Erin Couillard and Carolyn Armstrong
Grade 6 Math/Science
Not two weeks into this school year, my math teaching partner, Carolyn Armstrong, and I were lamenting the disarray and disorganization of student math journals. We commented to each other that the work that some of the students were producing was very disorganized, diagrams were drawn without rulers, answers were buried deep within the work and we were finding it hard to get a good sense of the student’s overall understanding of the problem.
I had the good fortune of attending a two-day Anne Davies workshop in Canmore last week and she reinforced the importance of co-constructing criteria with students. I came back very excited to do this with Carolyn and our students around “what counts in an organized math notebook”.
We immediately tried this with our first group of 50 students and found that they were having a very difficult time articulating what actually counts, specifically in mathematics when you are trying to communicate your ideas. A common phrase we heard was that it “needs to be neat”. After pulling a sample of a student’s exemplary work from a different class and showing this to them, they began to formulate much better descriptors around this topic. Together, they came up with a more detailed list of how they can demonstrate their understanding in a clear, concise way.
We then took their ideas and created a check-list they could include with the problems they were solving. We had them go back through the problem they had worked on the first week of school and to make improvements, based on the criteria they had created. They glued the checklist directly in their books and then used a red, yellow, green approach to colour in on the checklist where they thought they were ‘bang-on’, where they needed ‘some improvement’ and where they needed ‘a lot of improvement’. We also had them highlight a section of the problem that they were really proud of so we could take a look at it and give them feedback.
Our next step was to give them another problem, similar to the first, and have them use the criteria ahead of time to work off of while they solved it. The work they submitted was so much better than the first time around and we were very impressed with how effectively students used the criteria. Setting the expectations out ahead of time, and involving the students in the criteria setting will inevitably lead to increased student success and engagement in Mathematics this year.