A huge push in the latest effective teaching research is student engagement. One way to keep students engaged is through hand signals. Madeline Noonan, a fifth grade teacher, demonstrates several hand signals used throughout her entire school (https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/classroom-silent-communication-signals). When I was a math coach for Math Matters, they also had a set of signals: don’t understand (moving hand over head), agree (thumbs up), disagree (moving hands across each other back and forth), can’t hear (cupping the ear), etc. When I taught I also added some of my own: sharpen pencil (hold pencil in the air), bathroom (sign language letter B) etc. When we were doing math I might say, “Show me on your fingers the answer.” If we were doing test prep and the answers were A, B, C etc., then I would have them show me the sign language letter for their answer. The great thing about hand signals is the students have quick access to you and you can read what is going on in the classroom, and it all happens silently. However, the most important thing is they can participate and be engaged in the lesson.
Over the years as I tried different teaching methods and strategies, I finally found one where I could quickly check my whole class to see if they understood the concept I just taught. This was with whiteboards and dry erase markers. I had my students divided into groups of four (cooperative learning). After demonstrating, let say, a math problem with my powerpoint lesson, I would then give the students a problem to do on their whiteboards (guided practice). The groups competed and the first team done got an extra point. Each team would get a point when everyone in their group was done and they had 100%. They were to work their problem separately for the first part, and then I told them to check with their other team members to see if they had the same answer. If they didn’t, I had the stronger students help those who were having difficulty redo the problem. They just couldn’t copy the answer. They had to show their work on their whiteboard for the complete problem. I would award top teams an ice cream on Fridays. Was there a little cheating going on in class? Maybe. But I kept a very close eye on the teams and felt there was very little. It was a great self-esteem builder for the smarter kids as well. Plus, one of the best learning methods is to be able to verbalize what you have just learned, so the smart students got smarter. Think also of the many hours I saved of individually helping students who were having trouble. Using individual whiteboards is a win-win situation for everyone.
Are You an Effective Math Teacher?
Here are some identified practices effective teachers use in the classroom when teaching math. Look at the picture and ask yourself how many of these things do you do in a lesson? On the comments below please add what you do as a teacher to make your math lessons more effective?