier in the unit they seemed to think that they did homework for my benefit (and were much less motivated to do it if I wasn’t looking), when it came to getting ready for the test, they finally realized that the work they were doing was for their own benefit. This had a noticeable effect on the classroom atmosphere: students were more focused on their work which allowed me to focus on helping students rather than keeping students on-task.

Another shift which was really helpful is that students took a lot more time to check their work and do corrections. While I always (always) emphasize the importance of checking your work as you go, and doing corrections as required, somehow this time around students were more willing to take the time to do so. I posted the answer keys on walls so that there was a built-in “wiggle break” when students got up to check their work, so that might have helped their motivation. I also drew this on the board to help keep them on-track:

Image

I think this cycle was always intuitive to me when I was a student, and as a teacher I have always held this expectation for my students – both implicitly and explicitly, but this is the first time that I have posted it in a visual format and it has already made a big difference. I plan to put this on paper so that it can be permanently posted in the room – I’m hopeful that this will help students to solidify an important habit and make them more successful in the long term.

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