All Articles Education Q-and-A: How one N.Y. school is personalizing math instruction

Q-and-A: How one N.Y. school is personalizing math instruction

5 min read


In this Q-and-A,  Scott Burdick, principal at Pine Valley Elementary School in South Dayton, N.Y., discusses how his school uses data and technology to help personalize student learning in math.

How is your school/district personalizing learning in the math classroom to ensure students are on a path to college and career readiness?

We’ve implemented an adaptive diagnostic assessment tool to support our need to get actionable data about each student. After students are assessed through our online adaptive diagnostic assessment, teachers get reports on the skills each student needs to work on. Having detailed assessment data like this from i-Ready® allows the teacher to provide a personalized instructional plan via online and offline lessons and which helps support a blended learning approach. Access to data about each student has enabled teachers to focus on a response to intervention (RTI) approach, to scaffold their instruction and to have more productive performance conferences with students, because teachers and students can establish goals together.

In addition, one of our big technology efforts has been our 1:1 iPad® initiative. We are close to being 1:1 for grades one through 12. Our teachers are using their iPads to send lessons to students who then complete the lesson and send it back to the teacher. They are also using Curriculum Associates’ online Ready® Teacher Toolbox to view prerequisite and advanced lessons and provide them to students who either need remediation or more challenging work.

What are the biggest challenges/hardest standards/concepts/domains for students in today’s math classroom?

For a while, we have seen older students struggling with math fact fluency. We are also seeing, based on our online assessment data from i-Ready, that students are struggling with geometry and measurement and data as well. With the new common core standards, our students struggle with multi-step problems and real-world implementations. They have difficulty determining what information to take out of a word problem and comprehending some of the background concepts in real-world problems, such as painting a room, or taxes, which are unfamiliar to young students.

The good news is by the end of last year, we had made progress in these areas and were more on par with the other domains. And, after our New York state assessment, a couple of our students commented that the test looked like the problems and practice test items they had already seen in Ready which, I think, helped the students feel more prepared.

How has instruction changed in your school/district to meet these challenges?  

Our classrooms are much noisier and busier than in the past, because students now work collaboratively more than ever. We are doing more hands-on activities and spending more time working on the areas that students find difficult by incorporating discussions, particularly on real-world problems. In many cases, not only are we addressing the common core, but if that presentation of the material is not understood, we introduce several other methods to address different learning styles.

Students work toward a schoolwide goal to receive rewards based on the number of i-Ready lessons that are passed at each grade/level. i-Ready provides a personalized instruction plan, and the teachers also include extra i-Ready lessons that correlate with the current unit of instruction. A remediation block provides time for students to work either independently on i-Ready or to work in a small group with the teacher.

We are also finding ways to increase student engagement in math. For example, our teachers utilize QR codes so students can work on a problem, and then scan the QR code with their iPad to see if they answered the problem correctly. Another example is how we have one fourth-grade teacher working with a group of students after school. These students become “mini teachers” to help teach a particular lesson to other students in the class.

Finally, we let teachers take the time they need to work on prerequisite skills with their students. For example, one fifth-grade math teacher spent the first couple of weeks of school really honing in on math computational fluency, because her students needed the extra help. The teacher was able to do this because she had access to domain-level data from our online adaptive assessment program that informed her instruction plans, and she had access to strong teacher support materials in Ready on those prerequisite skills.

How is your school/district supporting teachers to implement personalized learning in math?

Our vision is that change occurs over time, and it is important to balance students’ current skills and what students need to know and be able to do now with the demands of the new standards. We are helping to support our teachers by making quality data available to help drive differentiated instruction and make immediate adjustments. Teachers create a data-based action plan, utilizing the i-Ready diagnostic results for a specific group of students, as part of their annual professional performance review (APPR). But beyond data, we are also trying to provide as much time as possible for teachers to collaborate and also to offer co-teaching opportunities. I meet with my teachers in what we call “inquiry teams” to figure out where breakdowns in student understanding may be based on the data and then discuss instructional recommendations teachers can implement to improve student performance.

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