Math in the Whole Language Classroom

Independent Math Assignments
Lori Jackson

One thing I have done in the past in a multiage setting and am doing with my second grade kids this year is Independent Math Assignments. Essentially, I wanted to give my kids some daily independent practice or extension and the one size fits all daily practice sheets did not meet the diverse learning abilities of my students.

The booklets are made from 1/2 file folder, filled with 25 half sheets of paper. The covers are laminated for durability. Instructions on the cover read: 1. Read your directions. 2. Complete your assignment 3. Have an adult in the classroom sign you off. These are part of morning workshop assignments, so there are three adults in the room and we avoid interuptions by having a sign up sheet that says "I am ready to be signed off", so we find them between conferences or groups.

Assignments include hands on activities, such as assignments to play games, use a wide variety of fun dice to toss and write addition problems (some say 2 dice for 2 digit, 3 dice for digit, some also might ask the children to write the related subtraction fact), write a story problemt that will challenge you, lots of numeration related mini assignments (like start at 100 and write your numbers by 5's to 250), some get toss and write multiplication problmes, etc.

My parents love our hands on approach to math but some are concerned that the kids also get some paper and pencil exposure, so that the transition to more traditional instruction will be smooth for them. To this end I have one of those paper files that hang on the wall--6 slots. I label them ABCDEF, and in each slot is a two sided worksheet. I am very careful in terms of what is here. A--comptuation review, B-Numeration & comparison, C--measurement related, D--test prep (not my choice, but responsive to administration concern--review, but with bubble answers--I make sure it is review & EASY, E--math reasoning, F--draw and solve story problems. I can easily modify so that for my low special needs kids , who we are teaching to use calculators, the assignment might be "Do one side of activity sheet A. Use a calculator.", and another child might read, "Choose one side of Activity sheet A. You may check with a calculator" and yet another is just, "Please do activity sheet A." We can assign them to work with a peer tutor as well.

Everyone accepts that everybody gets a different assignment. They know it is my job to help them be the best mathematicians they can be and that some parts of math understanding are easier, some harder--and that it's different for different people. My "gifted mathematicians" are given more challenges, and many will know their multiplication facts by heart before Christmas (2nd grade). One child has self taught himself single times double and I work with these guys to understand the inverse relationship between mulitplication and division. Not one child has complained that so and so is getting different assignments and my parents LOVE it. The parents concerned that their children needed more paper and pencil activities see that I am being responsive. The parents of strugglers know I am taking their kids along in the right sized steps. It takes me about 20 minutes to write the assigments each morning. When we sign off, we can note any celebrations or concerns or observations (able to extend # pattern indepently!! 18/20 correct, minor calculation errors, inattentive to signs, very challenging and so on). We have second grade, so we record observations in cursive and will read them to any child who asks but might choose not to explain that the anectdotal note says, "not with understanding." Neat thing is I am getting notes back from the kids. "I LOVE this, it't fun." "I understand this now." "So and so helped me." "This is easy for me now." I write only on the right hand side for assignments, so if I observe some cool mathematical thinking, I have a spot to describe it in detail on the left hand side. "Mona is telling time to the minute with the support of the model clock now!" "Stacy is able to count concrete objects to 12 with more accuracy.' (special needs) "Casey modified his own assignment by increasing number range."

Lori Jackson has been teaching for nine years in Todd County, South Dakota. She is currently teaching as part of a 1-2 looping partnership. Her undergraduate work was complete at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, having accumulated too many credits not to, she is currently pursuing her master's degree in reading at Sinte Gleske University in South Dakota. She is a CGI trainer/mentor teacher and uses the philosophy of Whole Language to guide her classroom practice.


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