“We should do all our assignments like this, it’s the only time I ever get them done,” a student told me the other day as we were cleaning up.
“Why do you think that is?”
“Because you’re standing over me and I can’t get the next problem until I finish this one.”
I’ve come up with a new way to do assignments that lets me differentiate and monitor every student incredibly actively. It can be fairly exhausting for me as the teacher, but I think it’s effective for the students.
Plus, we get to write on the tables.
The idea hit when I saw a tweet where an elementary school teacher was practicing vocabulary words with her students by having them write the words in dry erase marker on their tabletops. Of course I wondered…can I write on my tables?
The answer is yes – some colors erase with a dry sponge, others take a little spray of water to come off. From there, I realized I could individualize assignments easily.
The directive: complete X problems (depending on content) to get full credit on an assignment.
The preparation: I categorize “types” of problems from the section of content we’re addressing (problems with whole number answers, problems with decimal answers, and problems that need rearranging before solving, for example). I make a note to myself that each student will complete a few problems of each type, with a few problems left over as wiggle room when we work.
The process: I start each student out by writing a similar, entry level problem for the content at the top of their table space. They solve and raise hands for me to check. Correctly solved, or one tiny mistake to fix? You get a certain colored star in a problem box (I usually use gold, silver and green for these)
Incorrect, or you need me to walk you through the problem? You get a differently colored star (usually I use red and blue for these) that lets me know you need a second problem before that box can be “complete”.
I write a new problem at the top of their table space – the same type of problem if they need more practice to master it, a new type once you’ve mastered that type. I use the workbook resource guide with our textbook so I have plenty of problems at my fingertips, and I let the students’ questions and work guide me to the correct level of difficulty to give them. Some students end up getting challenge problems for the last few, while some are still working on the essential content from the section.
If they don’t complete enough problems in class, they can come in during our first period guided study time or during another free period they have to finish up. I had a student come in the other day just because they wanted to do more problems, so they could write on the tables more.
Yes, I do end up running around the room like a chicken with my head cut off sometimes, and sometimes I hear “Miss Mastalio, you forgot to write me a new problem”. Yes, this does work well because of my small class sizes and I do think it would be a lot harder with more traditional student numbers.
It doesn’t work for every assignment, for various reasons, nor do I want it to get ‘old’ and have the novelty wear off, but it’s been effective when we’ve used it.
Plus, everyone loves to be told they can graffiti on the tables. It feels rebellious, but you’re doing math. Whatever works.