Ms. Amelia, a 4th/5th grade Math Advisor at Aveson School of Leaders, decided mid-year that she wanted to redesign the structure of her math blocks to better utilize instructional time and to empower students to determine their own learning path in her Personalized Mastery Learning math classroom.
Reflecting on her data and observations, she knew that she needed more time with certain students, and believed that her students should have a voice in determining how much time they needed with her. As her PML Coach, we met and I gave feedback on her ideas for redesigning her math block. Six weeks after implementing her redesign, I interviewed Ms. Amelia to discuss how the changes had impacted her students’ opportunities for determining their own learning path.
First semester, Ms. Amelia’s fourth and fifth grade students had rotated to work with her in smaller groups for shorter periods of time. Although having many targeted instructional groups had some benefit in differentiating students’ learning paths, the short time periods became a barrier to students having more input into their own learning path, and limited time to go deeper in the teaching of math concepts.
The instructional redesign implemented in January has two targeted instructional groups, rather than four or five. The amount of time available to each group is now greater. Additionally, when students leave the targeted group to work independently on a “must do” related to the lesson, they became more student driven and flexible.
In the newly structured math block, the lesson begins with the teaching of a math concept and an explanation of the “must do” connected to the lesson, which includes work in a math workbook or on teacher-created materials. In addition to longer time periods for lessons, another significant shift is that students now help determine how long they would like to remain working in the lesson group with teacher support, and when they feel ready to work on the concept independently. For some, after one or two guided problems they are ready to work independently. For others, they stay for just a few more practice problems, or for the remainder of the time available, which may be thirty minutes or more.
Ms. Amelia supports students in transitioning to independent work by asking students to explain how a problem was solved or to show her one more problem before leaving. This process helps students confirm that they are ready to work on the concept independently, or reflect that they need a little more guided practice before leaving the group.
Ms. Amelia has created an emotionally safe classroom culture in which spending more time practicing a math concept is respected by all. This flexibility of time is connected to a growth mindset of ‘you’re getting there’ and
‘I am here to help you’. She tells students, “I am here at the carpet as long as you need me, we can go through this again if you’d like some more guided help.” There is no shame or stigma in this model, in part because the student is the one primarily making the decision of how long to stay with Ms. Amelia to receive guided support.
Students also gained more choice in their learning path in providing additional “may do” math activities when the “must do” is complete. For a few of her students, the math concepts they are working on are far beyond either of the target instructional groups. Ms. Amelia has been able to allow for more personalized learning for them as well through projects and blended learning tools.
Reflective teachers like Ms. Amelia are willing to make changes and innovate as the needs of their students change. To hear more on how Ms. Amelia did this in her classroom, listen to the full interview.