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Holo Ka Liuliu, Holo Ke Akamai | Preparing Sixth Graders for a Self-Paced ʻŌiwi Edge Math Classroom

Updated: Jan 25

By Kumu Kaipo E. C. Bowman-Tam

Kumu Kaipo shares his experience of personalizing student Math lessons through self-pacing that generated useful manaʻo from his haumāna.


The 2023-2024 School Year was the first time in almost a decade that I was the Sixth Grade Math teacher on record. Previously, I served in various Math roles ranging from long-term substitute Kumu to Middle School Math Specialist, as well as Math Kumu grades six to 12. These diverse opportunities along with my desire to improve Math education for kānaka ‘Ōiwi, set the environment for this project. Since our papa ʻeono class was implementing an interdisciplinary learning pilot program, my goals for future haumāna to respect Math and especially to leave my classroom feeling seen and heard by me, could be realized. Based on my prior experiences, I was confident about applying personalized and blended learning instructional strategies with teenagers. However, working with young twelve-year-old keiki, new to the Middle School, and new to an interdisciplinary model offered a welcomed challenge: create conditions necessary for these types of learning experiences while also teaching foundational Math skills as a core subject Kumu in the model.

At the same time, the Kuanaʻike Mindsets were introduced to Alaukawai 14 participants as a possible lens to help anchor our action research projects. “Hoʻomana a Mana” and Hōʻike a ʻIke” are two Kuanaʻike Mindsets that framed this investigation. For this study, I defined and interpreted the following mindsets.

Hoʻomana a Mana

Students should feel appreciated and respected; they must know their teacher will meet them where they are to help them grow. In my experience, building trust and pilina allowed me the opportunity to reach each student’s naʻau. This connection between our intellectual piko enables me to empower my haumāna. While it may look different from keiki to keiki, in general, I inform them about my expectations and observations and ultimately, what they should expect of themselves. Students should know how to advocate for themselves and be able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses.

Hōʻike a ʻIke.

The demonstration of knowledge by and through seeking understanding is a lifelong process. As a Kumu, I have learned that building a growth mindset in my students is an essential element to facilitate their empowerment. I teach students to accept their mistakes, question themselves about what they will do next and determine how they plan to improve. It is important to recognize their successes as well and to also ask how they plan to move forward with new ʻike. Since sixth grade Math is foundational to all subsequent secondary Math courses, I hope my students will appreciate the learning at the end of a unit and wonder what comes next. 

Pacing for Personalized Learning

To achieve student agency for their own learning, I grounded my instruction in the ʻŌiwi Edge Learning & Teaching Expectation,

“Kauhale learning allows for self-assessment where learners can demonstrate their perceived proficiency, which values mistakes, feedback, and improvement.”

I created a general learning plan so students could easily move from one lesson to the next. Opting not to teach using a full lecture format gave me the opportunity to provide one-on-one or small group instruction to students. These instructional opportunities included building Math skills as well as Math application guidance for our grade-level cornerstone assessment. This personalized approach for each student allowed them flexibility based on their personal needs. I believe that essential components to support this Expectation included but was not limited to: one-on-one or small group instruction on Math skills for targeted students, facilitating students to move at a variety of paces, and small group coaching on the application of Math skills in the context of ʻŌiwi identity.

My research aimed to answer the question “What does a self-paced personalized learning experience look like in sixth grade math?” I also hoped to acquire answers to, “In what way does student self-assessment facilitate, contribute, and support self-paced personalized learning?” 

This write-up shares a fraction of my year-long efforts to answer these questions, particularly as it related to pacing and personalizing learning experiences for sixth grade Math students.

Classroom Instructional Plan and Assessment

My current Math curriculum and instruction is built on the Common Core standards for Mathematics which aligned with my pedagogical practice of learning through discourse. This practice required students to collaborate with others whether it be with peers or with an adult. In-turn, reflection was necessary to understand a problem or a situation. The strategies I used to engage students in this process were one-to-one/small group instruction using constructivist questioning techniques. As students demonstrated their understanding, I guided their thinking by referencing ʻike students learned this school year and years prior. And since this research covered an entire unit, the instructional activities varied, but mainly came from the Desmos Math 6-A1 curriculum along with the quizzes. There were seven digital lessons in total and two quizzes where students were given four weeks to complete when they demonstrated proficiency at each lesson.

Students could move freely through the lesson as they saw fit for themselves. They chose to complete all assignments in-class or split their work between school and home. Throughout each class period, I made periodic rounds speaking with each student or group of students and provided feedback as needed. Students could choose where to sit in the classroom as well as utilize different parts of the area such as the breakout room, lānai, and shared foyer space. They could also select the peers they wanted to work with. 

Students were able to take both quizzes at any time during the four weeks; there were unlimited attempts to achieve the highest score possible by their respective due dates. I included a five-minute wait period in between each attempt to force keiki to review their correct answer and mistakes to improve on their next attempt. They were able to see which questions were correctly and wrongly answered, but were not given access to the answer key. In preparation for the final test of the entire unit, students were provided a list of practice problems that related to the standards covered in the unit. 

Kumu Feedback

During the week of May 15-19, 2023, I gave the sixth graders a post-survey that asked about their perspectives, attitudes, and experiences related to motivation and self-paced learning in Math. I wanted to know if students valued the self-assessment activities and if the independent self-paced strategies were enjoyed as a function of learning Math.

