Proven strategies to both catch students up on unfinished learning and master grade-level content.
Teachers face many expectations that can seem like contradictions on the surface:
It can feel like a daunting task to check all of these boxes, but I’ve seen three ways that make a huge impact, especially on the last expectation—addressing unfinished learning and also staying on grade-level. If you haven’t tried these classroom strategies yet to help every student spend more time learning grade-level content, give them a try! But first, let’s review the scope of the challenge we’re facing.
The truth is we know that we desperately need to boost students to grade-level proficiency in math and reading. According to the 2019 Nation’s Report Card, one out of every five 4th graders is below proficient in math, a rate that has remained steady for over a decade. Among 8th grade students, 30% are below proficient, and among 12th-grade students, it’s a whopping 40%.
The story is the same for reading: about one-third of students in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades have been reading below grade-level proficiency for years.
And the well-known fact is that students who perform below grade level can stay below grade level, year after year.
What we’ve been doing is clearly not working. We need new solutions.
Fortunately, there are some underutilized strategies that give us hope for change.
Of course, no single solution or pedagogical approach can resolve the many complex and systematic issues that have resulted in the decades-old trend of many students, especially children of color, performing below grade level.
But in the immediate term, teachers, you can make a direct impact on your current students by applying these three approaches to your classrooms this semester. They’re designed to help you make more efficient use of your limited classroom time so that your Tier 1 students can both master foundational skills they need from lower-grade coursework and become proficient in grade-level mathematics.
1. Provide just-in-time support
Learning acceleration isn’t one-size-fits-all. Rather than spending time reviewing a wide range of below-level content for the whole class, which may not speak to each student’s needs, re-engage students with content when they need it.
By providing students with these just-in-time opportunities to build from their strengths and solidify prior learning, they’ll spend more time on grade-level content and master prerequisite skills as they go.
For example, get your students ready for a new module or lesson with a review of key terms and skills they are about to encounter.
Consider this “Getting Ready” section from a MATHbook 7th grade lesson as a model for your lesson prep. On this page, students review the key terms “equivalent ratios” and “percent,” as well as three mathematical concepts they will need to have mastered in order to tackle this module. Students can practice applying their skills with the review problems.
At this point, you may discover that they need targeted practice or support with these skills. In the case of this MATHbook example, students are encouraged to get that additional practice in the corresponding adaptive software MATHia, although you may provide this support in group or individual settings or with other resources.
2. Individualize mastery-based learning
Mastery-based learning is the ideal approach, but oftentimes, you have to keep the class moving even when students haven’t mastered all of the content because of the expectation to cover the entire grade-level curriculum. How can you actually foster mastery-based learning for all students in this situation?
One solution is to individualize mastery-based learning by implementing a personalized, adaptive math software.
What exactly is mastery in “mastery-based learning”? “Mastery” can be a slippery term, so let’s be clear. “Mastery” is when students have demonstrated enough control over a skill that there is a high probability they will be able to apply their knowledge the next they encounter it again in a different context.
Individualized mastery-based learning means that students who struggle with a concept can spend more time working on the specific skill they need to develop, which sets them up for success in whole-class instruction. What that could look like in the classroom is during individual study time, whether in or out of class, students work independently towards mastering skills and topics that may be different than what their peers are concurrently learning. Because each road towards mastery is individualized, they can spend that much more time on grade-level content during whole class time.
Because you can’t be everywhere at once, intelligent technology can step in. For example, MATHia uses artificial intelligence technology to provide one-on-one tutoring so students get exactly the instruction and practice they need to work independently and fill in knowledge components.
3. Drive mathematical discourse
Lead class or group discussions in math? Absolutely!
Education is a human endeavor in all subjects, including math, which means that collaboration is key to meaningful learning. This is especially true in Tier 1 classrooms where students are at varying levels of readiness, with differing knowledge gaps that they can help each other fill so everyone can excel at grade-level content. You’re only one person, but if you have a classroom of 25 students, you have 25 resources who can lift each other’s learning.
Asking the right discussion questions also captures a wider range of student capability. Even if a student doesn’t know all the steps to correctly solve a problem, well-designed mathematical discourse prompts create a learning environment for everyone to engage, participate, and learn.
So what do well-designed questions to support math discourse look like? Here are some examples from a 7th-grade lesson on proportionality from our MATHbook:
As you prepare your own questions to support discourse during your lesson prep, keep these question types in mind:
In the Teacher’s Implementation Guide in our Middle School and High School Math Solutions, discussion questions are directly tied to what students are doing on that precise page in their student editions, so they’re both highly relevant and deliberately scaffolding learning.
As you help get your class caught up to grade-level math proficiency and on track to stay at grade level, each of your students will realize that they, too, can be a math master. They had the potential all along! They just needed the right tools, opportunities, environment—and perhaps the right teacher—to show them. Happy teaching, and let us know how it goes!
Anella Wetter is a Regional Vice President at Carnegie Learning and is responsible for creating successful partnerships with state education agencies and school districts across a quarter of the United States. She holds an M.Ed. and a K-12 teaching certificate in New York state. An avid reader, writer, and thinker, Anella believes that the most basic tool available to a society to reimagine itself is the education of its children. She aspires to personally challenge K-12 leaders to be brave, to create a legacy, and to NOT settle for the way it’s been done before.Explore more related to this author
Well-designed mathematical discourse prompts create a learning environment for everyone to engage, participate, and learn.
Anella Wetter, Regional Vice President, Carnegie Learning