Write Solutions

Student learning is no accident!

Concerns About Counting

In my second grade classroom, I’ve recently identified a troubling gap in my students’ learning… Counting. I know how important counting is… and we have been counting all year. We count while we wait in line, we count backwards and forwards, by 2s, 3s, 5s, 10s and more. We start in the hundreds, we start in the teens… So, why (I’ve asked myself and anyone who will listen) am I observing students struggle to cross decades when counting in the midst of double digit addition and subtraction?!?! Here’s what I mean: We are working on adding multidigit numbers and I stumble upon a student who is heading toward the wrong answer. As I listen to her explain her thinking, I realize when she counts from 19 to 20, there is a question mark in her voice and she looks up at me for reassurance. From 38, 39 she heads to 60 with the same inflection and eye contact. The scariest part… she’s not the only one. I’ve realized this is a symptom of a few more serious issues, one of which is patterning in base ten… and conceptualizing the magnitude and difference of numbers.

So what are we doing about it? After consulting with some of my favorite math teachers… here’s the plan. First, I’ve been doing an activity we call Sound of a Number for a few minutes each day.The kids love it and they are exercising an important part of their math brain. For this activity, I hide behind a cardboard study carrel with a pile of base ten blocks. Students listen hard to attempt to identify the value of the blocks I drop. We start each lesson with a quick review. I drop of each of the pieces, unit, ten rod and hundred flat; a student identifies each by sound and explains some of the different ways each could be made. For example, we could make a hundred flat with ten ten rods or 100 unit cubes etc. This helps to deepen the concept of base ten.

Next, I drop different quantities and students listen intently to try to name it. This feels like a game and I learn a lot about students’ thinking. For example, when I dropped 21 (two ten rods and one unit cube), a wrong answer of 23 or 25 was different than 201. Most answers are accurate though, during this quick activity.

 

*Side note: This activity brings me back to my sixth grade teaching days, when I used this to introduce rational numbers. In that context, we’d establish that a 100 flat had a value of 1, and the ten rod was a tenth of that etc…

What else seems to be helping? Here’s a center I threw together that my students are loving! Other bonuses… it practically differentiates itself and gives me great information about my students’ thinking.

These center directions got kids started.

These center directions got kids started.

This student rolled a 1 and a 2 and decided to start at 21.

This student rolled a 1 and a 2 and decided to start at 21.

At the center, students had three dice, white boards, markers and socks (for erasing). Students could decide on their own if they wanted to roll two dice to get a 2-digit starting number, or three dice to get a 3-digit starting number. I was impressed with the choices students made for themselves.

 

 

I circulated and checked students’ work as they made their number lists. Some of my strugglers needed the scafffold of hearing me ‘count on’ when they seemed stuck, and then were able to continue on their own. I asked some students to use another marker color to identify patterns or talk with a partner about patterns. This was great as students articulated patterns in the ones place throughout their lists. I challenged some fast finishers to roll a new number and count backwards by 2. I plan to keep this center going for a while and mix up what students are ‘counting by.’

Classroom Teacher: Reality Check

The view from down here.
“It all falls on the classroom teacher, it always does” she reminded me. This was my mother. A retired elementary school teacher, who had made it the long haul. In the classroom for her entire career, advocating for kids, mentoring new teachers- reminding me when I express frustration in the system that, I shouldn’t be surprised because “other people just don’t get it. Everything is the responsibility of the classroom teacher.” In other words- s#!t rolls down hill. I’ve been hearing it for years. But, honestly I didn’t quite get it until recently.
I’ve spent most of my career as a middle school teacher. I guess I have that genetic mutation that appreciates the sass and limit-testing of the adolescent. Anyway, after a few years of moving around, including coaching and mentoring new hires to “fight the good fight,” I opted for a change. Something I admired about so many of the elementary classrooms I had visited as a coach, was the deep sense of community that I watched develop within those four cheerfully decorated walls. In my ever idealistic dreams of the next chapter of my life as a teacher, I thought- that is where I belong. If I teach in an elementary school classroom, I can have so much more of an impact! I can foster a sense of community, encourage students to work together, develop their character, their leadership skills, and of course… differentiate instruction so they don’t end up in middle school with so many gaps in their learning. Yes- if I meet them each exactly where they are (in grade 2) and do my job, I will change the course of the future.

