(Bill Hanlon/Hanlon’s Razor) – There is no doubt in my mind that there is no more single important factor that affects student performance and achievement in school than the attitudes and beliefs that are developed and learned at home – family influence. Knowing that, administrators and teachers work with students every day who do not see the long term benefit of a good education, how it opens doors, how it impacts their earnings, how it affects their thinking, their future lifestyles.

To assist students in their study of mathematics, the school district is requiring administrators and teachers to help organize and focus student learning by implementing the “5+1”, a subset of the Components of an Effective Lesson. Implementing the “5+1” has the potential of bringing parents back into the equation by involving them in ways they feel comfortable helping their own kids.

The good news for parents is they should be able to readily determine if these strategies are being implemented in the classrooms of their own kids. The “5+1” emphasizes good preparation and instruction, which is then reflected and reinforced in student notes, homework assignments, test preparation and the actual test. The “+1” emphasizes the need for positive student-teacher relationships.

What should a parent look for to determine if this is happening in your child’s classroom? Each teacher is required to create a practice test before instruction begins for each chapter as one document that suggests they prepared for the unit. The practice test should be balanced and contain questions that students would likely see on other high stakes tests such as the CRTs, college entrance exams, HSPE, etc. These practice tests should be handed out to the students about half way through instruction so the students have a very good idea of what is expected of them – just as we do for college entrance tests and AP exams. The students do not take this practice test in class, but, as a parent, you can sure ask to see it long before the actual test is given to help them prepare for chapter tests.

Second, student notes should reflect and support the day’s instruction. If you can’t follow the notes to help your child complete their homework assignment or study for a test, then you need to speak to your child to make sure they are writing down what they are directed to write or make an appointment with the teacher to ensure they are being very directive and accommodating in what is expected of their students and the notes they take in class.

Third, homework assignments should also reflect and support instruction. That means if there is vocabulary, procedures, rules, formulas, theorems, explanations, etc that are taught, those should be part of the homework assignment. Those homework questions would be easy to answer for students because they should be contained in the day’s notes. And if the students know those, the probability of the students being able to do the exercises increases dramatically. So, as a parent, if all you see for a homework assignment is a page number with exercises or a worksheet, then you know the homework assignment was not given thoughtfully and you should get in to see the teacher to ensure the homework assignments reflect and support the instruction.

Fourth, test preparation is key to success for students. Teachers have been asked to go over the practice test that was handed out earlier about three days before the real test to ensure students know exactly what is expected of them. It is important that students can process any issues before the test, that the practice tests be used as a blueprint for success. For less successful students this practice test can be used as a motivator that suggests if they can successfully do this work on the practice test, then they can do well on the real test. Teachers have also been asked to compare and contrast the exercises/problems so students can tell them apart. Problems like x2 + 7x + 12 = 0 and x2 +7 x + 1 = 0 look very much alike to students, but are done very differently. Students need to be able to tell problems that look alike apart so they know what method is most appropriate to use. Parents should ask, did your teacher review the questions on the practice test a few days before the real test and did they address questions and concerns?

Fifth, the real test should be parallel constructed to the practice test. The teachers might discuss the Star System – highlight system – so students have a very good idea what is expected of them and they are not surprised by what is on the test. If the test is parallel constructed, then if #5 on the practice test is on finding slope, then #5 on the real test should also be about slope too. Parents should look at the practice test and the real test that counts as a grade and see immediately that the tests are parallel constructed. If they don’t see this similarity, they need to pay a visit to the classroom teacher and find out why that similarity does not exist.

It is not acceptable for students to miss definitions, formulas, procedures on a test, that’s not math, that is the memorization they need to do the math. If parents see their kids are missing those types of questions, parents should have them write them a few times to help them learn and as a reminder not memorizing important information is not acceptable. Teachers should do the same. Simply stated: it’s near impossible to solve some quadratic equations if you don’t know the Quadratic Formula.

Using the “5 + 1”, teachers connect good preparation and instruction to student notes, daily homework assignments, practice tests and tests. It is just one more way teachers can help students organize and focus learning that will result in increased student achievement. It also answers a very fundamental question, that is, what are we doing to help your child learn?

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