Summarized Feedback

Eighty-four percent of my students felt either quite a bit or highly motivated to learn math in a self-paced, personalized learning experience. These results aligned with my anecdotal observations throughout the fourth quarter where students were on task. Students “on task” varied from quiet and independent to talkative and co-dependent, but the students completed what was necessary and did well doing it. In follow-up responses, students noted that their motivations included more opportunities to improve their scores, the ability to work with other peers of their choosing, and the freedom to select their comfortable seating arrangements. Over 90% indicated that the independent and self-paced learning was “highly enjoyable.” Students responded positively about the self-assessment activities where over 90% reported either “highly valuable” or “quite valuable.”

Preliminary Outcomes

As illustrated in Table 1, summative test scores increased between Units 4 and 5. Before implementing self-paced learning, I taught students topics related to expressions and equations (Unit 4). The self-paced pedagogy and praxis was implemented during Unit 5 covering topics for rational numbers. Both units utilized the Desmos Math 6-A1 digital curriculum and both summative assessments were completed using the embedded digital assessments within the same curriculum.

Table 1

Comparison of Units 4 & 5 Summative Test Scores

Class Period

Unit 4

Unit 5


Day A Block 1




Day A Block 3




Day A Block 4




Day B Block 1




Day B Block 3




Day B Block 4




All Periods





Prior to quarter four, I was not consistent with quizzes because teaching minutes were critical during our pilot program and priority was placed elsewhere. Students requested quizzes to help them better prepare for summative assessments, so I took advantage of the Canvas LMS Quiz feature and created quizzes beyond the ones provided in Desmos. Given their agency in requesting additional quizzes to better learn the material, I was interested in students’ persistence in understanding the content. I asked students a question about their efforts if they did not receive a 100% at the first attempt on any of the Canvas LMS quizzes. Overall, responses demonstrated their desire to do well with difficult Math problems knowing they had opportunities to improve themselves. A majority of responses indicated that students were able to achieve 100% within a couple of tries while the rest took many attempts and eventually succeeded. I asked students to describe their reasoning related to their multiple attempts to achieve 100% on the quizzes and for those who opted to respond, three common themes emerged: being grade-focused, having resiliency, and valuing feedback. 

I asked students to describe their reasoning related to their multiple attempts to achieve 100% on the quizzes and for those who opted to respond, three common themes emerged: being grade-focused, having resiliency, and valuing feedback. 


It is clear that grades and other external incentives drive student motivation in Math. Due to the current grading system, regardless of the course content, the hidden curriculum teaches students to place value on a high score or percentage, and perhaps less so on authentic learning or knowledge acquisition. These sixth graders also understood that feedback was important, and they valued it if it directly connected to their individual improvement as opposed to blanket feedback. They also provided valuable feedback and suggestions to improve the self-paced learning experience. Some of the student suggestions that I plan to put into practice next school year are summarized below:

Minor Shifts:

  • Provide a quiet space in your classroom or immediately outside for students that work better in low volume environments.

  • Create a quick check-in survey at the beginning of each class to see if your students are doing okay in Math, but also in other classes, their social lives, and home lives. It is important to make sure that your students are okay with telling you how they feel or if they are struggling.

  • Plan for advanced learners. Have alternative Math problems prepared with each lesson that provide more of a challenge, but still directly related to the standard at hand.

Major Shifts:

  • Regularly meet with struggling students at the beginning of each class. Utilize your anecdotal data or a quick cool-down from the previous class or a quick warm-up of the day to determine this small grouping.

  • Utilize Canvas LMS Mastery Paths or similar feature to personalize student learning.  This type of personalized learning requires mastery-based or competency-based practices to be implemented.

  • Embed pilina (relationship) activities or SEL activities into your Math curriculum to support students’ health and well-being in Mathematics.

Concluding Thoughts and Next Steps

The last time I taught this age group was during my very first years of teaching and like many other educators, I made several errors with many regrets. This was also the very first time I used a personalized learning approach with this age group. I felt like I got my footing back; this year was absolutely exciting! Twelve years into my teaching career and I love what I do and I am comfortable with feedback from my peers and my students.

Many of these suggestions are easy to implement which I already began planning for throughout the semester. It is also apparent that mental health is becoming more paramount in education and as a kauhale within the sixth grade teacher team, we have taken steps to address. As mentioned above, I have started planning on improvements. Two ideas will utilize Canvas LMS features: 1) provide richer feedback in Canvas LMS Quiz and 2) use Canvas LMS Mastery Paths to provide personalized lessons. I also started planning for targeted conferences at the beginning of each class. 

Finally, by utilizing self-paced, personalized learning, our class was able to cover more content in a shorter amount of time. We covered seven lessons, two quizzes, and a summative assessment within two and a half weeks. Had this been done traditionally with a lesson per day, it would have taken one and a half to two months. During this time, we also had a week of field trips and multiple grade-level workdays to prepare for the much larger cornerstone assessment. This is just the beginning of a new paradigm of education. I am committed to our campus’ goal of ʻŌiwi Edge for our path to E Ola!. Pursuing ʻike is a continual process and that mana in how we as Kumu engage with our students is forever evolving.


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