Accelerating Learning for All
We have learned a lot since the spring of 2020, and the best ways to re-engage students continue to evolve. Educators everywhere are now confronted with a tough problem that will take time and investment to solve: how do we as educators address the different needs that each student is coming in with—which are likely more substantial than in previous years—while still aiming for grade-level content and standards? All of us must focus on what matters most, and educators must be intentional in the learning experiences they provide.
Accelerating learning for all is a term that many schools and districts are using to describe their plan to answer this question and address interrupted instruction. This idea hinges on the belief that all students need and deserve access to high-quality grade-level content even while working on foundational concepts and skills.
Strategies for Accelerating Learning
It is important to approach instruction with the mindset that all students come with important ideas and can rigorously engage with relevant content, so long as the instructional strategies and resources are appropriate. There are strategies you can try to help you engage and interest students, especially when they are in middle and high school.
Strategy 1: Focus on Assets, Not Deficits
It is important to acknowledge what students need to learn and incorporate that into your teaching. However, effective instruction pays particular attention to students’ assets, too. Concentrate on what your students know, and what strengths, languages, and experiences they bring to your classroom. What skills can you take to the next level? What interests can you translate into mathematical situations? If a lot of students play a certain game, for example, you could look for math situations that use the game as a context. Leverage students’ existing knowledge to help them reach new heights.
Strategy 2: Facilitate Small-Group Instruction
Classrooms are a panoply of strengths, skills, and interests. Target instruction and facilitate better discussion by ensuring that learning happens within small-group math instruction. Be intentional about who is in the groups and what they are doing. Use data to support your decisions, and focus in particular on the skills and concepts that matter most. Remember that you can choose to group students in whatever way works for you and them! Consider grouping students because of a shared experience or background, for example, especially when the math task can relate to what they have in common.
Strategy 3: Provide New Experiences
Learning is more than checking off standards. Introduce your students to careers and interests that might broaden their worlds and make them curious about what they’re learning. Doing the same reteach process over and over will not move students forward. Varying your approach and rethinking the tools, models, and contexts you provide will help reengage thinking. Finding ways to spark learning through problems and contexts that bring the math to life will help better address the unique needs of every student. Remember: what is relevant to you may not be relevant to them. Take the time to get to know your students.
Strategy 4: Prioritize Standards
It can be daunting to think about all of the standards you want to cover in a year, especially when you start running out of time! Remember that learning is a marathon, not a sprint. Continually reinforce the connection between skills and concepts so that your students can engage at their readiness levels. Students can always go back to skills later once their learning has matured. Focus especially on foundational skills and concepts. For example, focusing on models to support an understanding of the four basic operations can be especially far-reaching. Identify and prioritize the most essential prerequisite skills and concepts that are needed to access current content, and seek ways that students’ interests can connect to them.
Accelerating Learning with Math 180
The Math 180 program was originally designed in 2013 to provide intervention support for middle school students. Education today may look different from education in 2013, but the foundational research of Math 180 is still every bit as vital. In fact, learning rooted in engagement, mindset, and technology is perhaps needed now more than ever. Consider some of the lofty goals behind the program’s design.
- Prepare students for algebra. Algebra is often identified as the gatekeeper to higher mathematics, and thereby, a key to success in college and career. In deciding on what concepts and skills to focus on, Math 180 prioritizes those that are needed most for algebra readiness.
- Customize to your classroom. No two classrooms are alike. Yet no matter your class’ size, strengths, or tech readiness, Math 180 can fit. Implementation is flexible across many situations: digital-first learning, whole group instruction, small-group instruction, or a blended model of instruction.
- Get real-time data insights. Use technology to gain deep insight into what your students know and don’t yet know. Math 180 is data-rich software with a variety of reports to help you plan lessons personalized to your classroom and ensure robust discussion.
- Build growth mindsets. Experience math instruction grounded in research. In particular, leverage the great work of Carol Dweck around fixed and growth mindsets. Ensure that students not only engage with the math but see themselves as future mathematicians, scientists, and engineers.
Example from Connecticut
While working with one middle school in Connecticut, I was impressed with the way the educators there used Math 180. Rather than reinvent the wheel, they looked closely at how the program could be used to support a wider variety of students—not just those who are two or more years behind grade level. They used a digital-first implementation for students who needed more practice on key skills and concepts that connected to current learning. At the same time, they used the full program to support students who needed more intensive intervention. The teacher-led portion of the program provided lessons for small-group instruction, and the data reports helped inform which lessons to teach. Students were able to move through the program at a pace conducive to their needs. The students’ motivation was renewed, and they began to reimagine their own mathematical identities.
There is no doubt that over these past few years, teachers have had to contend with challenges that few ever saw coming. Students have needed to learn through continued interrupted instruction. With the right tools, there is hope that no matter what students bring to their math classrooms, you, the teacher, can leverage what they learned, identify their strengths, and close any gaps.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.
Looking to unlock mathematical learning in the students who need it most? Explore Math 180, our revolutionary approach to math intervention for students in Grades 5–12.