We are piloting a new math intervention program next year. Currently, if a student is placed in our math intervention class, they have 2 consecutive hours of math every day. The class is split up into 3 – 40 minute rotations. 1st rotation is with the teacher where they are taught new content. The 2nd rotation is with a Teacher Assistant or co-teacher where they usually work on a review worksheet. The last rotation is on computers where students are working on ALEKS. We have been using this model for the last 5 years and haven’t seen any success with our students. I think there is a lot of issues with this model. First, placing all of the lower students in the same class sets the bar of expectation really low. Students know that they are in a class with other low students and they start to develop the mindset that “we all are just not good at math”. The second issue with this model, and probably the most important, is the lack of student engagement in each of the rotations. Students are not engaged when they are working on ALEKS. Students are not engaged doing a review worksheet for 40 minutes. Then, when the students are finally with the lead teacher learning the new content, it is usually just guided notes because the teacher is limited due to the fact there are 2 other rotations going on in the room. We are expecting these students, who generally have never liked math, to stay engaged with probably the 3 most boring things we can do in math, worksheets, guided notes, and computer programs like ALEKS, for 2 hours straight everyday. It is needless to say, this isn’t working and we need to change things up.
At my school, we are going to be trying something different that hopefully produces better results. The basic goal is to increase student engagement in these classes. The first major change is to place all students in a traditional Algebra 1 class. This will hopefully raise expectations. Also, it should allow students to be part of more engaging lessons that are not limited by the structure of the class. Putting all students in a traditional math class will also eliminate the need for students to have 2 consecutive hours of math. Now, just putting these students in a traditional math class is obivisouly not enough, students need extra time to close the gap. So we are giving these students a second hour of math (it will just not be a consecutive hour of math.) The big questions then is, how do we make that second hour of math engaging? What we are trying is peer tutoring. We are taking our advanced juniors and seniors and training them to be tutors. The goal is to have 2-3 students per tutor. Our thought is with this ratio, students will innately be more engaged. For instance, if a students doesn’t understand something, they don’t have to wait for a teacher to help them, they will instead have a tutor sitting next to them that can answer their question. It will be easier for the teacher to differentiate instruction because of the small group sizes. Management issues, which usually plagues these classes, will be minimized because of the smaller groups and more engagement. Better management will also occur because the teacher’s job is simply to facilitate the class. The teacher doesn’t have their own group of students to look over, they are simply are their to provide the different materials to the different students and take behavior issues that arise. Now, just having smart students tutor struggling students, even with the small ratio, isn’t necessarily going to work. The key to the success of this program is how well we can train our tutors. Our plan is to bring all of the student tutors in before the school starts and train them. Also, we are going to be training them throughout the year. The other key for this program to be successful is what we have the tutors do in this time. It can’t just be working on a review worksheet or doing the students math homework. This is boring with or without tutors. Fortunately, my principle has given me the freedom to try new things in this class. At this point in time, I am not exactly sure what we will be doing, and even when I figure it out, I will probably change it up through out the year. But as of now, my goal is to change student’s mindset on mathematics and I plan on doing this by doing interesting mathematics. I believe that if I can make these students better thinkers and develop their problem solving skills, they will innately become better at mathematics. Thus, I don’t want to use this time just doing worksheets on adding and subtracting integers. Some of things that I plan on doing in this class are Math Talks. I would have the students explain their reasoning and thought process to each of the tutors. Counting Circles also sounds intriguing. I also like Michael Pershan‘s idea of catching students up by preparing them for upcoming lessons. For example, if students are about to learn how to graph exponential function, we could practice substituting values into equations and plotting points. This way when students are taught by their other math instructor,they will not get hung up on prerequisite skills. Part of the class will include practicing the skills they did in class, but I want to make sure that big portion of the class is doing interesting mathematics that students have success with. Another thing we will be doing in class is keeping a log of what students did that day and how well they performed. Both the students and tutors will be keeping a log. I want students to reflect everyday on what they did. I am not really sure how a grade will be awarded in this class. The students will just receive an elective credit so I have a lot of freedom on what I can count as a grade. I have thought about making the grade primarily based on participation. I have thought about coming up with a standards based grading system, but I am not sure how this would work. I have thought about making part of the grade based on their actual math class. Anyways, this is where I am at right now and I have a lot to figure out this summer, but I am excited to try something new with these students that hopefully changes their mindset about mathematics.