Student population: 514; Grades: K–8; Principal: Colette Ruddock
Located in a suburban community 30 minutes to the west of Toronto, E. J. James Public School is a place where teachers have a strong collegial and collaborative culture that allows for risk-taking in their learning and their practice. When teachers expressed a desire to examine their math instruction and invest in more innovative resources, the school developed an intensive plan to implement high-yield mathematics instructional strategies. This work was enriched by sharing their vision for instruction and school improvement goals through School Council, and supporting parents in their understanding of the Math Strategy at a Community Math Night.
"We developed a strong implementation plan where we built teacher capacity—because we know teacher capacity really is the best way to improve student achievement—and then we’ve done the learning alongside our teachers, myself and my vice-principal."
Colette Ruddock, Principal
EQAO considered schools that:
E. J. James has embarked on “an amazing learning journey” by setting a clear direction and identifying goals using data to determine the best course of action. Their collaborative work, reflective dialogue and learning was kicked into high gear a few years ago when they looked at EQAO attitude and behaviour survey results in relation to student achievement results and their board’s student engagement survey. Their actions and learning, which provided richer learning experiences for all students, is now at the full-implementation stage where teachers are confident and seeing a rise in student achievement.
Students at E. J. James Public School develop skills in using models and strategies through a variety of open-ended and open-routed questions that promote critical thinking and problem solving. Using rich learning experiences, such as Math Congress, students are exposed to multiple ways of solving a problem. This has resulted in a more engaging application of mathematical concepts, beyond the textbook, and students using their own language to express their thinking as they engage in collaborative thinking processes with peers.
Today I’m going to discuss how we’ve used open ended questions to build our math program here at E. J. James. So, five years ago, I taught Grade 4, and that year my grade fours knew one, and one way only, to solve adding and subtracting three- and four- digit math questions, with and without re-grouping. That was the traditional North American algorithm: this was the way that they had been taught, I had been taught, so we were all comfortable with it.
After a couple of years, I had changed grades and came back to Grade Four. In that time period here at E. J., we had implemented a number of different strategies around Open-Ended Questions, Congresses, the use of Dreambox, and I found that that Grade 4 class had an incredible background knowledge on how to solve these questions in many, many different ways. These kids could come to me, and they could explain their thinking. They could understand how they got to their answer and what the answer represented, and I believe that this was a result of the different strategies that we’ve used here at E.J.
The one I found works best in my class is providing Open-Ended Questions for our students. With these questions, they are allowed to answer them the way that they felt comfortable (Sic.), and explain how their thinking gets them to the answer. They’re allowed to explain it in Grade 3 language or Grade 4 language, and that makes them believe in their ability to be good, solid, math students. Students in math don’t make mistakes; they simply have misunderstandings, and I think by using Open-Ended Questions, we get a better understanding of what those students’ misunderstandings are, and we’re able to correct those understandings before they become a solid understanding or a solid mistake that they can make in math.
The deliberate and sustained development of student voice in the mathematics classroom has encouraged open metacognition of mathematical learning. Students are asked to reflect upon, clarify and expand their ideas and understanding of mathematical relationships and mathematical arguments. This has allowed them to develop effective strategies and habits for communicating mathematical thinking and has promoted student reflection.
One of the high yield strategies that I have incorporated into my mathematics programming includes Math Congress opportunities. Some of the key components that I have found useful in facilitating Math Congresses include a consistent structure, working to develop a culture of risk taking among my students, as well as a culture of listenership. To develop a culture of risk taking, we discussed the idea of how there are many strategies that can be used to find a solution. I find that this creates an entry point for all-levelled learners.
To enhance risk taking, I also pair like-minded students together during Math Congresses, so that each student has a math partner with whom they feel comfortable to collaborate. Lastly, I try to foster a consistent culture of listenership by incorporating talk moves into our congresses, as well as our everyday classroom conversations. My favorite math congress moment, as a teacher, is when a student who maybe felt intimidated by a concept or in his or her abilities shares their work in front of the class and it generates conversation. It’s from this conversation that leads to those organic student learning and teachable moments.
Teachers at E. J. James Public School wanted to help students develop a strong understanding of Number Sense as a foundational skill and flexible thinking in mathematics. Explicit daily teaching of common language for models was reinforced through an engaging online tool, Dreambox, which provides visual representations of student thinking and many entry points for all learners. The end result has been an emphasis on process rather than answer, and value being placed on thinking over remembering.
Speaker—Kaja Louis, Teacher
A Number Talk is a very defined time of the day when my students get the opportunity to really focus on their math and, specifically, on their number sense. The biggest shift I’ve seen in my students is that they grow more confident in their math abilities, and they feel empowered when they realize that all strategies are honoured and that the value is really placed on thinking rather than remembering. Of course, it’s also really neat to hear Grade 2 students using words such as “decomposing” and “compensation,” as they label their own strategies as they’re explaining to you what they are thinking. Students who are working towards achieving provincial standard are also really positively impacted by really getting to see how others think, and when they see how others think, they get to reflect on their own thinking and maybe make some adjustments. As students are busy explaining to me and justifying their answers, I’m using models on the board that students are already quite familiar with to display how they’re thinking to everybody. As an educator, I get to really focus and listen to my students rather than just simply wait for the answer, and this gives me really invaluable information on how my students think, perhaps what misconceptions they have and where I need to go next with them.
School Profile and Results