Saturday, March 3, 2018

Reaching Vince in Math Class

Vince began the year as one of my most perplexing students.  He was quiet, he struggled with math, he had strained relationships with the other students.  He dreaded working in groups because he did not fit in with anyone.  Everyday I had to dig deep into my toolkit to find ways to make a connection with Vince.  He is a student that we all have in our classes.  I practiced patience with Vince and worked hard to build trust so that he would take chances in his learning of math.

Everything changed for Vince when the whiteboard walls went up.  It was not immediate.  He was one of the tough ones, a hold out.  He would come in the room and sit at a desk while the other students got to work doing math on the whiteboards.  I would hand him a copy of the whiteboard problems and he would pretend to work on them at his desk.  I understood the risk it takes to put yourself and your math work on the whiteboards.  I would gently encourage and ask questions to try to guide him and get him up to a board.

During our winter break, I added 3 whiteboards to the counter close to my desk and Vince took over the middle whiteboard as his own.  We also started doing Visual Patterns problems which require problem solving and critical thinking and provides opportunities for students to show multiple representations.  For the first time I got to see Vince's mathematical thinking and problem solving abilities:

And when I asked Vince to explain, he was very articulate.  He is a second language learner and working on the whiteboards has increased his confidence, his oral language use, and has given me a glimpse inside his mathematical brain.  I have learned that he has strong math understanding and skills. Unfortunately our online textbook assignments and tests have not shown me an accurate picture of Vince as a math student. 

The whiteboards have allowed me to provide individualized direct instruction and to collect useful data on student understanding, struggles, and misconceptions.  My instructions varies throughout a lesson based on what I see on the whiteboards.  I do mini-lessons for a group or groups who are stuck, whole class instruction, and/or individualized instruction.  We (everyone in the room) write all over the whiteboards so that students have samples to refer to and we are learning with/from each other.

The whiteboards have had a positive effect on all of my students but the impact is profound for my students like Vince who have been able to show how they make sense of mathematics and become a part of our learning community instead of hiding and pretending.