How Do You Spell Student Success? G-r-o-w-t-h

In room E8, at Northside Middle School in Roanoke County, Virginia, we view student success as a significant growth over previous math achievement scores. What does significant growth entail, you might ask? We often wonder as well! In our collaborative class, whether face-to-face or virtually, success is measured by growth on a student-by-student basis, and it’s measured on a class-by-class basis. Success also includes the growth of each student’s emotional learning by gaining independence and decision-making skills. When students belong to a group in which their input and achievement are valued, students’ self-esteem increases and peer collaboration flourishes.

In room E8, there is usually a rumble of activity. If there is relative quiet, either we are testing or we have taken our class to another location for an activity that requires more space than our classroom offers. Some might call this level of daily activity undisciplined; the eighth grade math team of BensonVoss calls it engagement. In August of 2017, Amber Benson and Ruby Voss, both new to Roanoke County, were paired together and vowed to use this level of student engagement to promote growth. We continue to rely on active student engagement, without regard to the method of delivery. We have found that our students respond to energetic and imaginative methods whether they are in class or online.

In room E8, our primary focus is to teach our students how to think independently, how to ask meaningful questions, and how to choose answers deliberately. We accomplish these things by embracing data-driven instruction and by teaching our students to embrace data-driven learning. Our weekly tests are a mix of previously taught skills and new information. We analyze the data collected from our Friday assessments, and we use it to make decisions for the following week. Our homework, focus, and exit questions rely on this crucial information. This careful analysis of student results and data-driven instruction promotes student ownership and growth. Finally, we present this data to our classes at our Monday data meetings. Our classes learn to read line graphs and follow their progress in learning the curriculum. After the discussion of data, we review the topics in which students demonstrate less than a 70% success rate. Each student scoring under 70% receives individualized feedback and the opportunity to redo and discuss questions they missed on the previous week’s test.

In room E8, we teach our students independence by providing all class information on Blackboard. If a student is absent, they can find the day’s activities, notes, assignments, and instructional videos on Blackboard; therefore, there is never a reason to be behind. We have recorded more than 300 instructional videos over the past two years that are available on our YouTube channel. These videos are available for remote instruction, remediation, homework help, and test preparation. Our newest effort to teach our students independence is the use of QR codes on class notes and weekly homework. QR codes allow immediate access to “help” by linking to appropriate videos on our channel.

In room E8, we teach our students how to ask meaningful questions by challenging their current understanding of mathematics and by encouraging them to strive for a deeper understanding. We consistently teach beyond the Math 8 curriculum into additional algebraic and geometric concepts. A great example of this is our daily focus and exit activities, in which each of our classes engages in a friendly competition. Because it is a competition between classes, students have greater buy-in and ask questions to earn the highest class percentage possible. Not only do we ask students to solve problems in their focus activities, but we use the exit questions to teach decision-making skills. Exit questions ask students what the first step of a problem should be, to define vocabulary words, or to access prior knowledge. After two years of utilizing our focus/exit combination, we have seen a positive change in decision-making skills.

In room E8, we teach our students how to choose answers deliberately by encouraging them to consider important questions. Did I read the question carefully? Did I highlight important information? Does my answer make sense? Did I use previous knowledge? Did I use Desmos to its full potential? Our students are encouraged to work deliberately and never choose an answer without a good reason. Deliberate students will demonstrate growth. Guessing is not an option because guessing is not deliberate.

In room E8, on the second floor of Northside Middle School, we are a family. On March 16, 2020, our family was separated but we came together using technology. We continued to focus on student engagement and student growth. We continued to focus on teaching our students how to think independently, how to ask meaningful questions, and how to choose answers deliberately. We continued to celebrate our accomplishments and we built on our struggles. There is nowhere we would rather be, and each year keeps getting better.

Ruby Voss and Amber Benson (BensonVoss) are a collaborative math team at Northside Middle School, Roanoke, Virginia.

Published in AMLE Magazine, August 2020.