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Noticing and Noting: 4 Key MTSS Takeaways From a Math Teacher

Updated: May 9, 2023

This year, our district provided all Algebra 1 teachers with professional development and coaching in MTSS. As a veteran teacher with 10+ years experience, I thought I had it all figured out. However, as I engaged in the training sessions and learned more about the MTSS framework, I quickly realized that there were valuable insights and strategies that I had yet to discover. In this post I will share 4 key philosophies that I took away from my experience, and how they’ve transformed my teaching practice.

The Need For Flexibility

Throughout my teaching career, I’ve learned that one of the most important qualities a teacher should have is flexibility. If you’re not flexible with your plans, differentiation can’t exist. The entire idea of differentiating for our students is to use what we learn about them to guide our instruction. Admittedly, I used to strive to have my lessons planned out far in advance. However, this inflexibility does not benefit students. It’s great to have an idea curriculum-wise of where we’re going, but we need to let our students guide us. We need to be flexible not only in our plans, but also how our students access the information as well as showcase what they know.

The Effectiveness of Guided Notes and Worked Examples

During our first MTSS session, I learned about the idea of worked examples and used this idea to create completely transformed guided notes for my Algebra 1 students for the entire year. These guided notes have scaffolded supports rather than all blank examples. In the beginning of learning a topic, I provide students with a worked out example of a problem, and we discuss the steps to solve. In subsequent examples, I sometimes begin the first step to the problem, and students either finish the rest themselves or we discuss how to finish the problem. These supports help enhance my students’ confidence and deepen our discussions.

The Advantage of Eliminating Traditional Homework

In the last few years, especially since Covid, teachers have been seeing a huge uptick in cheating and Photomath usage, especially when it comes to homework assignments. Even before Covid, I began noticing more of my students simply copying their homework assignments. Homework is a great way to reinforce skills, but what’s the point of it if students aren’t even doing it?

Since our district switched to block scheduling, I generally stopped giving traditional homework assignments and began utilizing the extra time we have in class by allowing my students the opportunity to work on practice assignments and activities collaboratively in class. I’ve seen more engagement from my students as well as less cheating. In addition, this allows my co-teacher and I to answer questions and work in small groups with students who need extra support.

The Value of Data

Using formative assessment is crucial as a teacher. More important than formal assessments, we need to continuously use informal, ungraded assessments to gauge how our students are doing and what their needs are. In addition to using warm ups, exit tickets, and observations, there are so many amazing resources out there that provide ways to informally assess our students and gather data.

It is worth noting that while it is crucial to use formative assessments in our classroom, it’s even more crucial to actually use the data that we get from these assessments. Gimkit is a great way to boost engagement while reviewing a concept, but if we don’t actually use the data that they provide to us, what’s the point? We need to make sure that our formative assessments are not only providing us useful information, but that we’re actually using this information to drive our instructional decisions and to make adjustments.

Learning about the framework of MTSS this year has not only validated philosophies that I already had about my own classes, but it’s also helped me have a focus. By having a clear framework, I am now able to better target the individual needs of my students and provide the necessary support that they need to succeed.

If your district is implementing training, it’s incredibly helpful to shift your mindset. Rather than getting caught up in the quality of the session itself, focus on what you can take away from the experience. Try to identify one key takeaway and run with it in your own classroom. By doing so, you can deepen your understanding and make meaningful changes to your teaching practice.

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