When I student taught last spring, I had the opportunity to co-teach alongside the math teachers in grades 6, 7, and 8. Getting to teach the same subject and work with the students at different grade levels made a lasting impression on me. Even though the students were only a year apart in age, the differences between the groups were astounding. On top of that, each class held a great variety of individual ability and maturity levels. It was really challenging, and it took me quite a while to learn how to read the students in the different classes and adjust my instruction accordingly. I think this is one of the reasons people often say that it takes the right kind of person to work with middle school students.
I recently took the new FIP in Action: Math Grade 6, Ratios and Proportions module. As I saw Mrs. Kennedy work with four of her students, I felt like I was back in the sixth grade classroom. I remember teaching ratios and proportions to my students before joining the FIP Your School Ohio team. So it was a real treat for me to be able to see FIP in Action with a familiar age group and topic. I’d like to share a couple of salient points that resonated with me throughout the module, but before I do, I want to encourage you to take a FIP in Action module that relates to a grade level or subject that you teach. Then you can come up with your own list of salient points and share them with your team, or with us.
1. One of the first things I saw was Mrs. Kennedy’s hand-raising policy, which is right on target for this age group. I first read it in a textbook before I got to see it in the classroom, but middle school students can be pretty shy at times and you really don’t want students to opt out of the learning.
2. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this: “I think I know how to do this another way. Can I show you? Am I allowed to do it this way?” The answer was always yes! You have to make sure students have sound mathematical reasoning behind what they’re doing, but it is critical that middle school-aged students understand that there are often multiple ways to solve problems.
3. It is so important to check on student learning without the pressure of grades. This quote from Dylan Wiliam says it best: “As soon as students get a grade, the learning stops. We may not like it, but the research reviewed here (in embedded formative assessment) shows that this is a relatively stable feature of how human minds work.” (Wiliam, D., 2011, pg. 123)
I don’t want to give too much of the module away, but I hope you get the chance to immerse yourself in one of the FIP in Action modules and see how you can incorporate FIP into your teaching with your students and your subject area. We would love to hear about your takeaways.
Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.