One day at the end of last week, Thursday or Friday, my coteacher was out and I was left to manage class on my own. I gave instructions at each station, focused my attention on the students at the teacher led station and occasionally made rounds of the classroom to check-in with the other students. I took a minute to consider just how different my class looked than it did at this time last year. It was noisy.
If I would have walked into a class like this one year ago, my reaction would not have been positive. Even walking into this classroom today, my reaction is not all positive. I spot several students off-task right away and a teacher who seems only to be focused on what is happening right in front of her with a small group of six or seven students. I notice a student off to the side who seems to have his hand up for a very long time before giving up and turning off his computer.
No, it’s not all positive, and I’m afraid that I sometimes paint an overly positive picture when I describe this model. I felt frustrated last week as I looked around the room and noticed all of the things that my former self would have been blinded by. Later I found myself questioning the model and tried to run through the positives of the day. On that day, I had observed all of the following in my Algebra class:
- Two students worked independently to prepare for a test on systems of equations after having extended absences in the last month. They used their guided notes from class and got feedback using ixl.com for online practice.
- Several students (two of them are currently failing all of their other classes) were engaged for a full thirty minutes with a tarsia puzzle to review the exponent rules we have recently been learning in class. When it was time to rotate to the next station, they requested permission to stay where they were in order to complete their puzzles.
- Small groups worked with the teacher to learn about and practice using the negative and zero power rules for exponents.
- One student used Khan Academy to learn about scientific notation because she had finished all of the practice on exponent rules and received positive feedback on her skills through ixl.com practice. She approached me several times with specific questions about scientific notation.
- Two students took the unit test on exponents and scientific notation after working ahead independently and demonstrating their readiness by successfully completing their unit review. They both earned As on the test.
I’m not proud of everything that happens in this classroom and sometimes I do feel quite discouraged, but I am proud of the differentiation described here. I’ve been able to reach many more students this year than just those in the middle. That is enough to merit at least another year of work toward refining the model.