Mild, Medium & Spicy Groups
I group my students into three proficiency groups - Mild, Medium, and Spicy. This is a system of general differentiation that allows me to easily assign practice or even homework. Students know their level and know that the assigned practice is likely best for them. Their level is also assigned to them based on various factors, including benchmark assessments, formative assessments, and informal observations made in class on a daily basis. I encourage my students to challenge themselves to try a "spicier" level when they're ready. This gives students the flexibility to try harder material and excel at an appropriate and personalized pace.
Fluency is important, and finding the time to practice it in class can be tough. Fortunately, my students and I came up with Face Off, a simple, gamefied way to practice multiples and other fluency. 3 students must participate, where two students meet eyes and count off multiples until one makes a mistake. The third person moderates with an answer sheet. This can be modified to practice multiplication facts, division, or fraction operations. I create official FaceOff times where we actually play a "season" and work through a tournament style competition, with students advancing as they defeat their peers. This investment is great, but the fact that it runs itself is even better for me! Students often can be seen Face-ing Off in line in the Cafeteria, on the way to Specials, or in the neighborhood.
Part of building a reflective classroom is giving students the space to reflect on all aspects of their learning from their behavior to the resources in the room. Goal setting is a way to teach this expectation, whole group, to students early in the year, and as a way to focus them during it. Each Monday, students write a Goal post it that has some sample questions to guide students. Ultimately, students can select their own topic, and that free range takes time to nurture into SMART goals. Many students write something like "listen in class" but when we discuss on Tuesday and say "Did you reach this goal?" the answer is not measureable. We want our students to see goals as a procedure that can guide their self-driven learning, not as a reaffirmation of the teacher's thoughts or wants for the student.
Sometimes the only thing holding students back is practice time. It's amazing how much they can get done when they get themselves into a work frenzy. During Rapid Fire, we create a "controlled crazy" by playing techno music while students work in pairs to solve as many computation problems as possible in five minutes. This is a great strategy to use before taking the lesson to word problems, and provides a break from sitting quietly and attentively during the lesson. There is also always an element of choice in what the students want to focus on, helping them to adjust their self-evaluation for later on.