Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mrs. Barber's Class :)

So, this is my 4th year teaching 7th grade math, and I LOVE it. My students' needs are a constant motivator to be better at what I do - the best math teacher they've ever had - the teacher that convinces them that math isn't "too hard". This is my focus every day - and is the reason I want to spend the time to get involved with the amazing teachers of the MTBoS :) Over the past 4 years, and through much trial and error, I've developed a two things that I think make my classroom distinctly mine:

1)  Individual Whiteboards
       I teach mostly students who are 2+ grade-levels behind who need LOTS of guided instruction before they are ready to tackle the 7th grade standards on their own. On the days when we are learning a new skill/concept we do guided instruction with individual whiteboards.

       I bought a few large sheets of marker board/shower board at Lowe's and had my dad and husband cut them  into 10 inch by 12 inch individual boards. I bought several yards of fleece at a fabric store that I cut into small squares that the students use as erasers - and I buy tons of markers at the beginning of each school year.

     After I introduce a new topic and my students take notes in their Interactive Notebooks, we pass out the boards, markers, and erasers and get to work! I present problems one at a time and the students show me their work and answers when they finish. I use a colored marker (students use black) and correct mistakes and add tips and pointers. I use words like "Great!" and "Beautiful!" for good work/right answers and words like "Try Again!" or "Look at _____!"  when discussing students' work with them. I never use the word "wrong"  or "incorrect" because my students shut-down easily.

    My students love this activity - and feel safe to try because they know I'm not grading their answers. I love this activity because it gives me a good picture of where my class is with the concept/skill before they leave my class for the day. I know who "got it" and who is still struggling - and how I should focus my energy the next day.

2) Constant Review
      Each day the students complete a 4-6 question "Get Started" that covers material that we studied earlier in the year, or skills the students struggle with and will need to access the 7th grade standards (i.e. multi-digit multiplication, rounding, subtraction with borrowing etc). This format keeps new skills fresh in my students minds (retention is an issue for them), and provides the opportunity for mini-lessons on remedial skills necessary for 7th grade. I used to do this activity on paper in a work-sheet format, but once I moved to a school where every student is issued an iPad, I've started using to create and grade these assignments.

Constant and cumulative review is the single most important thing I do in my classroom to increase student achievement and I will do it as long as I teach!

*** Disclaimer: Obviously whiteboards and spiraling review are not ideas I came up with.  These are concepts are ideas I borrowed and adapted to meet the needs of me and my students. I give full credit to my first-year teacher mentor for inspiring the daily review format - and I credit a bunch of trial and error to discovering that individual whiteboards can be highly motivating for my students, and an AWESOME formative assessment for me :)***


  1. Hey Shaina, (I've got a student with that name, but she pronounces it "She-anna"... is that how you pronounce your name?)
    Whiteboarding is awesome! I remember seeing it as an observing student-teacher and thinking "I've got to do that in my class one day". One thing I discovered late last year was "The Mistake Game". Here's a link to it: it might or might not be age-appropriate for 7th graders, I'll leave that up to you:

    Recently with my seniors I've been doing ACT-style review problems as warm-ups because they have that coming up soon. Also, I use for Chemistry, but I've never tried it in math class--I should really look more into that for my Precalculus students!

    On the side: I taught 6th grade math my 1st year of teaching and I don't know how you middle-school teachers do it (my wife is a 7th and 8th grade Social Studies teacher), so keep up the good work!

    1. Mine is pronounced "Shay-na"

      I've heard of this intentional mistake game. I love it and want to use it with my advanced students soon. Still figuring out the logistics to make it happen.

      With my "regular" kids, I like to do an activity similar to this, where I present 3 wrong answers and a right one. They figure out the right one, and then explain how I arrived at the other 3 (possible common mistakes). I got this idea from a book I read, but can't remember what book. LOL. I've just started this activity this year, because I think it works well with the Common Core.

  2. Hi Shaina,

    Whiteboards are definitely useful in the classroom. I use mine daily, and I like how you use them for formative feedback in the classroom. I recently participated in a professional development session on the importance of giving clear and concise feedback to students. Using the whiteboards to communicate tips and procedures may be a good way to evaluate students' understanding. That feedback also allows you an opportunity to build rapport with the student and even set goals throughout the year.

    I read that your students write in their interactive notebooks. Is that teacher led or do you have prompts that the students complete? Just wondering, as I'm using math journals and I'd like to explore different options.


    1. I have a very regimented procedure for using the ISN, that includes a Table of Contents, page labeling, and notes that I provide. I have found that this very structured format works best for my reluctant and "at-risk" math students. I used as ISN for the first time last year and my ed of the year student survey indicated that the students really liked them and found them useful. It's so nice to say "look at page 7!" when a student forgets an integer rule. Many of my students are now carrying them to school for use in their 8th grade math class, which makes me smile! :)

  3. I'm so excited that I stumbled upon your blog. I taught 7th grade math for many years, but it was always the advanced class. Took a few years off to teach just 8th grade Algebra. Now I teach all the math in my small middle school (we are at a K-8 site). I look forward to reading more about how you address the needs of your math students who are 2+ years below grade level.

    1. Thanks so much! I hope you find my experiences helpful and useful :)

  4. Whiteboards are my favorite tool too! The kids are excited to use them on a regular basis and I love the instant feedback that I get. Your statement, "My students' needs are a constant motivator to be better at what I do - the best math teacher they've ever had.." is AWESOME! I wish more teachers had that attitude! I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog posts!

  5. I had heard of teachers cutting "boards" to make individual whiteboards, but I never really knew what it was. Thanks for sharing this, I'll have to try this myself!
    I love the constant review thing as well. I have students who are taking the ACT at the end of the year. The geometry stuff is NOT fresh in their brains for sure.