#1 “I don’t know how to get my students to take notes!”
This was one of the first issues I ran into when I started teaching math! I quickly learned how much help my students needed when it came to taking notes and keeping a notebook/binder/folder organized. My middle school students needed the scaffolding provided by guided notes, but my curriculum did not come with anything I could use! At one point, in desperation and the stress of teaching 6 preps a day, I literally photocopied pages from our textbook (same textbook I used in middle school math!), whited out key words and terms, and copied it for my students.
Enter Guided Notes: Guided notes are the foundation of my classroom. They provide enough structure so that my students aren’t racing to copy down notes from the board in time and not passive to the point where they can avoid paying attention because everything has been handed to them.
One of the first things I started working on was my collection of guided notes. I made sure that each set of notes included necessary background knowledge, key vocabulary terms, scaffolding to support students in understanding new concepts, and carefully selected practice problems. Making sure I had good guided notes helped me structure my lessons, especially as a new teacher!
#2 “My curriculum always needs to be supplemented”
There is no such thing as a curriculum that will fit all the needs of every single one of your students. We have all been in the situation where we follow the prescribed pacing and our students still need more practice! We start a new topic and realized our students’ prerequisite knowledge isn’t where it should be. As a 6th grade teacher, I often supplement my curriculum with 4th and 5th grade topics. We also have our students who are above level and need those challenges activities to keep them engaged. Supplementing curriculum is necessary for your students to find success! Finding and creating those resources to supplement is the one of the biggest challenges we face as educators. I solved this issue by creating task cards, scavenger hunts, color and solve and mazes for every topic I teach.
#3 “My students are sick and tired of boring worksheets”
Math is the most “worksheet heavy” subject and it is the trend we most need to stop! In elementary school, it’s thick math workbooks and it’s binders full of worksheets in the grades after. Middle school students see math class as a worksheet with notes and practice you do with the teacher followed by a worksheet of problems that you do by yourself, then a worksheet of problems to do as homework. Worksheet overload is the reason students find math boring and miss the engaging and exciting problem solving aspect of math. This is not to say that practice in math class isn’t essential! It’s key to switch up how you practice with your students. Any worksheet can be made into task cards, a scavenger huntor another engaging activity that gets students out of their seats, moving around and collaborating with their classmates. Even the most reluctant students will gladly work on a maze or a color and solve activity, but refuse to try a regular old worksheet.
#4 “It’s difficult to differentiate to meet the needs of all of my students”
It’s essential to differentiate to accommodate the needs of all of your students. For awhile, leveled worksheets were all the rage. Students would grab a worksheet at, above or below level and start working out numbered problems. While in theory, this was a way to meet the needs of your learners at different levels, but I always found that it locked my students into a level and they were still working on “boring worksheets.” If you set your individual students on one continuous course of being either at, above or below level, that is just as restrictive as not differentiating. Students excel and struggle at different topics and have the right to be above level on some things and below level at others or vice versa. I have found it much more beneficial to differentiate activities where students can work between levels and collaborate with their classmates. You can read more about my easy leveling system here.
#5 “My students want choices in the math classroom”
Students thrive when they are given options and choices to practice and show mastery. We all have students who refuse to engage in class or refuse to try problems independently. I have found that giving my students at least two options for independent practice, allows students to take ownership of their work and take risks when problem solving. With almost every new topic we learn, we have a day of “choice activities” with at least three options. Students enjoy getting to choose between task cards, partner activities, dice and spinner activities, or color and solves and mazes. Class participation is much higher when students have a say in what and how they practice because they feel empowered.