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.