Wednesday, October 5, 2016

#EurekaMath: How to pace the lesson and meet the needs of EVERYONE

As much as I love the Eureka Math curriculum, teachers seem to have a real tough time figuring out how to pace the lesson while also meeting the needs of all their students. I am finding teachers struggle in this regard with Eureka Math far more than they did with the pre-Common Core textbook. I don't see this as a knock against Eureka Math. If anything, it merely speaks to the cruddy quality of the old textbooks and that the old textbooks were nothing but snake oil, convincing us we were doing a good job, when in reality we weren't.

Recently, I received an email that is very typical of teachers new to Eureka Math. Here is the email and my response. I hope it helps someone else out there in Internet-land.

----------The original email----------

Hi Duane,

I am an Instructional Coach in the XXXXX School District in Washington state and I hope you don't mind if I ask you a question about Eureka Math. This is our first year of implementation and teachers are really struggling with the differentiation issue- how to meet the needs of the low and high students. I'm wondering if you have found ways to address this issue?
Additionally teachers are feeling that there is so much to cover in every lesson and the program moves too quickly- and they want to teach the program 4 days a week and then on the fifth day- spend time reviewing concepts taught or missed. They are also struggling with what to cut out... Any words of advice?

-----------My response--------------

Hi there!

Your email is a common one that I get weekly from teachers inside and out of my district! Essentially, you are asking two things:
1. How to meet the needs of ALL students?
2. How to fit all the components of a lesson into a single 45 minutes math time?

I'll start with #2 because it also somewhat addresses #1...

In general, I see teachers move through the components of a lesson too slowly. This is because teachers LOVE their students and do not want to move too fast for the struggling students in the class. Unfortunately, this means a fluency activity that should take only 3 minutes ends up taking 10 minutes. Or an Application problem that should take 8 minutes ends up taking 20 minutes because the teacher turned what should merely be a short formative assessment opportunity into a full-on teaching moment. Finally, the teachers often trudge through too much of the Concept Development, doing too many examples at too slow a pace. Or worse, the teacher skips the Concept Development altogether and just works with the whole class in completing the Problem Set questions.

What is the result? 
The students who understand the math and are ready to move on become bored because the teacher is going too slow. I call this "over teaching". The teacher is teaching too much (trying to help the strugglers) and not letting the top students move to independent work time. Moreover, the low students, for whom the teacher is "over teaching", still aren't understanding the math because what they need is something altogether different - perhaps a small group intervention, reteaching with manipulatives, or back-filling with content from an earlier grade.

Here is a blog post I wrote a little while ago that goes more into specifics about how to pace an individual lesson...

With proper pacing, much of #1 is addressed automatically. Counterintuitively, the proper pacing is probably faster than what teachers typically do.

Now to address #1 a bit more...Let's assume the teacher has kept a zippy pace with the fluency activity and the application problem. Now she is ready to do the Concept Development. This is where I suggest teachers resist the urge to "over teach". The teacher should choose the minimum number of example problems from the Concept Development vignette in the teacher edition and then release most of the students to independently work on the Problem Set, while she immediately works with a few students in a small group setting.

Of course, this means the teacher is now doing double duty: 1.) continuing to teach the strugglers in the small group and 2.) monitor the rest of the class to ensure they are working productively. This is hard, but can definitely be done.

Keep in mind that the Problem Set is a time-based activity rather than a product-based activity. This means students are working on the Problem Set for a fixed amount of time (about 10 or 15 minutes) regardless of whether they finish all the problems. Indeed, the teacher should identify the problems in the Problem Set as "Must Do", "Could Do", or "Extension". During the 15 minutes, students should first do the Must Do questions, then the Extension Questions. Time permitting, the Could Do questions are last.

As students complete the Problem Set, I encourage teachers incorporate some sort of problem-solving opportunity for students to work on. Some awesome online resources:
These allow students to work on something OTHER than drill-and-kill math. Of course, the teacher can certainly use other problem-solving activities she may already have.

Once the teacher finishes working with the strugglers in the small group, often there is no time for those students to work on the Problem Set. This is okay. Just move on and have the students skip the Problem Set that day.

The important thing is for the teacher to resist the urge to reteach the entire lesson the next day simply because a few students do not understand today's lesson. The curriculum is specifically written to spiral and review, which makes reteaching rarely necessary.

So...let's boil this whole thing into a simple game plan for teaching:
  1. Properly pace the fluency activity and Application problem. Keep it zippy. Assess student understanding, but don't turn it into a teaching moment.
  2. Keep the Concept Development to a minimum. Do as few examples as possible in order to release most students as quickly as possible. I call this "UNDER teach" the math...meaning the teacher should send students to work independently a little earlier than she might otherwise have done.
  3. The teacher now does double duty: reteach a small group while also monitoring the rest of the class.
  4. Have additional problem-solving activities (online or paper-and-pencil) for early finishers of the Problem Set.
  5. Limit the Problem Set time to 10 or 15 minutes only. Then do a short Debrief conversation with the whole class.
Sheesh...there is more we could talk about. Specifically, Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This is a framework for how a teacher can design/modify a lesson in order to meet the needs of more students within the lesson, thereby reducing the need to differentiate for the high- and low-students after the lesson. In UDL, teachers proactively plan strategies for removing barriers to student learning in three ways:
  • Strategies for engagement
  • Strategies for representation
  • Strategies for expression. 
Here is a good resource for learning more about UDL...

I hope this gets you started on your journey. Please feel free to email again. We all need to support one another as we help our teachers implement Eureka Math!