There comes a time in a math classroom, when learning transitions from the tangible to the conceptual. Take counting M&Ms to visualize addition and subtraction. Shawn has 4 M&Ms. He subtracts (eats) 2. How many M&Ms does Shawn have left? Now consider a more advanced concept like logarithmic functions. This mathematical concept goes beyond what a candy counter can offer. Students - understandably - get frustrated. It can be hard to persevere when the work gets tough.
As teachers, we often encourage our students to grow as learners by encompassing attitudes of perseverance, persistence and endurance. We assign 10 more similar problems, drill down on the concept at hand, maintain control to support students with focused structure. These mantras of perseverance, persistence and endurance are all about working harder. But is this always the best and most efficient way for students to learn?
There are many different reasons that students aren’t grasping concepts. Sure, some students may be goofing off or not applying themselves. This is a scenario where working harder and persevering when the going gets tough is really helpful. Working through their misconceptions, students in this scenario can reinvigorate their confidence in their skills.
Frequently, however, not grasping concepts has nothing to do with not working hard enough. Consider the scenario where students cannot complete the problem due to insufficient mastery of prerequisite content. No matter how many more practice problems for Concept B that teachers assign, if students haven’t yet mastered Concept A, they’ll only be spinning their wheels… which will quickly burn out.
We offer 4 BIG ideas - and lots of tips within - for getting students to work smarter - not harder.
FEEDBACK relieves the pressure of ‘right or wrong’ to make learning a conversation
Teachers and students alike know the frustration of repeating the same mistakes over and over again on assignments filled with similar problems. A black hole of 50 problems, students have no benchmarks for success and need to wait until tomorrow to discover they’ve applied the wrong skill to half the assignment.
When students get immediate feedback, they are also empowered with agency, because they can understand exactly how their learning is progressing. Struggle is replaced with investment and improved performance because they can apply the insights from feedback to their assignment right away and adjust course to stay on track.
As ASSISTments teachers, make sure your students know how to use the feedback features below when they’re working independently. Students will work smarter because they’ll use the data to say “I can figure it out myself” instead of waiting until the assignment review tomorrow.
- Some ASSISTments problems offer hints. When a student gets an incorrect answer, they can use the hint button for an instructional boost in the right direction..
- ASSISTments always allows multiple attempts so students can reflect on their work and try again. This shifts the focus from being wrong, to working through a challenge.
- Even the Show Answer button is a feature of immediate feedback and an opportunity to work backwards from the right answer to achieve learning independently.
Feedback isn’t just a way for students to work smarter; teachers too can create shorter assignments because each problem becomes more meaningful when students apply feedback from one problem to the next.
FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT helps adjust course implement with low-stakes touchpoints
Formative assessment relies on evaluating students infrequently and informally as they learn new skills. In contrast to summative assessment which formally assesses student performance at the end of the learning process, formative assessment gives teachers the flexibility to evaluate students in various ways so they can get a sense of concept attainment and progress towards learning concepts, give and receive feedback from students, and most importantly, adjust course to keep things on track.
Margaret Heritage breaks down formative assessment into a 5-step cyclical process that any teacher can apply in class to take assignments to the next level through formative assessment. We summarize:
- Set your learning targets, or the goals that define what you’re and students are learning
- Figure out what success looks like so you know if you’ve met your learning targets
- Create an assignment for your students that you’ll evaluate against your criteria for success: quiz, homework, project or presentation - it’s up to you!
- Review performance to understand how it aligns with learning targets. Have students met the criteria for success?
- Adjust course based on progress now that you and students know if you’re on track toward learning targets
We love formative assessment at ASSISTments, because it requires everyone in the classroom to be part of the conversation. When learning is a discussion, and instruction adapts to student needs everyone in the classroom is working smarter.
FLEXIBLE TECHNOLOGY that is teacher-paced keeps you in the driver's seat
One great promise of educational technology is flexibility and efficiency, offering endless libraries of content and options for every learning goal under the sun; but such tools also have the potential to use students’ time unproductively and undermine effective learning. Without keeping teachers in the driver’s seat, endless libraries of problem sets make it really easy to perpetuate similar frustrations of unproductive persistence, drilling down on Concept B before students have mastered Concept A.
In contrast, platforms like ASSISTments that are teacher-paced ensure that teachers can use the technology to enhance their daily practice, assigning problem sets that are aligned with the instructional approaches already work for them and their students. Such platforms allow teachers to differentiate for the needs of the many diverse learners in their classrooms, and identify problem sets that will support productive struggle.
Two ASSISTments features - Skill Builders and Automatic Reassessment and Relearning - help ensure that students retain mastery of their skills so that they can apply them readily to more complicated concepts. Furthermore, the flexibility of adaptive technology can help identify when students are spinning their wheels and guide them towards concept mastery.
FIXED to GROWTH MINDSET reframing creates lifelong learners
In contrast to fixed mindsets, growth mindsets equip students with the tools to cope with pressure, face challenges, and leverage varied strategies towards achieving a goal. Growth mindset theory is valuable in and out of the classroom for students and adults alike, and is based on the idea that we as individuals do not enter the world with a set of pre-determined, fixed skills and talents. Rather, we are capable of improvement and growth in any domain when we have the tools
There are many ways to encourage a growth mindset. Here at ASSISTments, our approach to fostering growth mindsets is rooted in the reframing of what is very likely already a part of your common classroom practice and vernacular. It may seem obvious, but these small shifts are fundamental for students to see themselves in terms of potential, and struggle as a journey of growth.
- Do you assign homework, classwork, quizzes or other assessments? Try reframing these assignments as learning opportunities. These are benchmarks and touchpoints that help you and your students stay aligned on their progress. Students hear quiz or quiz and think grades and It’s no use to reach the end of unit exam and realize half the class is still struggling on Lesson 2. Assignments like homework and quizzes are part of a conversation between you and your students on where they’re excelling and where they need more support.
- Do students make mistakes in your class? Of course they do! Try reframing as a discussion around common wrong answers and classroom trends. Students are rarely alone in the mistakes they make, but they often feel embarrassed to ask for help. Mistakes are a window into students’ thinking. Data help
- Do you record grades or scores? Try reframing as feedback.
These days, many educators are instead encouraging students to adjust the way they think of themselves, to empompass attitudes of a growth mindset and productive persistence. The focus may shift to metacognition, gradeless classrooms, retrieval practice, and responding to. In contrast to working harder, this approach is all about supporting students to work smarter.