Today I’m sharing one of my favourite books for teaching math- this is Marian Small’s “Good Questions- Great ways to differentiate mathematics instruction. This book has really helped me wrap my head around how to differentiate instruction and teach around BIG IDEAS, which is a major component of BC’s new elementary curriculum. BC Ed Plan is asking teachers and students to “personalize learning” and make outcomes accessible to students of all abilities, and this book is designed to do just that. Marian Small is an amazing mathematics educator and professor, and so this book is perfect for anyone looking to design lessons that foster number sense and deep understanding of math concepts that are accessible to all students.
The book focuses on two strategies for differentiating instruction based on big ideas- these are open questions, and parallel tasks. I’ve found both these strategies to be hugely helpful for getting all my students engaged in math, and they were really easy to implement, so I’d recommend them both to all math teachers.
Open questions are questions or problems that can be accessed in a variety of ways- they are going to have a range of correct answers. Below is one of the examples she gives of an open and closed problem- the first problem is only really accessible if you understand what a fact family is, but the second can be answered in a variety of simpler or more complex ways. This way all students can be part of the conversation and be successful.
As well, when students share their solutions in a group or as a class, they can benefit from talking through and listening to their peer’s ways of thinking, which can help students understand more complex ways of thinking in math. The book goes over several ways really easy ways to create open problems or adapt them from closed problems from textbooks or worksheets you already have.
The second is parallel tasks, which is where a teacher creates two or more options that focus on the same concept. However, there might be a simpler and more complex option, or a 2D and 3D problem, or a symbolic and pictoral option. All students can talk about strategies they used to solve the problem, regardless of what option they chose, and are all working towards the same big idea.
The book breaks down big ideas in Number and Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, and Data Analysis and Probability for Pre-K to grade 2, 3-5, and grades 6-8. With each big idea she presents examples of open problems and parallel tasks and explains how to design, implement, and assess these problems.
My big takeaway: we need to slow down, let kids explore deeper into problems, solve them in multiple ways, and share their learning with their peers. And as much as possible, problems need to be accessible and appropriately challenging to all our students.
This is my absolute favourite book for personalizing learning in math and reshaping my teaching around the new curriculum. I hope you check it out! I’d love to hear in the comments what resources you’ve found that are great for personalizing learning and addressing the new curriculum!