Differentiated Learning and Our Learning

I Twitted this week; we need to teach students to become Mathematicians…not to just get the right answer. But first, as educators we need to get that idea…  

So a funny thing happened to me last week. I had a member of our school community come to me in the early morning to solve a math problem I had sent home the previous night. She went on to tell me that in the daycare there were three students of all levels and parents pondering the elusive math question.  In fact the next day other parents were sending in what they thought the answer should be.  The member was excited to finally talk to the  teacher to get the answer to see who was right and who was wrong. She even had written equations and answers from the other individuals.  I smiled at her, and said that there was no right or wrong answer, and that they were all right. She looked at me like I was nuts and even had me show her the answer key which stated “answers may vary.”  Then I explained to her that they were all thinking mathematically, they were all using strategies that they knew, they were collaborating with one another, they felt passionate about the question…they were all mathematicians even though they all went about solving the problem in different ways.

I loved having that discussion that morning, it helped me in a few more moments that week where I had to explain to teachers that math is not always about just knowing the right answer, that it is far more than that and that is where teaching math becomes a little more interesting.  I was helping our mentor group last week and the discussion was around Math Makes Sense.  I had our district guru come in a do a presentation on the ins and outs of the program, which I might add I was shown something I didn’t know about the program even thought I have loved it and used it for over five years!  After his presentation he and I had a discussion with the group on what teachers need to do is use it they way they want to and feel comfortable with. We were able to share with the group that the two of us do not agree on certain areas….and that was okay.

After he left, I sat down and listened to the group and showed them a variety of ways they can explore the program. One of the mentors was very excited to use it and she had great success when she did her first unit launch with her class. I talked with her a week later and she was in awe with what the kids did with the launch and how she really got a chance to stop and listen to how her kids think.  She would not have gotten that by simply directed the students step by step through the lesson, She saw that letting go allowed the students to let go of their apprehension around mathematical thinking.

I loved that shared this with me and I can not wait to hear what the other mentees did at our next meeting. In fact I have signed up to do more pro d and have invited them to join. It will be so interesting to hear what observations the teachers come back with, good and bad.

Differentiated learning is not just about how the students learn, it is also about how individual teachers teach. We as teachers all have our comfort zones and some of us venture out of those zones more often than others. I think it is important to understand how we teach, how we feel about how we teach, how we reflect on the way we teach, and how our teaching affects us and our students. Then we can take the time to stop, observe, listen, and engage with students in how they learn.


Blogging – Choice, Opinion, and Self Regulation?

Something has been pulling at me since I have started to learn and understand my new grade five class. I was not sure what it was until I started to think of my last year’s inquiry on student wonderings.  I thought about my little grade ones and twos who loved to ask why, who wanted to know more, who loved to find and create new wonders for us to explore. Then I started to really look and listen to this year’s grade five group, and it hit me. These students are not comfortable asking questions of themselves or those around them. They look at me with suspicion when I ask them for their opinions or their thoughts.

I give a journal assignment every Monday morning. The students are given three choices; First question is generally around an opinion they have (What would you rather have a teacher that is fun and does not teach you much or a strict teacher who teaches you great things? Why? Or what would be your ideal teacher?), the second has to do around creative writing (Imagine you found an egg in the playground….) and the third is free choice (here most write a creative story or about their weekend.)  What surprises me is that I have a class full of creative writers and students who tell me how boring their weekend was. When I ask their opinion of the students they all stare at be with blank looks? Some of them ask why is it important for me to know their thoughts.

Then I had my students blog, well comment on another classes blog.  At first the students were a little hesitant.  I went over netiquette with them, and asked them what they would like to see if someone commented on their writing.  Some students went with it, while others stared blankly. I then encouraged them to ask questions of the blogger. It took some time, but the kids slowly started to type. Once they did one they were asking to comment on more, which of course I said go for it.

The SEA in my room observed a great thing happen during this blogging time. She noticed a student who she has worked with for many years become a writer. The SEA was very proud of this student. She wrote out what she saw and experienced, ” A little girl who have very low self-esteem blogged yesterday.  She found someone in New York that said their dog was their best friend.  She was so excited to respond because her dog is her best friend.  This girl would not write much because she has a learning disability and to see her blog like that just gave her a new purpose.”

Will having the student create their own PLN help them explore their own learning? Will it give them purpose to ask more questions of each other and themselves?  Does asking questions go hand in hand with self-regulation? Can social networking help the students see themselves as thinkers? Will blogging encourage students to explore their thinking and learning?