New idea: Teach students to understand math

Math scores are way up in Nashville thanks to a new teaching method: Teachers now “look at where our students are and pull them up,” says Julie Martin, the district’s math coordinator.

“Before, instruction didn’t take into account where the students were at any given time. … We just didn’t have a systematic way of being student centered, of addressing students more individually.”

Math teachers underwent professional training to learn the new approach, which incorporated frequent testing to track student progress. Teachers also relied on classroom discussions and presentations to see if their students grasped the material.

At Stratford High, 91 percent of students scored proficient or higher, up from 55 percent. Teachers now test students every three weeks on the same benchmarks, explained math specialist Cynthia Hicks-McCall.

“When we found shortcomings, we went back and taught it again. We pulled kids for tutoring. I just break it down to little pieces of math and show (students) what they mean so they can remember. I’m also big on homework to keep them on their toes.”

Checking to see if students understand, reteaching concepts they missed and making students practice skills . . . This is a new idea?

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  1. Reality Czech says:

    So they found that determining where the students’ knowledge leaves off, and starting from there with direct instruction, leads to better learning.

    Who’d a thunk it?

  2. John Dewey says:

    As far as edu-trends go, let’s let the educrats think the idea came from them. It might actually gain some traction.

  3. Gee, that’s kind of how I learned math, back in the good old days. And I can actually DO math as an adult.

    Let’s hope no one comes whining to the principal that their kid is being “picked on” because he or she was “pulled for tutoring.”

  4. This is great. My church has a program tutoring local kids. In our first year we found that, although we started off with a lot of high school students, we ended up with mostly elementary and middle school kids. Based on our experiences, we came to the conclusion that they kept coming because we could help them. The high school students, on the other hand, were so lost that nothing we could do in 1.5 hours/week was going to help. The kids were all in algebra and most couldn’t do simple arithmetic, negative numbers, inequalities (greater/less than), etc. They were badly in need of remedial tutoring, but were so fixed on ‘getting through their homework’ with no understanding of it that it would take a systematic program to get them caught up.

  5. I would abbreviate the headline to this:

    New Idea: Teach Students

  6. I don’t like to argue with success, but when the explanation given for this success is so shallow, we have to ask questions. Is the success real, or could we be getting the results of measurement by a different yardstick than last year? Can we look to NAEP results to confirm this success, or is that not applicable? I’m not sure how these things work.

    And if the success is real, we have to ask why. The author of the newspaper article is, I presume, a newspaper reporter, and maybe that excuses the shallowness. We are left guessing, so I have a few guesses.

    When it comes to math one may be forgiven for pointing an accusing finger at the NCTM. Their Standards of 2000 are long on idealistic rhetoric, but short on the nitty gritty of actually teaching math. In particular they downplay practice. I developed that idea in an article on my website, . Is it possible that until this year the Nashville Schools were so invested in in NCTM’s version of teaching math that common sense teaching actually seems new to them? If so, that’s sad.

    Another possibility is that someone in the Nashville school math hierarchy is a super salesman. Personal attention, enthusiasm, and good salesmanship sometimes can do wonders. Maybe there’s an unsung hero not identified in the newspaper article.

    Or maybe that unsung hero is not a super salesman so much as an analyst. Perhaps he or she figured out something important, but perhaps subtle, that was being done wrong, and somehow managed to change it.

    Another possibility is that there is some change in some rules that makes a big difference. Maybe it’s discipline related. Maybe they found a way to get rid of a few hopelessly disruptive students (and possibly a few bad teachers). That could make a world of difference.

    Most of the possibilities I come up with involve changing bad past practices, not developing new and better practices. This brings up an issue that I think is important. The educational world is not good at describing, much less analyzing or understanding, normal, conventional, common sense teaching. As a result we are left guessing again and again. As usual I have developed this idea to some degree. Here’s a link: .

  7. It’s almost the same thing as having firemen discover that spraying water on fires puts them out.

  8. Clearly it was new for them.

  9. Great! Now we can finally pass Uzbekistan in international Math & Science competitions. Wait… The Uzbeks are still in the minor leagues, you say?