Where to Start Instruction

I have been struggling with where to begin math instruction with my First Graders this year.  I gave them all a number sense screener and have a neat little spreadsheet about what they do and don’t know, but I still couldn’t decide where to start.  I decided my dilemma was due to the fact that I was struggling yet again between my teaching philosophy and teaching my grade-level standards.

This weekend, I picked up my copy of Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler and continued reading.  The chapter on Creating Mathematical Mindsets reinforced my philosophy and encouraged me to go with my gut.  That meant that I would begin and end with structuring numbers and building number sense from the ground up.  What I want my students to know is how to reason with numbers and use them creatively: the relationship between numbers.  I want them to know how numbers are connected, not just to each other and other operations, but to their world.

In our classroom, my partner teacher and I have forty students in one learning lab.  We departmentalize and I teach math, she teaches reading.  We collaborate on every aspect of our day and teach with an inquiry model.  Each day, I do a whole group Number Talk, a grade-level flipped lesson, and an intervention group with each student.  Some days we do a 3 Act Math Task instead of the number talk.  My small group lessons are where I am struggling.  I have always bought into the intervention model and how we need to meet each child “where they are.”  I still believe this to be true, but my opinion has changed a little as to the context of teaching in this way.  I’m not sure that I still think that isolated skills are the answer here.  We always talk about “connecting it back to <insert whatever>,” but should we ever sever that connection in the first place?  Why should we “connect it back” instead of keeping it in context the entire time?  I know the answer is that planning in such a way is hard work.  It is time consuming work.  It is deep cognitive work.  And the truth is, there is not enough time to do it.

I spend between 50-70 hours a week teaching or planning.  It’s funny to hear people say “go home and enjoy your family” but they are also saying, “teach like a champion.”  Well, in my opinion, for most of us, you can’t do both.  At least, not in balance.  I have begun looking at my job as my hobby as well.  I guess that is the upside to choosing a career you are passionate about!


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