Building Community through Discussion

Class Discussion Norms

(In my class, these become our Community Norms and replace any “rules”)

A world community painted on hands with doves
Build a community of empathy and caring in your classroom through academic discussion.
  • Equity of Voice: Monitor your airtime. As a group member you are responsible to be a speaker AND a listener. You are also responsible to invite others to speak. Equal(ish) airtime is the goal. Our community values all voices.
  • Active Listening
: Eye contact, nodding, being sure you respond to a comment with a related question or comment. Build on what others say. Our community believes everyone should feel heard.
  • Respect for All Perspectives
: You will not agree with everyone’s ideas. Work to understand their thinking. Our community values diverse perspectives.
  • Safety to Share: Your language, tone, body language and overall behavior should invite others to share differing opinions. Approach others’ ideas with curiosity and an open mind. The goal is never to be right, it is always to learn. Our community values safety.
  • Self-monitor use of Electronics
: It’s hard to feel like your ideas are important when you are speaking to the top of someone’s head because they are staring at their phone or their laptop screen. Our community values you and your ideas.

*Adapted from the norms used by the New Teacher Center during the best trainings of my life!

How Can We Create A Community that Values these Norms?

I gradually release student responsibility. Here’s how:

  • Sentence Stems & Explicit Instruction. Require their use. Fishbowl small groups. Analyze their discussion as a class. Data collection tip- let observers record tic marks for certain sentence stems or behaviors you’ve agreed are important. Current Events Discussions are a great way to practice these skills within an organized structure!
  • Conduct whole group discussions- focusing on the norms and sentence stems. REALLY focusing on them. With the same vigor you focus on routines and procedure in September. You hate yourself when you relax about them in November and vow you’ll never do that again. Do better with this. They need the structure to feel safe.
  • Pull small groups for discussions (maybe even half the class). Coach them. Invite a few students to be observers/ analyzers with you. Share the highlights with the whole class. Find observation sheets here.
  • When you feel they are ready, divide the class into small groups (4-5 students max). Let them discuss! While you monitor, record excellent phrases and interactions and share them publicly as soon as it’s over! Provide students an opportunity to reflect on paper after discussion. Download my free Discussion Reflection Activity when you subscribe below.
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Subtraction with Renaming

Trading to Rename
Standards for Math Practice 4

We have moved on to subtraction with renaming (2.NBT.7). You might call this regrouping… but really- if we think literally about what’s happening- we’re also giving the values new names! 50+10 is a different name for 60. So, renaming, regrouping… you know what we’re doing! I’ve been doing a lot of this work with students in small groups and it’s amazing  to see students talking and thinking about making trades, or renaming numbers. In a small group full of dialogue, students physically traded one of the ten rods that makes up 60 for 10 unit so they can more easily subtract 13. We talked about the value of 60 at the start, during and after the trade. Students giggled about how I could still buy exactly 60 $1 ice cream cones- no more, no less; at every phase of the trade. They knew that whether 60 was composed of 6 ten rods (60+0) or 5 ten rods and 10 unit cubes (50+10), its value remained constant. We worked through a few more bare number problems that also required renaming to get more ones and I really emphasized how accurately our recording matched their physical manipulation of the base ten blocks as well as their thinking. Students recorded on white boards, just as I had… and I expected we were good to go! Not so fast. About 1/3 of my students were not able to demonstrate their learning with much independence… even with 60-13. Even if I talked about ice cream cones. These students seemed to rely heavily on the scaffolding that came from our discussion throughout the trading process.  So, I decided they needed a trading center- a place where they could be successful and independent with the skills that this high level work demanded. Here are some of the recording sheets that are guiding their work. I needed them to build confidence and more deeply conceptualize the equality of the value of the numbers they were composing, both before and after renaming. Continue reading “Subtraction with Renaming”

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.

Continue reading “Concerns About Counting”

Formative Assessment Checklists

clipboard How do you capture all of the learning that occurs during discussions, hands-on exploration and collaborative group work? When there is a written product… we know we can collect and correct (ugh)… but that’s not always my first choice. When I collect and correct too much, I lose the ability to catalog and analyze and make instructional decisions based on the evidence. Instead, my school bag gets heavy Continue reading “Formative Assessment Checklists”

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!


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!

Continue reading “Student Engagement… Strategy #1”

Student Engagement- Week 2 Educator Challenge

If you are back for round two… congratulations on your successes during week one! If you’re just joining us, welcome~ we’re thrilled to have you here and hope you join the conversation! Let’s think about where we are starting!

