Middle school math teachers are uniquely tasked with helping their students master the skills that they were introduced to in elementary school but never fully grasped. Though unique, this dilemma is far from uncommon. Mounting generalities develop because available resources and approaches to lend teachers a helping hand in the game of “catch up” are few and far between. What complicates the “catch up” game even further is the lack of precision in the resources that teachers utilize to refine their students’ skills. But students can no longer afford their educators abiding by the status quo, especially in a subject like math that requires mastery of basic concepts to successfully advance on to new topics.
In response to these generalities, Teach to One: Math (TTO) began in New York City as a school-based approach that integrates multiple learning modalities to provide teacher-led mathematical learning experiences. TTO is applauded for its dynamic approach to math education and successful modalities that solve these educational gaps.
The Debate in Favor of “Minding the Gap”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools will proceed with remote learning until the fall. Educators are beginning to brainstorm how students will, if needed, catch up. This dilemma’s response can fall within two perspectives: team personalized learning (TPL) and team grade-level standards (TGL). TPL wants to make sure that every student masters key skills before moving on, but TGL worries that “going back and filling in gaps” will slow down student progress. TPL emphasizes the flexibility to go back and spend time filling the gaps before trying to tackle grade-level material, whereas TGL insists on teachers spending most of their time on grade-level work.
To answer the question of “how to catch kids up,” three subsequent, precise questions should be asked. These questions should inquire about the students’ age, the subject, and how far behind they are. Young students require high-quality assessments that are both standardized and developed by teachers who know them best. Subjects such as math should prioritize a student’s mastery, even if that means spending some time on below-grade-level content. Students simply cannot process advanced subjects without drawing upon what they have already learned. In any case, there should be a mix of well-designed group instruction, one-on-one tutoring, online acceleration and enrichment, and whole-class discussions to fill such gaps.
Joel Rose, a co-founder of Teach to One: Math, designed a dynamic solution to the “catch up” problem in middle school math education. His philosophy is based on the principle that students will struggle if their understanding of prerequisites is faulty; thus, teachers must go back and help kids fill in the holes in their understanding. Although Rose’s philosophy falls under the TPL umbrella, the Teach to One approach advances individualized learning in conjunction with grade-level state testing requirements. This dynamic platform challenges the status quo of ignoring the game of “catch up” by enacting specific, proven, precise strategies to fill grade-level gaps in math education.
How Teach to One Addresses Gaps in Math Education
Without intervention, gaps in math education pose serious threats to college preparedness and long-term education success. Fortunately, Teach to One was designed with these gaps in mind. The approach offers two rounds: one round where the teacher presents a live lesson and another with virtual instruction on the computer. If lessons are to be repeated in a second round, they can be presented in several new digital formats based on the student’s most effective learning styles.
After the second round, students take an exit slip. How the student performs on that exit slip determines whether the student is ready to proceed to the next lesson. If they’ve mastered the lesson, they can have a chance to practice it and move on. This is especially helpful in ensuring that those who need extra reinforcement of elementary school topics receive it, while those who are ready to move on are simultaneously able to progress.
What makes TTO’s learning modalities unique is that they are each personalized for every student, every day. Teach to One is administered by New Classrooms: Innovation Partners, a New-York based nonprofit founded by Rose in 2011. The organization assists with the implementation of algorithms and classroom-specific information to organize a daily math curriculum for 10,000 students per day. For example, in partner school districts, such as Texas’ Ector County Independent School District, each lesson also takes into account Texas’ testing requirements and students’ personal habits, strengths, and weaknesses. It is this personalization that positions students to learn math the best way: their way.
The Evolution of Teach to One
From the New York City Department of Education (DOE) emerged the transformative Teach to One: Math approach. Chris Rush and Joel Rose, TTO’s co-founders, started as leaders of a NYC DOE modality called School of One. School of One was created as an approach to middle school math that integrated technology in the development and implementation of personalized curriculum. This solution to educational gaps in middle school education made national headlines. In fact, Time magazine named School of One one of the Best Inventions of the Year in 2009.
In 2011, Rose founded New Classrooms Innovation Partners, a New York-based nonprofit. Rush serves as the organization’s chief program officer, and Rose serves as the chief executive officer. New Classrooms: Innovation Partners is credited with scaling the instructional approach to School of One and developing Teach to One. Since Rose and Rush had identified significant math education gaps among sixth and seventh grade students, sixth and seventh grade math were TTO’s initial focuses. TTO, by way of New Classrooms: Innovation Partners, has since expanded to incorporate education gaps in fifth and eight grades. The content can reach all the way from second grade through high school. Teach to One hopes to spread into all grades one day and even become multidisciplinary with a science branch.
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