Students in our province write Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) at the end of grade 3, 6 and 9. Since year-end is approaching, many teachers have asked my colleagues and me how to review for the upcoming math PAT that take place in June. This is the first of two posts about my reflections on math review and then suggestions of how you might make it more effective for your students. (If you’d like more information about provincial testing in Alberta click here.)

I believe, as Alberta Education states, that teachers should not have to halt instruction to prepare students for “the big test.” Teaching through problem solving all year will help students be successful. I do understand, however, that teachers would like to support students so they are familiar with the format and do some cumulative review. So, when teachers asked about reviewing for the PATs, my colleagues and I knew that teachers could find a variety of questions from their resources to do this. We decided, therefore, to focus on how to conduct effective review with students. But before I get to that, some of my personal reflections.

Thinking about how I reviewed with my grade 6 and 9 students, I know that I didn’t do a good enough job in this area. Quite often I photocopied review packages (that often ended up in the garbage can) and had the students work on them, either individually or in partners, and encouraged students to ask for help when they needed it. I roamed the classroom as they worked and helped students as much as I could. Some students did ask for help but most often it was the top students but my average and lower students very rarely spoke up unless I was nearby. Near the end of the class we went over the questions and answers together and gave students the opportunities to share their strategies.

Looking back, this wasn’t all that effective. Why? First of all, a whole class period spent doing a bunch of questions was not the best use of time. My students couldn’t maintain the stamina to work that long and they were not very interested or engaged in the material. Students ended up talking about anything else but math. Then it became a class management challenge for me to get the students on-task. Perhaps this approach was okay for some students but I’d guess that it was less than helpful for most of my class.

Another factor was that review took place in the last month of school when most junior high students’ minds are outside and thinking about summer (teachers are there sometimes too!). We did some in-class review throughout the year but it was inconsistent. How would I change this? I’d more deliberately plan for review all year long instead. I’d create opportunities for cumulative and on-going review and do daily ‘mini-math’ (Term used by Steven Leinwand in this book) or explore a really interesting and deep math problem at the beginning of each lesson.

I think another missed opportunity was that the students didn’t have a chance to collaborate to solve problems. Yes, I asked them to work in partners but I could have done so much more. I could have facilitated more math talk and devoted more time to class sharing.

Probably the most frustrating and disappointing part for me, though, is that students who needed the most help or a second chance to learn something, really didn’t get this opportunity. Instead of a full class period of review time, I needed to guide the learning and provide the structure and support they needed so they could deepen their understanding. For this reason, my colleagues and I have created another way to review math with students that will benefit all learners. Stay tuned!