Friday, April 20, 2012

Student Achievement Best Practices: How to Help Your Students Reach Their Potential in Mathematics

By Dr. Renu Ahuja, Math Teacher

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student achievement best practices in math

I teach mathematics courses to a very diverse group of students in terms of age, grade level, ethnicity, mathematical and reading abilities in an urban high school. Most of the classes are heterogeneous with students from grades 9-12 in the same class. Knowing my students well and gaining their trust is a good way to start. One of my student achievement best practices is to give them diagnostic test in the beginning of the year that assesses the minimum they need to understand the concepts to be taught in the course.

Many of the students are initially diagnosed to be in need of remediation. I plan my curriculum materials and lessons based on students' developmental needs. Making connections, differentiation, presenting the content in logical steps and giving clear directions is the key. I try to involve all students in class participation by giving them equitable opportunity to present their solutions on the board, explain their reasoning to each other and to the class. Thus, mathematical talk is an important part of classroom procedures and instruction in my classes.

Giving mixed review study packets and assessments based on mixed review improves concepts retention and scores on standardized, formal and informal assessments. Designing problems that connect topics from different chapters prepares them for problem solving and recalling previously learned concepts. Preparing lessons that tap students' potentials keeps them engaged with the mathematical tasks. Using a combination of directive and supportive scaffolds during the delivery of lessons keeps the students on track and helps in developing reasoning skills.

Presenting the content in a logical sequence and rearranging the curriculum sequence that takes into account their prior misconceptions helps in building conceptual understanding and procedural fluency in mathematics. Even, the lecture method combined with technology, visuals, and differentiation strategies such as flexible grouping, tiered assignments, adjusted work load helps in improving students' achievement. I try to give my students a broader picture by connecting the topics with their real life and other disciplines.

I have adjusted my instruction from year to year based on the students' needs. In addition to teaching the mathematical content, we have to teach them organization skills, how to use their time effectively, how to use the textbook, how to organize their study space, how to review for exams. All these skills add to the students' achievement. I talk to the students about importance of these skills during coach class and homeroom period.

So, there is no single recipe for students’ success in mathematics, you have to use a combination of student centered and teacher centered pedagogies. I have a passion for teaching and learning of mathematics. I communicate the passion for mathematics to my students every day by being enthusiastic and cheerful. The goal is to help them become better problem solvers and appreciate the beauty of mathematics.

Dr. Renu Ahuja is a mathematics teacher in the Baltimore City Public School System, Maryland.

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