3 Tips on Creating a Positive Learning Environment with ASSISTments
With most students returning to the classroom this Fall, we face the increasingly monumental challenge of balancing the social and emotional well-being of both students and teachers, with academics. This challenge is not new in theory, but with over a year of distance learning, due to a socially limiting pandemic, we need to address what will undoubtedly be a learning curve that needs to go beyond the textbook. Below are some actionable tips for creating a positive classroom environment using ASSISTments. Not returning to the classroom? These tips can also be utilized in hybrid and distance learning settings.
1. Start with a consistent, predictable routine.
Routines help to alleviate the unpredictability that resulted from the pandemic and helps students reclaim a sense of normalcy and control even as you and your students face the challenges and changes that will undoubtedly come up in the coming months.
Set the tone by starting class with a warm-up routine. This will provide students with the time and space necessary to shift to a learning mindset. When students enter a classroom with clear routines and expectations, they will ultimately experience new levels of comfort and confidence as they advance throughout the academic year. Example, warm-up routines can include starting class with a thinking routine such as “which one doesn’t belong,” reviewing a problem, or concept from the previous day, or structured quiet time writing that reflects on the learning goals for the day.
As a warm-up you can use data from the previous night’s ASSISTments assignment. Have ASSISTments data projected on the board along with an open-ended prompt or ‘notice & wonder’ centered around the data to get students in the right mindset as they enter class. This entry routine provides time for students to quietly reflect and write down the things they see and things they wonder about in a data set, grounding them in the day’s learning.
Important Note: As you implement this routine, hide student names before showing the class. Anonymizing the data helps build safety around analyzing data in your classroom, messaging that discussions are a safe space for everyone to grow and improve.
2. Show that you value student voice.
When students know that their voice matters, their confidence builds and engagement soars. Open class with a ‘notice & wonder’ routine around ASSISTments data; this allows students to reflect and see the big picture.
As students share their noticings and wonderings around the data, record their ideas on the board for the class to see. Recording students’ ideas does two things: One, it builds students’ self-confidence by confirming that their ideas are worth sharing with the rest of the class and Two, it Increases students’ investment in the learning process by showing them that sharing their own ideas is a critical part of your lessons.
This exercise around ASSISTments data can be powerful, especially if the data includes a common wrong answer. Common wrong answers indicate that 3 or more students provided the same incorrect answer to a problem, highlighting key areas of student misunderstanding. As students notice this in the data, teachers’ should facilitate a discussion around common misunderstandings. This shows students that they are not alone and fortifies the fact that learning is a process. Students can work together as a class to deepen their conceptual understanding and as they do so they will construct their own method of understanding. As they connect ideas they will connect to each other, fostering their sense of belonging.
The "My Favorite No" activity is a great way to discuss the Common Wrong Answers from the Assignment Report with your students with a positive and empowering twist.
3. Allow students to struggle productively.
Students need to know that their teacher believes they are capable of successful engagement with rigorous coursework. By determining why a common wrong answer does or doesn’t make sense, and/or is not correct, they will build a deeper level of understanding. Analyzing common wrong answers is one way to allow for productive struggle because allowing students to think critically in this way helps build students’ confidence in their mathematical skill. It sends the message that their teacher believes they can successfully navigate learning challenges on their own and/or amongst themselves.
Productive struggle can also be as simple as giving students a chance to reflect and re-do an assignment. Noticing and praising students around multiple attempts can help send the message that your classroom is safe to learn, grow, and improve. If your emphasis is on increasing students’ mathematical confidence, they will also emphasize their growth as mathematicians.
Important Note: ASSISTments is a formative assessment tool; it is never just about right or wrong - it’s about growth. By taking time at the beginning of the year to communicate to students how the percentage bar and symbols of success work and how they support student learning; you lay the foundation for the kind of classroom mindset that fosters fearless learning.
No matter what this Fall looks like, students will need a positive classroom environment that is safe for learning. Even if students enter the classroom academically behind, you can create a classroom environment that helps them get their confidence in math back and set them on track for success.