Active Learning For The Win!

By Morgan Stipe posted 7 days ago


I do. We do. You do. Repeat… *Sigh

Breaking away from the traditional-style, gradual release classroom was the best move I ever made for my teaching craft and the mathematicians in my classroom. The gradual release model, I do–We do–You do, has its place in the classroom, and it’s a valid way to deliver your lesson and content to young mathematicians. I definitely have a handful of these lessons throughout the school year. Teaching long division comes to mind. Making a change to a higher level of active learning can open the door toward deeper learning and understanding.

One way to promote active learning in your classroom is to break away from the gradual release model when possible. A majority of the time, I use a rapid release of responsibility model. I’m currently teaching the Open Up Resources 6–8 Math curriculum authored by Illustrative Mathematics, so the lessons I deliver to my students are intentionally designed by experts of the Standards around the principle of a rapid release of responsibility to these young mathematicians. So, instead of modeling, practicing together, and independent work time, we flip the approach to You do, We do, I do.

The Launch. Regardless of how you structure lessons, it’s important for all students to be able to access the math content. Using Low Floor High Ceiling tasks lend a hand in opening up the math to all learners and can also be extended. So these tasks reach quite a range of learners that can be found in a heterogeneous classroom. I mean, check out this range of responses!

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Routines like Notice and Wonder, Which One Doesn’t Belong?, and Think Pair Share, along with presenting open-ended tasks, allow students to share their ideas about visuals or extend to more abstract ideas. All students can engage. All students can access the math. Students are playing an active role in their learning and understanding. This builds students’ confidence and sparks thinking before diving deeply into the Standards-based objectives for the day.

You do. Nearly every math activity begins with my students jumping into a task independently. They are given quiet time to think or work through a carefully-selected task. Some students are able to really attack the problem and justify their thinking in the process. But more often than not, learners engage in productive struggle. As a teacher, it’s a challenge to watch my students grapple with a task I’ve presented them without trying to dive in and save them with a lifeguard rescue floating device, or my pencil. A deeper understanding of math and engagement comes with challenges; this process of learning while wrestling with difficult content is important and should be valued.

We do. After the students engage in the math independently, they get a chance to collaborate and engage with their peers with the grade-level content. The “We do” part of the lesson lends to a deeper understanding for a couple of reasons. First, the students get a chance to articulate their thinking to peers. Learners also get the opportunity to listen to the thinking of their peers. I typically set a goal for this conversation to guide the discussion in the right direction. Maybe the students will focus on certain parts of the task that the just completed, or other times I pose a question that will build toward a generalization or a deeper learning. I might say something like, “Focus your team time around the diagram and how it connects to the scenario.” Allowing learners to talk, hear, and reflect about the content leads better understanding. Making a habit to revise and refine thinking along the way is an added bonus.

Another “We do” routine is using vertical non-permanent surfaces (#VNPS). I have big whiteboards hanging around my classroom made from giant sheets of shower board material from a home store. We sometimes use these during team time, where one teammate gets a marker and records the thinking of their peers. When teams hit a roadblock, they can glance around the room to find a strategy to get started. When teams finish early, they typically check around the room that the work is on the right track. During sharing time, there’s no easier way to compare and connect students’ ideas! It’s all up and displayed for us to dissect and find relationships between concrete or abstract ideas.

“I do. After students have engaged in productive struggle independently and refined their thinking with peers, it’s time to solidify that thinking. I’m not sure it’s accurate to even call the next step “I do” in my classroom. Let’s just call it Synthesis! Enough about semantics. This is the point in the activity where we discuss, share, and synthesize the learning as a whole class. Sometimes I’ll select and sequence the strategies and work of students to share and make connections. As opposed to the traditionally-taught math lesson, this is where the Big Picture comes into play. We notice and wonder. We connect. We find efficiencies. We generalize. And we check if we’ve made our learning goals.

Routines at the Core. Effective instructional routines are practiced and learned throughout the school year, so students’ concentration can be on the math at hand. The routines should be purposeful and intentional to move learning forward. With a student-centered approach, learners can engage in active learning and collaboration. Number Talks, Notice and Wonder, Poll the Class, Card Sorts, and Which One Doesn’t Belong?, are great examples of instructional routines that promote active engagement and learning in math class.

Mathematical Language Routines, spelled out here by Achieve the Core, provide opportunities for all students to read, speak, listen, and write during math class. Students communicate in their learning to build toward understanding and mastery of grade-level content. The learners really begin to own their learning and understanding of the content. They’re given multiple passes at accessing and articulating their understanding of the math content, while also developing their language and soft skills as they communicate their ideas with their peers. As the teacher, I record ideas and discussions on my whiteboard. I think-aloud and help my students make connections between the strategies and ideas shared.

The kinds of opportunities presented to students can promote active learning. All students should be given the chance to access the math at hand. Find the strength to allow your students to experience productive struggle and collaborate with their peers during challenging tasks. Then engage them in purposeful sharing and connecting. One of my students recently articulated this well. He said, “In Math class, I have to really push my brain. Like, it’s hard, but I know I can do it.” Active learning wins every time!

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