Sunday, September 9, 2012

Navigating Reading Street

I received a super sweet email from a reader asking me to provide some help and advice about implementing Reading Street as a reading curriculum. Firstly, I was super flattered that this sweet reader would ask lil ole me, but secondly, I was transported back to when I was in the same pair of shoes this reader is currently wearing.

See, she just got hired and her first day will be Monday. She hasn't even met her team yet. She is getting students from 3 other classes. This will be their third week of school and she is working with 1st graders. I shared with her that during my 2nd year of teaching--the very first time that I taught 2nd grade--I was in a similar situation except that they waited until after the first marking period was over to add another teacher, namely me.

Regardless of when the transition happens--sooner or later--the first thing that I think needs to happen in that situation is community building. These children have spent two weeks in their other classes together and have likely already learned and, in some cases, internalized, the routines, procedures and expectations of their previous teacher. This is both good and bad: it's good because it means that they are quick to learn those routines and procedures but it is also bad because invariably if you are in this situation, you will hear "That isn't how we did it in my OTHER class". It can be disheartening at times.

Personally when I begin a new year (or mid-year as was the case in both my first and second year of teaching), I get going with routines and procedures but also begin some academics that are easier for me to manage. For me that is math. I'm not sure why that is except that often I have less things to deal with for my math instruction than with anything else. Balancing academic content and procedures is important, however. I teach most of my procedures within the context of the academic area(s) they apply to. For example, I'm not going to talk about using the calculators and manipulatives on the first day of school if we aren't actually going to use them. 

This fabulous reader's big concern, aside the obvious of starting after the fact, was how in the world to navigate Reading Street. I had to be honest--RS is awesome and I love it BUT it can be extremely overwhelming because there's just so much STUFF. Leveled readers, worksheets upon worksheets, stations, blah blah blah. Whew! It's enough to make you head for the hills before you start!

Last year was our first year using Reading Street in my district. We had used Houghton Mifflin before that. However, the stories were sort of outdated and much of the information within the resources were not Common Core aligned. When the district purchased Reading Street, they bought the newest version: the 2011 Common Core aligned set. When the boxes of stuff arrived, I think every teacher in my school just sat there with their mouths hanging open and wondering what we were going to do with all of those things! (Not to mention that during the first inservice we had for RS, I'm amazed that no one head exploded from all of the information they packed into those three hours. I get a headache thinking about it!)

As a new teacher, it's important to know first and foremost what your district's expectations and requirements are. Do they want you to use all of the components of Reading Street or only specific parts? For example, we are not currently using the writing workshop portion of Reading Street. We have had a different writing program in place for the last few years and the district gurus are in the process of deciding if we should scrap that old program and use the writing portion of RS because it is all aligned with the CCSS and our current program isn't. We also don't use part of the "Get Ready to Read" sections because teachers found they weren't quite as meaningful as we would have liked. Lastly, I don't know anyone (at least not in K-2 at my school) who actually used the stations that came with Reading Street because they weren't rigorous enough, not to mention we knew half of our kiddos wouldn't be able to read the directions without help and therefore everyone still used stations but supplemented with our own materials that we wanted students to work on and review.

This year, after using Reading Street for one year, they've tweaked their expectations again. We are focusing upon the Fresh Reads, which I personally love, because they provide a short text with multiple choice and constructed response answers that students need to go back into the text to be able to answer. This is a huge part of the CCSS and why our district decided we needed to really focus upon that area. 

We are also focusing upon the weekly tests but not using the unit tests. This is because the weekly tests provide immediate, week-by-week feedback on whether or not students are beginning to master the skills taught. We also have the children take the tests on the computer (either in our own classroom, the computer lab or our laptop carts on wheels) so we can easily track which skills the children are mastering and where they are struggling. (I could go on and on about how awesome some of the data reports are!)

Since I am teaching a dual grade, I have to teach both 4th and 5th grade Reading Street content. Everyone thinks this is impossible or hard. It isn't if you use the stations format. On Mondays while I am working with my 4th graders on their Fresh Read, the 5th graders will be listening to their weekly story on the CD. We have music right in the middle of that block on Monday which actually worked out great because when we return to our classroom, I can work on the Fresh Read with my 5th graders and my 4th graders can listen to the weekly story on CD. I love using small groups anyway because it is just easier and while this won't be "small group" (I have 17 fourth graders which is not small!), it will still provide something meaningful for my 5th grade students to do while I am working with my other group and vice versa. This would also work with one grade level if you have children that you know need more support and would benefit from a small group environment to navigate the text and the strategy.

