Here is what happened last year. Much like this summer, I spent time reflecting on my practice. I followed the work of Jo Boaler and I read her awesome books, Mathematical Mindsets and Mindset Mathematics:Visualizing and Investigating Big Ideas Grade 4. I came away totally empowered and committed to beginning the new year with Jo Boaler's Week of Inspirational Math. After much planning and excitement leading up the the first day of school, by the end of the second week (6 actual school days), I had deemed my work with my students to be a complete and total failure. They were frustrated and I was too.
Jo's work assumed that students had received, up to this point, a rich mathematics education where instruction focused as much on the content standards as it did on the mathematical practice standards. My first two weeks quickly showed me that my students were not in the practice of thinking deeply about mathematics and they were not used to making sense of mathematics independently. The problems I posed assumed that students were accustomed to productive struggle and had built up some stamina when it came to the hard work of sense-making. This did not seem to be the case. They stared back at me with helpless expressions, unable to engage in the work without step by step instruction from me. This is, in my opinion only, the direct by-product of fidelity to a curriculum that is not-student centered and has no foundation in deep mathematics learning.
I took a step WAY, WAY back and gave students the opportunity to play with math. We had to go back to content that was at a second and third grade level so that my students felt comfortable taking risks with proofs etc. Eventually, we could attach fourth grade content standards. (We're talking November.)
Here it is July and I'm wondering what my new class will know and be able to do. I don't want to assume that I'll face the same challenges I faced last year but I also don't want to set my students up for a frustrating start to the school year. How do you plan like this? While in the past, there have been classes that were more ready for the rigor of fourth grade than others, I've never seen students struggle in meeting both the content and practice standards as I did last year. Maybe it was an exceptional year? Still, there is this voice in my head that reminds me that last year's students were bright. They really were. How do you plan in July for students you won't meet till late August? How do you plan when those things that you used to be able to count on just can't be counted on anymore?
I have no idea what to do. Except that I'm going to prepare by reading Jo Boaler again. You should too!
Mindset Mathematics: Visualizing and Investigating Big Ideas - Grade 4
Week of Inspirational Math