Level 1: Projects, activities and assignments lack challenge, are inappropriate, or do not cognitively engage students. -> Level 2: Projects, activities and assignments inconsistently challenge all students appropriately and only cognitively engage some students. -> Level 3: Projects, activities and assignments are appropriately challenging for all students, require 21st century skills, and cognitively engage almost all students in complex learning. -> Level 4: Projects, activities, and assignments are appropriately challenging for all students, require 21st century skills, and cognitively engage student in complex learning.

With these descriptors in mind, which level would you say best describes your daily teaching experiences? Continue reading “Student Engagement- Week 2 Educator Challenge”

Improve your Teaching Practice: Take the 1-week Challenge!

Dear Fellow Teachers,

Let’s roll up our sleeves, take some risks and be proud of the outcomes! It’s February and by now you have a good idea where you want to focus your attention. Maybe you’ve been observed by a colleague or administrator and you have some actual feedback to guide you (yes!!) or maybe you’ve known for months and have finally dug yourself out of that pile of paperwork and are ready to go!

Mountain of Paperwork

However you got to this place of wanting to grow- I’m glad you did. All we need is some focus and a little bit of persistence and together we will make change happen! Over the next four weeks, I will post practical tips you can use right away to make change happen in your classroom! We will focus on a different area each of the four weeks, and connect the work directly to the RI Teacher Evaluation System (based on the domains of Danielson’s Framework for Teaching). We will self-assess, implement a strategy and reflect. Any comments or feedback you leave will help me to generate the next post. I will respond to your needs… Based on teacher requests, we will start with Questioning/ Prompts and Discussion Techniques.

There are lots of rubrics out there! Here are two you can use to self-assess, reflect and set a purpose for our work together around questioning!

RIDE_Questioning_Rubric     I3_Questioning_Rubric

Let’s support each other and celebrate success using feedback, comments, Facebook & Twitter. Subscribers will receive additional tips along the way, so if you haven’t already subscribed- make today the day!

So excited to get started!!




Station Teaching

Lately, many of the teachers I support have been expressing a desire to take risks with new and different teaching strategies. One strategy many teachers are investigating is station teaching. Over the next two weeks I will attempt to respond to their needs as best I can through group work sessions, classroom observations and modeling.

Here are some videos from Teaching that provide examples!

Algebra Example             Geometry Example

Here are the documents we used in one workshop with high school math teachers:

photo 1
At the Application Station, teachers considered embedding authentic, real world situations into math tasks. Collaborating with the Physics teachers is on this group’s list of next steps.
photo 2
After setting a purpose for their work, these math teachers watched the videos linked to in this post looking for strategies they could use in their own classrooms.
photo 3
Here at the Manipulation Station, teachers investigated new math kits they will have access to in their classrooms. They focused on incorporating manipulatives into as many concepts as possible. The green tent card lets the facilitators know they are “going strong and need no assistance.” Some teachers plan to use the green, yellow and red tent cards during their stations to increase students’ independence.

  Signs for Stations           Station Descriptions & Planning Sheets

Norms to Post               Sample Rotation/ Map      10 Principles

Here are some great links to resources that may support your work:

Math Coaches Consortium       Dare to Differentiate    Mathematics Assessment Project

My Territories

I was first introduced to the idea of a writer’s notebook by my tenth grade English teacher, Mrs. Catamaro. I loved that notebook! My notebook helped me see who I was as a writer, and focus on the writer I wanted to become. It met my needs as a learner the way nothing before had. I was impulsive and unfocused, and in my writer’s notebook my ideas and Mrs. Catamaro’s feedback would wait for me. I could read and reread. I could process what I wanted, when I was ready. I’ve used the writer’s notebook with my own students and hope I provided them with opportunity to navigate their learning that Mrs. Catamaro did for me.

My Blogging Territories (Like in A Writer’s Notebook, these are ideas I want to remember so I can write about them later)

Common Frustrations & Pitfalls of New Teachers

  • Curriculum- Where is it? How can I write it? I haven’t even learned their names yet!
  • “I don’t want to be mean…” Let’s explore consistency and inconsistency. How can we lower students’ anxiety?  Which teacher actions actually model respect?
  • Feedback, grading & that gigantic pile!!
  • Top Ten myths to dispel around Home/ School Communication: No news is good news, right? In high school, parents are just more hands off… they want it that way…

Educational Issues that keep me up at night

  • Meaningful Reporting Systems: A,B,C,D,F… but what about E? Why do we report? To whom are we reporting? What is the goal? Do all of our answers align?
  • Creating Communities of Respect
  • Effective Teacher Evaluation
  • The push to privatize education, and the lack of honesty around the push
  • Biased reporting
  • Equity in Access to Education & ‘Soft bigotry’