Back to school: My Visit to a 5th-grade Math Class

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As a former middle school teacher, I try to stay connected to authentic teaching and learning as much as possible. Also, I like to observe results-only classrooms, so I can interact with students who are at the center of learning.

Recently, I visited a 5th-grade math class, where some amazing student-centered learning was taking place.

To the casual observer, this may look like a bunch of kids sort of doing their own thing and, to some degree, it is. Looking deeper, though, there is so much more.
What makes this class so powerful is just how much the students are driving the learning. After some brief instruction, the learners scurried off to three stations — a student-directed review station, a computer station, where students reinforced the day’s concept with a digital math game and a hands-on diagnostic station, where the students shared learning with the teacher and each other, using real objects to demonstrate how fractions work.
I was reminded of just how engaging results-only learning is. At the review station, one student facilitated discussion, using an interactive white board, selecting peers to go to the board and share their solutions to problems. “What if someone doesn’t know the answer?” I inquired.
“We work through it together,” was the response. The teacher, I was informed, was the last resort. Can you imagine this philosophy in a traditional classroom?
Although there were many noteworthy approaches to teaching and learning in the 60 minutes I spent as a 5th grader, what struck me most was how easily the teacher evaluated his students. No points, percentages or letter grades were assigned to anyone.
The student-centered classroom facilitator spoke to every individual student at some point, carefully observing if concepts were mastered. Two-way narrative feedback helped him assess learning, far more than a multiple choice quiz ever could.
My favorite part of the day. We all had fun!
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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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