This also serves a dual purpose--not only do I need my other grade to have something meaningful to do while I am working with the other grade, but this allows the children to hear the story for the week before they ever meet with me in a group. The second day they will be reading the story with a partner unless they are the first group I work with so most of my students will have heard/read the story twice before they ever come to group. This means I won't have to spend time reading all of the story with them but can focus upon strategy work and digging back into the text. Bang for your Buck sort of thinking.

On Tuesdays-Fridays, I will have 3 rotations with my students (our Daily 3). The first rotation always has to be Read to Self because we're required to have 5 days of SSR or it's equivalent. That's fine with me as I love that time. We do it right after morning recess. Since I have a ton of 4th graders, I will split them into 2 or maybe even 3 groups and then just keep my 10 5th graders together in one group. I'm not quite sure on that one yet. Many of my 5th graders are very low readers so I might do two groups of 5 for them to really help give them the boost they need. While I am working with my small group, the other children will be rotating through the Daily 5 stations. Sometimes they will have a "must do" sheet from the Reading Street series if I feel like it is something really worthwhile for them to work on (usually a grammar sheet) but mostly they will have a choice of working on writing, working with words or partner reading. Once the year really kicks off, we will also integrate technology into this time by using the computers, iPods and other technology that we can get our hands on (books on CD, etc).

I haven't done all of this yet but it's my plan starting on Monday. I have to be very careful that I keep going from one thing to the next in order to do justice for my dual grade. I know many colleagues who would simply teach one grade's curriculum--I don't think that is fair, especially with reading and math because the standards can vary so drastically. I have 90 minutes for my Daily 3 block and 30 minutes of that is for RTS/Conferencing. So I have two 30 minute blocks of time each day in which to meet with small groups. I will be able to meet with my groups at least twice if I have 4 groups and 3 times if I only have 3. (Waiting a bit on some testing we're doing for final determinations on that.)

My overall point is, no matter what your curriculum is, plan to be overwhelmed if you don't have the benefit of starting on the first day with the children. It's normal and it happens even to veteran teachers (if you saw the pile of "catch up" work I brought home for the weekend you'd see what I mean). Take it a day at a time and determine what the most important components of the program are for you to be teaching. No one can do everything that Reading Street has to offer unless they teach reading all day every day. If you don't get into Reading Street that first week when you start with a class after the first day...your administrator(s) should understand! Take the manuals home and take the time to learn them and determine what you absolutely KNOW your students need exposure to. Then go from there. Ask colleagues to sit with you at lunch or for a quick meeting after school just to get the rundown of the components THEY use. Find out if they do any weekly team-planning or if you are on your own (and if you are, shame on them but then you can really do what you see as the most important).


I know when we first really looked at Reading Street we all wondered how we could possibly do it all and you can't. It's why after a year, we had a team of teachers and administrators get together and determine what best suited our needs as a district and those are the areas we are focusing upon. Instead of drowning in an overload of resources, we are focusing on the areas that we know will provide us with data to help us to better serve our students.


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Monday, August 20, 2012

A PlanbookEDU Tutorial & GIVEAWAY

I've had a couple of emails and comments about using PlanbookEDU.com for my lesson plans. They have some great tutorial videos and overviews available in their Knowledge Base to help you get started but I know that it is often easier to get a feel for something when it is recommended by someone else who has actually used it.

Note: Yes, I DO collaborate with PlanbookEDU.com as a guest blogger but they are not paying me to write this content here. Not a single thing on this blog is sponsored by anyone but myself. Everything I write here is true, honest and directly from me. [If someone WANTS to sponsor my blog, I would probably say SURE, but not one does so it's all just me!]


That being said, I stumbled upon the site in the spring sometime. I honestly can't remember if I saw an ad or how I found it but I knew I wanted to be able to have some flexibility and ease with my plans and be able to quickly and easily make changes as needed. PlanbookEDU makes this very easy. 

I do have a paid version which is $25 per year. After playing with the free version for a couple of weeks, I went ahead and upgraded because of the features. To me, the $25/year cost is totally worth it. Here's a breakdown of the difference:
As you can see, you do get a lot of features for the free cost. The average school year is somewhere between 33-36 weeks long. That means upgrading would cost you about $0.70-$0.75 per week. When you break it down like that, you can see it is VERY cost-effective. And look at all of the added features: you can attach files to your plans, add Common Core standards or your own standards, put your plan book directly on your website/blog, share the plans (ie with your principal), and print from your browser or save as .pdf files. I spend more money on fountain diet cokes per week than I do on this software so its definitely worth the price in my mind.

Throughout this post, be sure to click on the pictures to enlarge them for best viewing!

When I log into the site, generally I am brought to the last planbook I had open. You can go to your list of planbooks by clicking on "Planbooks" along the top. This is what I see when I do that.

