Math Intervention…or “This Is All Schneider’s Fault”

In January, my roommate/colleague and I went to the University of Arizona’s Center for the Recruitment and Retention of Teachers Mathematics Educator Appreciation Day conference. (And…now I’m tired of typing.) We went to a math teacher conference that was local. Dan Schneider was there doing a session on math intervention, and I told my roommate to go to his session because she is currently teaching an intervention-type class and I’m not. I told her if she didn’t go, I would. I follow Dan on Twitter and I also follow his blog, so I know that I really like what he has to say. Specifically, his series of posts on answer-getting about a year ago really resonated with me. I saw these same attitudes and behaviors in my own students, and was thrilled to hear that I was trying something that he was also trying, and get other strategies that might help.

So I made my roommate go to his session. I was totally fan-girling it up, so I also told her that I wanted to meet him, which I did right after the session was over. (My session that time was super-boring, by the way. Definitely should have gone to Dan’s.) I always imagined that if I met a movie star, I’d be able to be cool and pretend like this is normal experience for me. Apparently this is not true, and David Tennant needs to, for the sake of my dignity, stay on the other side of the ocean from me.

Anyway…about a month or two later, we found out that Dan was going to be doing a 4-hour talk on a Saturday morning at the university so he could go more in-depth about intervention and what he does. So we both signed up to go.

Holy crap, 4 hours is a long time. I seriously don’t understand how our students can spend a 7-hour school day sitting in desks. I can’t do it for half that time.

Dan shared lots of stuff, including the link to all of his resources and lessons and every single thing he does because he puts all of it online and seriously, imagine how amazing the teaching life would be if we all shared everything we do like this…

The tangents are bad today, guys. Sorry.

So Dan shared his stuff, and also his overview of how he approaches his math intervention classes. I was most intrigued by his plan for the year – teaching (conceptually, not by memorizing rules) integers, fractions, and solving equations during the first semester, then supporting the students’ work in their current math class during the second semester. I did a lot of thinking about this, and wondered if it was a model we could be implementing in my school.

We have intervention classes at my school. We call them Support classes. As in, Algebra 1 Support, Geometry Support, and Algebra 2 Support. We started this last school year, intending to model these classes after a strategy that seemed to be working in the other high school in our district. But we didn’t really understand what that other school was doing. I like to put it this way – we know what we DON’T want the support classes to look like, but we don’t know what we DO want them to look like. For example, we DON’T want them to be a study hall, or extra time for homework. But what DO we do? No one knows. Frankly, the teachers who are teaching them don’t really know.

This year it’s really becoming a major issue. We can recommend the support class to a student who is struggling, but we can’t explain why it will help. The students are complaining because the support class doesn’t match up with what they did in their Algebra 1 or Geometry class that day. (Since we have 4 Algebra 1 teachers, none of whom teach the Algebra 1 Support classes, this is virtually impossible to accomplish anyway.) Students are unhappy, parents are unhappy, teachers are unhappy, counselors are unhappy, and admin is unhappy (probably because they have to deal with all the rest of us being unhappy).

I’ve been wanting to spearhead a change in the goal of the support classes, so I started to wonder if I could handle being THE Algebra 1 Support teacher (3 sections) and figure out how to make this system work for us. Dan’s structure for his classes gave me a good starting point, and knowing that I have all his resources available to me makes the idea less intimidating. (“Less” here doesn’t mean “not”. I mean going from 90% intimidating to maybe 75%.) I wasn’t sure that I want to deal with the stress of having the weakest, least confident, most frustrated/frustrating of the freshmen for 3 sections a day, especially since my other 2 classes are the lowest-level math class we offer for seniors. But I talked to my principal to run the idea by him anyway.

My principal thought about this idea a lot, then talked to his “bosses” – the assistant superintendents. Apparently when he brought up the idea of having one teacher in charge of all the Algebra 1 Support classes and approach it as an intervention class designed to prepare them for success in the future, not just get them through their current class, the assistant superintendents said “Why haven’t we thought of this before?” (This is a really good question.) They basically told him to jump on this.

So he told me yesterday that he’s doing it – I will be teaching 2 sections of Financial Literacy and 3 sections of Algebra 1 Support. After a few seconds to mentally adjust to that idea, I told him my one caveat. “If you want me to do this, I need the freedom/autonomy to play around, try things out, and figure out what works.” Basically, I want it to be clear that I’m moving away from how we’ve been doing support the last 2 years – I’m not going to be supporting what the teacher did that day. (This also means that I won’t really care how many teachers I have align myself with, at least for part of the year. This will make my life easier.) He agreed with this and sent me on my merry way.

I’m still adjusting myself to this idea, but I’m getting really excited. I can take the time to make math less intimidating for my students. I can do Counting Circles, Talking Points, Visual Patterns, Mastery Tests, Error Analysis…everything else the MTBoS has come up with that I don’t feel like I have time to do in Algebra 1. I want my students to learn that, once we fill in the gaps in their knowledge, they can be successful. (That will not be an easy process. I will need to break through years of compensating strategies to re-teach skills. You will not enjoy this process. I need you to trust me.)

Woo hoo! Math intervention!

This is all Schneider’s fault.

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