What Do You Do First?

As I am realizing that I need to change things in my classroom to see the changes in my students, it can be overwhelming with all of the possibilities of things to do. With over 25 years experience in education as a teacher, coach, and mentor, I realize that it never hurts to ask for another perspective. Another person’s thoughts help clarify what I am thinking and help me decided if what I am thinking is a good approach, needs to revised, or should be put on the back burner. That person can also offer a different perspective that I may have not even considered. I thought that starting with our district coach to develop a game plan for the remainder of the year would be a good start and help me feel less overwhelmed. I contacted Tara DeVaughn, our districtwide secondary math and science coach. Fortunately, she was working close by the next day and could come and brainstorm with me during my prep time.

What I had realized from attending the Effective Instruction Conference was that my room was set up for me to hold the power. Below is an image of how my room is set up. I had returned to the classroom in the fall of 2020. I know…good timing, right?! We started the school year remotely and then transitioned to having both remote and in person at the same time. Each week, I would ask for feedback from the students, which was enlightening. The students who were remote wanted me in front of my camera so that they felt like they were part of the class. So here I found myself in the spring of 2022 with the same set up as a year prior but with having students in front of me. The conference made me aware that I had a set up that made students look to me for answers and gave me the power in the room. I needed to change the set up of the room to change this. The question was how.

This is where having Tara come and brainstorm was amazing. She was able to offer some options. One option was to rearrange the room and have stations where students would be in groups that rotated around the room. By having these stations, I would have the opportunity to connect with each student. It would also force students to turn to each other for answers instead of looking at me to validate them. Tara gave me some ideas of possible stations I could have. Now it was just how could I do this.

My first go around with stations was on Friday. In geometry, we are working on trigonometry right now. With so many students gone at different times and for a variety of reasons, I felt that we needed a “catch up” day. I gave students an assessment that they did on scratch paper. Once they completed the assessment, I had them self select what group they would be in. I had three groups – one that got it, one that needed a little more practice, and one that needed support. For first period, I made the mistake to allow them to sit wherever they wanted and work on problems. I realized that I was running around the room, trying to help students as best I could. For the remaining periods, I had students group themselves together in a space in the room, with the group needed support being upfront with me. By doing this, students could ask each other questions if they were stuck. I told them that they needed to ask each other instead of looking to me for the answers – which I did not know for the problems that I gave them.

What I found during that day is that all students were engaged – even the students who try to hide in the back of the room and not be noticed. I had all students working on problems that they could do. I do not know if it was the ability to choose the problems that they were working on that appealed to them or if it was that the problems were ones they felt comfortable doing. I also noticed and heard more of them talking to each other to see what they were doing.

From this activity, it has made me aware of some things. Students have not been talking with each other for about a year and a half so they are naturally turning to the teacher for answers. I need to teach them what they need to do if they do not have the answers and they do not have someone who can answer their questions. It has also made me wonder how they have learned math in the past. I believe that they think math is about getting an answer. It is getting students ot realize that math is more than just an answer. I like to say that just because you have an answer, you are not necessarily doing math.

I am realizing that all of these things take time, and patience, to make a difference. I am trying a version of stations where students rotate this week. We will see how that works and what I learn from the students.


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