I must ask the question to myself over and over again, almost daily. *How much practice is enough practice for my students?* Today I struggled as a math teacher. Writing this post hurts my heart a little. I am wrestling with a new math series, trying to give it a try to have it be at fidelity while still balancing the needs of my classroom.

We all have learners that fall on the spectrum of different levels of understanding regarding the learning target. I am prepared for that daily. What sometimes gets me though, is the way that our new math series assigns a number of problems to a student. In one math lesson, the students are to solve 6 review problems, a large hands on problem, 30-35 independent practice problems from the book and a 20 problem homework page.

This is absurd in my mind for two reasons:

1. The students who understood the learning target, certainly don’t need to do it 50+ times.

2. The students who didn’t understand the learning target, absolutely CAN’T do it 50+ times.

This is what the book page looked like (only the bottom half):

We are only beginning division. Asking students to learn the concept of division, and then 3 days later have them divide by 8 and 9 is just crazy. I know that as their math teacher, I can step in and give modified assignments, lessen the number of problems and the level of difficulty. I know that is why I am the professional in front of them, giving them what their brain needs. But this isn’t just this particular lesson this particular day, it is just about every lesson, just about every day. Having to modify everything can be exhausting, and it makes those struggling students feel sad that they can’t do it all.

Why do math textbooks have this almost mindless repetition for students who get it, and then induce pure panic in those that don’t? Watching students who struggle try to answer even one problem is heartbreaking, leaving them feeling broken when they see that there are 29 more to go.

This is why I’ve gone away from the traditional model of math, in favor of deeper problem solving and a more project based feel. Watching student’s faces drain of the love of math is totally heartbreaking and I really can’t do it anymore. Math is an amazing, beautiful subject and I know I can help my students grow. I can prove it with data, and I can prove that I don’t need to do it with endless worksheets.

Even with a new math series that led us to believe that things would feel different, I am realizing that being an effective teacher and lifelong math learner is truly the only way to help students grow. There is no magic textbook, no perfect program. Instead, we must search and find the best tools, and tailor our instruction to every student at every level.

I hope you can share the best ways that you know how to do this with me (all of us!) as well.

I can completely relate. I despise everything about our district’s math series. I struggle with it everyday because I just don’t have the time to adjust and adapt it for every lesson the way I would like to. We have a different lesson on a new topic almost daily with 5-10 problems on the concept of the day and 30-35 review problems. It gets to where they learn so many new concepts that they can’t keep them straight. When they only have one problem to practice a concept each day, they never get to master it. Now they can’t remember if they should add or multiply the denominator, simplify the fraction, or change an improper fraction. Sorry for rambling, its nice to know there is someone else who understands. Good luck in your daily challenge!

It is so very time consuming! You aren’t rambling, and I welcome your comments. I think when we don’t connect these concepts to the real world they get so lost, and that is why they get mixed up. It can be so frustrating right?

My 2nd grade math team really struggles with this too. We decided not to get the math workbooks for our classes this year. It’s been a lot of work to find resources, and a lot of experimenting. And I’m still not sure we’re there.

Sara

I am sure there is a lot of reflection involved every year with every subject, but this whole idea of practice work seems to make people crazy (one way or the other). I definitely hope we can all find some solutions soon! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and what your team has been through!

I read somewhere that the reason that math books are so chock full is so that they don;’t leave anything out that would get them out of the running to be purchased by a district. I think that when a person loves math like you do, you love it because of what it does and how it organizes the world, not because it allows you a place to do get answers to endless equations. But rather that showing the students the beauty of math your students you have these mandates to meet that puts you in the uncomfortable positon of having to squeeze them dry of right answers.., It seems like kids are fine with it, but it’s sad for the kids who either don’t get it, or just can’t access the info fast enough to get the homework done. IT sounds like you have lots of compassion for the students…I’m sure that comes through, and will keep them going.

Thank you Paula for your very insightful comment. I agree with you about the publisher and teacher disconnect. I definitely think we are all in this position (just about everywhere in America), and it’s nice to know that I am not the only one.

Thank you also for the warm compliments. I’ve read your blog, too…so I know that you are the same type of person! 🙂

Amen! There is not a perfect textbook. Some kids need more practice and some kids need less and I agree that a teacher must make those choices on an individual basis.

One thing we did recently in ‘Fraction Boot Camp’ was a quick mini-lesson on the rug and then students answered 10 short questions (the page had 30 problems) but answering 10 would give me a picture of who gets it and who needs a re-teach. After spending about 5 minutes answering the questions we went over them together. Those who got it at 80% or better were released to a short final assessment then individual work while I reviewed with the few who needed more practice. Had I required everyone to do the 30 problems on the page, we would have lost lots of class time, my math whiz kiddos would have been bored, and I would have had a handful of kiddos who practiced wrong 30 times!

I appreciate posts that make me reflect on my practice and know that there are other teachers working on the same–improving the school experience for all kiddos!

Thanks for sharing!

Thank YOU for sharing! I appreciate hearing from other teachers, and I know we all learn to be better together. 🙂