Last night at dinner, a friend was telling us about the new job she’d be starting as her maternity leave comes to an end. She is taking a position where she will work three 10 hour days, instead of five 8 hour days. While it will be a decrease in hours, it will work for her family, and for that we were celebrating. My mind wondered… thinking about all of the ten hour days I had been working since September… Someone interrupted my thoughts with a question. “So… I know teachers work a lot more than the hours they have to be at school… but how many hours is the actual school week anyway?” As I answered, “Umm… 35ish, I guess…”  my mind raced with the math of my typical work week. 7-5 most days, 7-6 some… there was that day I made it to my 4:00 dentist appointment on time. That felt like a holiday.

And yet, almost every morning (while I race around hoping that the hour before my students arrive will tick by more slowly) I chastise myself for my lack of preparation, for everything I’m not doing. And most afternoons, I leave wishing I could just find three more hours to prep, to  plan… or maybe even (dare I say?) to think. On the way home, I beat myself up about the administrative tasks I’ve pushed off yet again- logging those scores into the database, filing last week’s evidences into student folders. And then I offer myself some consolation- if something’s gotta give, at least it’s not your face time with kids… But let’s face it- I judge myself solely on what I haven’t accomplished in my classroom. Don’t we all?

So during the rest of that celebratory dinner, I multitasked, making some mental lists, doing some serious math. What was it that was getting in the way of the real work I wanted to do with kids? Why hadn’t I helped every student choose a “just right” book from our classroom library yet, met with reading groups regularly, held enough writing conferences and completed a running record for every student? I found my answer in the math. My students are at school for 6 hours and 15 minutes each day. They attend a specialist class, eat lunch, and have recess- all outside of our classroom. This brings our time together for teaching and learning down to just 4 hours and 25 minutes. Next, we visit the lav as a class- twice a day. While I wish it were faster, it takes a solid 15 minutes each time. We practice our math facts in the hall because I’m trying to squeeze every educationally productive minute out of the day possible, but these necessary bio breaks bring our time together to 3 hours 55 minutes. Next is snack. Seven and eight year-olds need a healthy snack during the day. I dreamed of protecting this time for reading aloud while students munched. I imagined kids eating their snacks on the edges of their seats waiting to hear what would happen next to Junie B. Jones or Charlotte, the spider.

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Fruit cups however, are killing me. Every day at least three kids bring a fruit cup for snack- a very healthy option for sure. The seal though… they can’t open it themselves. And even when I open it for them and suggest they drink the extra juice first- the end of our snack time always brings the “sticky desk sweep.” I race around the room spraying down the desks of every student who had a fruit cup or yogurt. This is a new routine for me- and quite genius, I think. It saves me instructional minutes later, when students would regularly raise their hands mid lesson to say, “my desk is sticky. I don’t know why.” This would cause a much more serious loss of instructional time… but alas- the read aloud snack time dream was just that- a dream. After accounting for snack time, we’re left with 3 hours 40 minutes, on a good day. Let’s subtract 15 minutes for classroom jobs and cleanup at the end of the day, and 15 minutes for the morning meeting that helps us remember we are all individuals, that matter- and care about each other. (I will foster a sense community!!)

I have 3 hours and 10 minutes. And thank goodness- because I am going to need every single one of those minutes! My “job” is to design opportunities for these amazing second graders to learn math, reading, writing and science or social studies concepts each day. Oh yeah, and I have to deliver a 40 minute phonics lesson each day- that luckily I don’t have to design…so… 2:30 it is!

