Avoca West Math Update

June 2017

A "Gourmet" Approach to Mathematics Instruction

After embarking on a two-year study of the math standards and how to best make sure our students at Avoca West are best prepared to use their mathematical knowledge and practices in real life, we are excited for the year to come! You'll find a link to the presentation that was shared with the Board of Education below, but allow me to share some highlights of what's to come in the year(s) ahead.

In order to best select a resource to teach the standards, it was critical for our staff to really get to have a deep understanding of those standards and what it looks like when students are able to demonstrate a mastery of the standards. The Common Core State Standards upped the level of complexity at all grade levels, moving beyond simply having students be able to "compute" to a conceptual understanding of what's behind the computation. In addition to problem solving, there is a greater emphasis on explaining thinking, understanding different models, and critiquing the thought process/problem solving of others. This shift has called for a change in the materials and the instructional practices behind building competent learners and users of mathematics.

Unfortunately, despite the claims from publishers that their textbooks/programs are aligned to these complex standards and practices, our Math Committee looked closely at a variety of resources and did not find a single one that fulfilled that promise. Similarly, our team found there was no program able to meet the diverse learning needs of our students at Avoca West, including a large population of students who achieve well above grade level norms. As a result, our Math Committee embarked on the challenging task to create a "gourmet" program for our students and staff -- a truly remarkable endeavor, but one that takes into account our population and is firmly rooted in the standards.

What will this mean at Avoca West for our staff and students?

  • Teachers will follow the scope and sequence as outlined by the Illinois State Board of Education. This represents which standards are priorities and also builds in complexity as the year progresses and as students progress through their years at Avoca West.

  • Assessments will be given before, during, and after learning to be sure that teachers have a strong sense of student readiness for learning, progress in mastering the standards, and where to give additional enrichment or support along the way.

  • Bridges in Mathematics (Bridges) will be used as the primary resource for teachers to use in teaching the standards. When there are places where Bridges does not zero in on a standard completely, we will incorporate other instructional resources that include (but are not limited to) Investigations, Model Math, Exemplars, and other online learning platforms. Our Math Committee has developed a plan for classroom teachers that outlines those lessons that must be taught and those resources that should be used for additional practice, intervention, and enrichment.

  • Because we know that one size does NOT fit all, ALL classrooms will use guided math as a model for instruction. Like guided reading, which has been a practice at Avoca West for years, teachers and students will work in small groups to give instruction and practice targeted at each child's needs. Ongoing assessment of student progress will allow teachers to make adjustments in the support, practice, and enrichment needed along the way in each unit and for each standard.

  • Teachers will use performance based rubrics based on the standards to track student progress along the way. We will look to build a greater student understanding of what success looks like so that they can become invested in their progress as well. Teachers will share these rubrics with parents and we will look to find ways to incorporate similar language and reporting into our report cards.

I'm sure you'll agree that our committee has been busy, with much work to continue this summer as we pave the way for a smooth school year. Parents will be invited to a Math Night at Avoca West this fall to learn more about our approach to teaching math and how you can support at home. We will also be developing curriculum resources to share with parents via the website so that parents can find out more about what will be taught, what success looks like, and perhaps some approaches teachers are using in the classroom. Stay tuned!

Kudos to our math team for all of their hard work, and many thanks to our parents who shared insights and suggestions with our team along the way!

Advanced Learners in Math - A New Means of Supporting Students

As we change our approach to math instruction at Avoca West, it is a natural time for us to adjust how we support advanced learners in the area of mathematics. For years, our model has been to pull out small groups once a week in kindergarten through 3rd grade, and then to form a classroom of students for advanced math at 4th and 5th grades. Along the way, we've looked to refine our practices and selection process, but the question always remained -- How do we best support students at the point of instruction in their classroom?

Heading into the 2017-2018 school year, we noticed a wonderful trend. In looking at the data used to determine which students would be considered for the 4th and 5th grade advanced math classes, there were at least 28 students in each grade level who would qualify. What a great "problem" to have! It would be unreasonable, however, to suggest that we have one large advanced math class and three much smaller heterogeneous classes at 4th and 5th grades. Similarly, it would be unreasonable to split the large group into two smaller classes, leaving two significantly larger classes in the other rooms.

Thankfully, our guided math approach gave a natural way for us to alter the way we support all learners -- including those students who are ready for more challenge in math! For the 2017-2018 school year, all grade levels will differentiate for students within the classroom using a guided math model. Katie Morgan, our advanced learner specialist, will work with teachers and small groups of students to provide enrichment and differentiation that directly ties to the standards, units, and the needs of the students. In doing so, any student who is ready for the challenge will have it available -- not simply those who qualify for an advanced math class. To begin the school year, 4th and 5th grade students will remain with their classroom teacher. This will help to build on the newly-forming classroom community and help to fortify each teacher's sense of his/her students as individual learners. As the year progresses, the team(s) may consider switching students for math classes to give students a taste of what's to come in middle school. We will monitor student progress throughout the year to make sure that this model meets the needs of our Avoca West students and to consider opportunities for improvement.

At the primary grades, Mrs. Morgan will work closely with classroom teachers to build their understanding of how to support advanced learners in the classroom in the area of math. This coaching approach will strengthen differentiation for students at the point of instruction. When necessary, there may be small groups pulled across classrooms (similar to the model that has been in place for students once a week), but the enrichment will be tied directly to the standards and will be more flexible than in the past.

Classroom teachers are eager to see the support push into the classroom and to build their classroom community of mathematical thinkers and learners!