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  • Writer's pictureMadaline Dunn

Melody Smiley on the power of peer learning

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Melody Smiley of Chisholm Trail High School didn't start out with the intention of becoming a teacher. However, after 25 years in the corporate world, working as vice president of IT operations, she decided it was time for a change and felt called to teach.

It's been six years since Melody Smiley made that big career change and moved into teaching and she's still certain that it was the right decision. She's now one semester away from obtaining her master's in math and is committed to providing her students with the best possible education. Melody says that it's essential that teachers fully grasp and understand the base of what they're teaching, so that students can trace back a concept to its roots, understanding math beyond the formulas.

When Melody first entered the field of education, she quickly realized that the way educators were teaching needed to be different. One particular influence that changed her way of thinking was Jo Boaler's Mathematical Mindset book, which she said gave her insight into new approaches to math and teaching. Likewise, UT Austin's OnRamps program, which adopts a more inquiry-based style of learning, was a source of inspiration for Melody, too, and so she got involved, teaching its Onramps pre-calculus and college algebra classes.

Group work and peer learning are key features in Melody's classroom, and she finds that bringing students together in this way makes them more comfortable with exploring different aspects of math, and making mistakes, too, which she says is an important part of learning. She finds peer learning keeps students tuned in and engaged. This was an aspect of Melody’s classroom that she skillfully maintained when learning went virtual, too. "We used JamBoards, an online tool, like whiteboards. This allowed me to put them into groups and see what they were all doing and which group I needed to join to help out. I still felt group learning was key, and that's how I kept it going.”

Always looking to empower her students, Melody encourages and incentivizes them to look out for any mistakes she might have made. She finds this kind of transparency and accountability is beneficial for her students, as it allows them to feel confident but also understand that to err is human.

Photos courtesy of Melody Smiley

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