What did I do so irresponsibly with those minutes this week? How is it that my “to teach” still feels so long?? Monday we had an assembly… one hour gone. Tuesday, I was out learning about the phonics program. Enlightening? Yes. Necessary? Definitely. Wednesday was picture day. Thursday, we had chorus rehearsal and our hearing tested. And Friday… why was Friday so hectic? Oh right… it was Halloween, hat day and we met with our fourth grade reading buddies. And thank goodness we did- because I definitely did not sit and listen to each student read this week.

So, kudos to all of the elementary school teachers who have the systems in place to juggle these demands. Those of you that juggle them and don’t sleep at school- you are my heroes! I’m watching and learning from every single one of you, every single day!

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Respect & Rapport… starts with us!

What better way to develop an Environment of Respect and Rapport than by developing a 1:1 relationship with each student??Watch Rick connect with students about their reading during conferences. What does he do/ say that develops an environment of respect and rapport? What does Rick communicate to his students with his verbal and non-verbal language? I’ve seen similar successes with Experimental Design Conferences in a middle school science class as well as Think Tank conferences in a high school math class. In each instance, teachers demonstrated great respect for their students’ thinking by honoring scheduled time with everyone. How could you make something like this work in your context? What do you & your students stand to gain?

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Dittos & Worksheets & Packets, Oh my!!

So, your school department actually has a manual for you and it’s full of printables… They were designed by educators and statisticians… and people that must know more about teaching this content than you do… so why aren’t you students engaged? Well, I am writing this post to make sure you don’t “throw out the baby with the bath water!” Before you throw away every workbook and ditto in your classroom… let’s put our heads together.

You are right, experts did design these materials, so there’s probably something that works in here…

 Don’t reinvent the wheel- Re-purpose it instead!

Here’s a template for a cube (as well as other amazing ideas- amazing wiki). Why not put the best questions from your packet on the 6 sides of the cube and let students roll and discuss in pairs? Your goal (with the packet) was for students to think about the questions, right? Imagine all the ideas they’ll get from their partner when rolling the cube??!! Two heads are always better than one.

You could listen in on student conversations and assess their Speaking & Listening Skills or their content knowledge. Another idea is to assess student learning with an exit slip at the end of class. When you encourage students to have conversations, arm them with sentence stems and accountable talk to make it as productive as possible.

What will you re-purpose this week? Let us know in the comments & you may inspire someone else to take a similar risk!

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PS… I’m looking to give away a TpT gift certificate to a lucky blog commenter this week! Spread the word- bring a friend!

Student Engagement… Strategy #1

Jigsaw it! jigsaw

Regardless of the subject, brain research tells us we need many rehearsals (+20…yikes!) for new learning to stick! Learners rehearse learning when they are actually engaged in it. And, just to be clear… a worksheet with 20 math problems does not equal 20 rehearsals…( awwww, maaaan!) So, let’s consider the value of a jigsaw!

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Student Engagement… Buzz Words Demystified

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the 4Cs: Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and Innovation are infused in learning.

Watch and listen to how ASCD describes 21st Century Skills. 21st_Buzz_word

In the video P21’s video library, the section titled “In Practice,” features sample lessons incorporating 21st Century Skills for any grade level/ content area. This is a video jackpot! I’d love to know what videos you found most valuable and to which you made connections. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Carol Ann Tomlinson writes, “The idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate the different ways that students learn involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). It is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms.”

The teacher in this video creates an opportunity for all students to be successful with a very challenging written assignment. Watch this 5 minutes video to see what he does to support all students. Any ideas or questions come to mind for your own teaching? Share in the comments!

In my upcoming posts, look for go-to strategies to ramp up already planned lessons and ways to re-purpose assignments, lessons and resources that need a 21st Century kick! Also during this challenge, a lucky teacher who supports readers by sharing his/her experience in the comments will receive a TpT gift certificate!!

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