Bring Back the Rigor in the Math Classroom!
Math is difficult for a lot of students. Math teachers struggle on a daily basis in how to teach math to their kids and to do so effectively. Over the last few years, I have noticed a trend in math instruction as teachers try to effectively change their pedagogy in their classroom. We have lost our focus – the focus on good math instruction. Nothing can take the place of an effective teacher who focuses their class around quality, rigorous content. There is no computer program, trend, or new class model that will ever be more effective than a teacher that knows their standards well enough to develop a rigorous, challenging lesson. We have lost sight of this as teachers across the nation are being sent to workshops and trainings on the newest way to teach math. We are spending too much of our time developing math games, fun activities, online training lessons, etc. rather than on the actual math being taught. Focusing on the math content first and adapting that to an activity is far more effective than putting the focus on doing fun activities first.
Learning should be at the forefront of every one of our decisions for our classroom. Regardless of the approach you take in delivering instruction, if your children are learning then what you are doing is successful. It shouldn’t matter the approach you take since the students are showing growth and learning. Direct instruction, it seems, has developed a negative connotation for those teachers who lead class with a direct instruction approach. John Hattie’s research states that direct instruction has a 0.6 effect size. This lands in the “high impact” interval which means that direct instruction has a high impact on student learning. If your children are learning and showing growth in a direct instruction classroom, then direct instruction works for you. As you know from my previous blog posts, I practice the flipped classroom model. My kids show growth and learn so then the flipped classroom works for me. Rather than focusing on the method of instruction, the focus is always on the learning. Regardless of what method of delivery I choose, my focus is always on the learning and content.
In addition to the method of instruction, there seems to a push to use online math programs. There are numerous programs such as IXL, Khan Academy, DeltaMath, Freckle and TenMarks that teachers can use to give students supplemental work. These programs can be great supplemental tools to enhance classroom content but they shouldn’t solely be used. Sitting a kid in front of a computer program to have them answer 5 questions in a row is not showing mastery. Again, nothing can take the place of quality, rigorous content. I have noticed a push of numerous districts forcing these programs upon classroom teachers. These programs can have all of the bells and whistles which include games, badges, cartoons, etc. but we have lost what is most important – content. Regardless of the fun stuff, how is the content? Is it rigorous? Does it help with depth of understanding of content? Recently, I learned more about one of these programs. The presenters were energetic, the platform was awesome but then I started to delve into the content. I started asking these presenters questions about where I could find the content on (insert topic here). They were unable to provide me that content. What they interpreted the standard to be wasn’t actually at all what the questions were asking and the questions didn’t align to the standards at all. They were more focused on the platform and engagement of the content rather than the content itself. At best, the content was adequate but most content wasn’t good. It was very basic and didn’t ask what kids truly needed to know to show mastery of content.
We cannot succumb our kids and classrooms for the next best new program or fad that comes along. Learning and content must always be put as a priority. Math can be made exciting with activities, games, etc., but if the quality of the math used in those activities and games are not rigorous then we are wasting our precious class time for a feel good moment with kids rather than teaching the math skills they need. We need math classrooms where students are exposed to a quality, rigorous curriculum.