Teaching Independence and Responsibility in Math Class


A story from Sarah Smith


When Sarah Smith was a student, everyone had to follow the same steps in math class, even if there were other logical ways to find the answers. Whenever she took an unorthodox approach to a problem, she got negative feedback. “That’s where I butted heads all the time. I would think creatively and come up with the same answer, but I got it a different way.”

Now that she’s a 3rd grade teacher in Draper, Utah, Sarah encourages independent thinking and creativity. “Each time they learn a new skill in math, they’re given four to five different ways to work out the problem. Whatever works best for them is what they can decide to use. As long as they can explain how they’re getting their answer, then they’re right, which makes it great for both my high- and low-level learners.”

In exchange for that independence, Sarah’s students must take responsibility for their actions, whether that means showing their work in math or paying attention to their own behavior. Rather than interrupting class to call attention to any negative behavior, Sarah uses ClassDojo. She keeps her students apprised of their daily points, and they can see if they’re making progress or slipping.

By guiding her students to reach their own conclusions about their behavior, Sarah helps them cultivate self-determination. “That’s why I like using ClassDojo: It helps the kids actually check themselves without me needing to bring it to their attention that they’re off task, or they’re out of their seats too much, or they’re talking too much, or blurting out. It allows them to correct their own behavior quickly.”

ClassDojo has helped Sarah’s students learn to avoid unkind words. Instead of tearing each other down, they now give each other enough space to learn in their own way. “Everyone’s given the opportunity to answer questions, and if it’s not quite right, I let them work their way through it and explain their thought process. The kids are starting to give each other that time to process their thoughts. Then they end up being able to give the correct answer, and we celebrate that.”

By respecting each student’s unique needs, Sarah has helped a broad range of children make progress. She gives her students continual feedback, verbally and with ClassDojo, which enables them to take baby steps forward. “I have former students now who are now having children themselves, and I still get Christmas cards, and baby announcements, and wedding announcements. Seeing how some of my lower-level learners have achieved such great things is really one of my greatest accomplishments.”


Sarah Smith, 3rd Grade Teacher

Sarah teaches independence and responsibility as a 3rd grade teacher in Draper, Utah.