So, this is my 4th year teaching 7th grade math, and I LOVE it. My students' needs are a constant motivator to be better at what I do - the best math teacher they've ever had - the teacher that convinces them that math isn't "too hard". This is my focus every day - and is the reason I want to spend the time to get involved with the amazing teachers of the MTBoS :) Over the past 4 years, and through much trial and error, I've developed a two things that I think make my classroom distinctly mine:
1) Individual Whiteboards
I teach mostly students who are 2+ grade-levels behind who need LOTS of guided instruction before they are ready to tackle the 7th grade standards on their own. On the days when we are learning a new skill/concept we do guided instruction with individual whiteboards.
I bought a few large sheets of marker board/shower board at Lowe's and had my dad and husband cut them into 10 inch by 12 inch individual boards. I bought several yards of fleece at a fabric store that I cut into small squares that the students use as erasers - and I buy tons of markers at the beginning of each school year.
After I introduce a new topic and my students take notes in their Interactive Notebooks, we pass out the boards, markers, and erasers and get to work! I present problems one at a time and the students show me their work and answers when they finish. I use a colored marker (students use black) and correct mistakes and add tips and pointers. I use words like "Great!" and "Beautiful!" for good work/right answers and words like "Try Again!" or "Look at _____!" when discussing students' work with them. I never use the word "wrong" or "incorrect" because my students shut-down easily.
My students love this activity - and feel safe to try because they know I'm not grading their answers. I love this activity because it gives me a good picture of where my class is with the concept/skill before they leave my class for the day. I know who "got it" and who is still struggling - and how I should focus my energy the next day.
2) Constant Review
Each day the students complete a 4-6 question "Get Started" that covers material that we studied earlier in the year, or skills the students struggle with and will need to access the 7th grade standards (i.e. multi-digit multiplication, rounding, subtraction with borrowing etc). This format keeps new skills fresh in my students minds (retention is an issue for them), and provides the opportunity for mini-lessons on remedial skills necessary for 7th grade. I used to do this activity on paper in a work-sheet format, but once I moved to a school where every student is issued an iPad, I've started using www.thatquiz.org to create and grade these assignments.
Constant and cumulative review is the single most important thing I do in my classroom to increase student achievement and I will do it as long as I teach!
*** Disclaimer: Obviously whiteboards and spiraling review are not ideas I came up with. These are concepts are ideas I borrowed and adapted to meet the needs of me and my students. I give full credit to my first-year teacher mentor for inspiring the daily review format - and I credit a bunch of trial and error to discovering that individual whiteboards can be highly motivating for my students, and an AWESOME formative assessment for me :)***