TEACHING AT THE TOP OF THE CLASS
Hey everybody. I hope this month of November finds you well. As I write this post I am currently working with a teacher in a coaching cycle focused around differentiated instruction for gifted and high achieving students in math. I'm sure that for any teacher reading this post, they would agree that often times when discussions come up about student achievement, it tends to weigh heavily on students who perform below grade level. While those conversations about intervention support and resources for struggling students are critical in terms of helping address areas of poor academic performance, it's also important that high achieving students are also included in the conversation as well. Now while it may seem like an easy task when planning instruction for students who excel in the classroom, many teachers might argue that it's just the opposite. Reflecting on the qualities that I remember about one of my exceptionally gifted students when I was a classroom teacher, he had a keen interest in math and science. He also enjoyed sharing creative ways to solve math problems. I also remember that unlike my high achieving students that year, this particular student always posed lots of questions as opposed to only answering what was asked. That school year, I was so amazed by the talent of this student that he inspired the title of my dissertation in 2015. It was titled "Teaching at the Top of the Class: Black Female Educators' Perspective of Teaching High Achieving Black Children". Needless to say that student is now in his Freshman year at Harvard and it's amazing how things come back in full circle. Now in my role as an Instructional Coach, I have been working with a 5th grade teacher over the last few weeks in a coaching cycle. Our work involves a targeted focus on differentiation in math with four of her students (two who are in the district's Gifted Program, and two who she felt would do very well in this enrichment group). Her work with the students includes open-ended task for understanding equivalent fractions. Tasks such as this allow for rich conversation and also multiple pathways to find a solution. In this instance, students have been creating their own slides on a Jamboard and sharing their work with their group members; in turn, group members must find solutions to their questions/problems. Many of the images that students have been adding to their Jamboards allow for creativity and in-depth discussions about fractional parts. In a most recent group discussion one student recognized a pattern/relationship between how his partner was able to identify an equivalent fraction for 3/15. He said that when he noticed how his partner found the equivalent, he realized that for 2/6, he could multiply his fraction by 2 in both the numerator and the denominator and end up with 4/12; he also said that he realized that he could divide by 2 and be back at 2/6.
Open-ended questions/tasks are just one example of not only differentiated instruction, but this instructional strategy is also a way to challenge students who work at a higher level in math. Under this week's Intentional Toolkit I share a great article that talks about how one 7th grade teacher opened a closed math task and made it meaningful for every student. This article can support your work with students in grades K-12. As always, I hope you find this resource useful.
As my work with the teacher and her students in this coaching cycle nears an end, I'm encouraged and even inspired by the impact that this targeted instruction is having on this group of learners. The value of effective instruction supports all students, especially when you are teaching at the Top of the Class! Until next time, go out there and be GREAT!
It's amazing how things come into full circle. Just as I shared the inspiration for the title of my 2015 dissertation, centered in the picture above is the chair of my dissertation Committee Dr. Matthew D. Davis who passed away recently. He was a true ally of Social Justice and equity for Black people world-wide. He was also a tireless fighter for equality in Higher Education. Thanks for everything Dr. Davis. And as he would say at the end of his emails, he will continue to be with us "in love, study, and struggle".
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