Today students were not at school and while it was eerily quiet there was certainly a buzz of learning happening. As a staff we were engaged in Professional Development or Learning as I like to call it. Our focus was numeracy and we used EQAO and diagnostic assessment data to look at our areas of need. While I am not going to give a full recount of our day I wanted to highlight that I was really proud of the people I work with and myself. I feel like we pulled together and highlighted our strengths and needs and have drafted a plan that we can focus on and move our students forward. Sometimes I leave Professional Learning feel overwhelmed but I feel inspired and fired up to work together on our numeracy goals.
I’m feeling very defensive right now. About my profession and my practice especially when it comes to my program planning in the area of math. I feel the need to shout out and stick up for myself and my colleagues. There’s been a lot of buzz and talk on my Twitter and Facebook feeds about the 4 Million dollars the Ontario Government plans to spend on training teachers on math and I’ve read a few opinion pieces about why your kids are bad at math and what your kids aren’t learning at school and while I certainly cannot speak for every educator I can speak up and stand up for myself.
The students in my math class are learning basic foundation skills. Contrary to what you may have read or heard. On the advice of my husband, Phil Young a grade 7 teacher, I front end loaded a lot of Number Sense skills in the Fall. A big focus on counting, addition and subtraction and I didn’t move on until I was fairly confident a great number of my students were ready to move on. This front end loading was a new way of teaching for me and I’ve seen amazing results. I introduced multiplication today and one of my students shouted, “hey this is just like when we counted by 5’s in the fall!” and another said, “Ms. Lewis-Young I figured out if you can add you can multiply”. My experience in the past was my Grade 3’s just didn’t “get it” when I introduced multiplication. Never have I had so many heads nod yes when I asked “are you with me?”
Foundations, and basics are key in math. But so is open ended, real world problem solving skills. I expect my students to come up with strategies to solving problems and we always discuss and share our ideas so that they can be exposed and see other ways of approaching something very often my students come up with a strategy that I didn’t see.
I put a lot of effort into planning quality lessons for my students. I rely on my Twitter professional learning network (go PLN!) and colleagues to bounce ideas, give me tips and suggestions. On average I stay up until 11:00 each night planning my lessons. While it isn’t always math often times it is because historically math isn’t my strength so I want to make sure I’m doing a quality job. How did you spend your Saturday evening? Maybe you went to a hockey game or had coffee with friends? I planned out my unit on multiplication and division. I take as many opportunities for professional learning in math as I can get my hands on. Again through my PLN and Professional Development through my board. I had a fantastic opportunity this fall which focused on the 3-part lesson and collaborative inquiry process. We even had math instruction by Marian Small during this PD which was a highlight for me in my learning career. You can peek at some of this instruction if you check out the #mathwithsmall hastag on twitter.
I am not unique. Several of my colleagues are as dedicated as I am and put as much effort into their instruction as I do. I feel like teachers are being blamed for low test scores and results instead of figuring out why. While I welcome the 4million for new learning opportunities I think it’s the wrong approach. Maybe we should take a look at really dense curriculum and pare it down to basics and what foundations kids really need to know. Maybe we need to look at kids themselves and figure out why they aren’t retaining basics and what we need to do to help them. Maybe we need to focus less on standardized testing (ask any grade 3, 6, or 9 teacher about the pressure of covering the curriculum by the time EQAO rolls around) and more on filling in the gaps students have in their learning. Maybe Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) should have considerably less than 30 students in the classes so the excellent educators can focus on setting the foundations for success in math. Maybe the Ministry of Education needs to turn to the people who are with the children Monday to Friday and ask us for suggestions instead of “retraining us”.
I don’t know the answer but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing because I know I’m doing a great job. The only difference is maybe I’m going to speak up and be a little bit more loud about it!