This is my home screen. (Sorry I had to point out that when I wrote this tutorial, it was MY blog post featured up in the corner. I'm almost famous! At least in my mind *wink*) I have four active plan books: one for 2011-2012 and 3 for 2012-2013. I only used one last year since I had one grade for all subjects. This year I am using three plan books since I have a 4th/5th grade combination class. I can open any of my plan books simply by clicking on the name. You can name them whatever you like. The site allows you to customize "off days" (ie planning days where you don't have students plus holidays) which is great because then they automatically show up in your book for that particular week.

Since I have 3 plan books this year, I will briefly show you each one. I have one for math, one for Reading Workshop and a general one. I did this because math and reading are the two subjects that I need to teach separately as the standards and some of the content are not the same. Putting together separate plan books makes it easier for me visually to separate those subjects since I have to tackle them a bit different.

Let's start with Math since it's been on my mind so much lately. When I click on any of my plan books, I am brought to a page that looks like this:
It will have the name of my plan book across the top and show the calendar of my year. (You customize your start/end dates when you create the plan book.) In Michigan, our first day with students is September 4 this year so I started my plan book on September 3 and ended it on June 7 which is our last day of school. From any of the plan books, when I am at this screen, I simply click on the week I want to work on and it will pop up.

Here's a sample of my Math plan book for the week of September 10. I have filled it out as a template already. It's blank of course because we haven't gotten there yet! (Go to PlanbookEDU's knowledge base for specific tutorials on how to create templates.) You can see that I have decided to use a modified Daily 5 for Math as well as my calendar board time. 

This is the same screen shot as above except that I have color-coded my boxes. This is a freebie feature! You can do this without upgrading! This is a nice feature to be able to highlight specials classes and/or events that might be different one week so they stand out in your plans. We aren't able to use colored ink at school so I would need to print these at home if I wanted to color code my boxes but it would be worth it if it was something I felt really kept me organized (and honestly I think it's a great feature for a sub--see the BLUE BOX in the plan book--or whatever so that the substitute teacher would be able to jump right in with what you've left for the class to do).

Here's a printable version of my Reading Workshop plan book. I can export to PDF because I have the upgrade. This is what it would look like if I were to print it as it stands. I am also doing a modified Daily 5 for my reading block which you can see here. I left a box at the bottom that I called "notes for tomorrow" so I can add, tweak or change anything that we didn't finish or that I noticed and need to address the following day. (I simply typed the words in and then hit enter a few times to leave the empty spaces since the plan book boxes default to the size of the text included in the box.) This way I can make notes and don't have to fret over rewriting my plans if a big change or reteaching needs to happen.


Here's a sample of my regular plan book. You can see that for my math and reading times, I simply wrote "see attached plans". That way anyone who is checking them will see that those plans are included behind the overall plans. Of course this plan book will change as I have no idea when my specials classes will be but you can see how easy it is to use.

One of my favorite features is that you type into the boxes like a Word Processor. You can bold, underline and italicize as well as add color (not simply to the whole box but you can actually highlight words in other colors if you want). See?



I can embed my plan book on any website or share it with a colleague too. Here's a sample from last year's plan book. (I only let 2 days be visible so you could scroll down to see it since the width of my blog is small.)



When I am ready to edit and input my lesson plans, I simply click on the edit button or double click the box and it will open up like this:
Now I can type my lesson plans into the box, adding word processing features (bold, italic, highlighting, etc) and you can see underneath that I have the option to attach files. This would not be there with the free version. You can also see the Standards window. I can begin to type in my standard code and it will show up in that box.

I clicked on the little green plus sign next to the Standards box and this popped up. It's a brand new feature and I LOVE it. When I set up my plan books, I selected the standards I plan to use, which are Common Core for 4th and 5th grade. Now whenever I am planning, I can simply click that green plus sign and my standards pop up. I just select one and on I go!

I selected 4th grade math and up pops a box with ALL of the 4th grade Common Core standards for math! I just scroll and select the standard(s) that apply and they will automatically appear in that box on my plan book.
Here's the math standard I added for that particular day. You can also select to simply add the code OR to include the entire standard per your preference or school expectations. 



As you can see, I am quite in love with PlanbookEDU. I love the features, I love that I can embed my plans to my website for parents/administrators to view if I want to do so. It is SO easy to use it and since I hated hand writing my plans, this is an amazingly easy way to ensure that I don't have to do that anymore.



Would you like to WIN a free year of PlanbookEDU? Erika, co-founder of PlanbookEDU, whom I collaborate with for my blogs, found out I was doing a giveaway and graciously offered THREE free one-year subscriptions to the site!! Exciting! (And proof that they ARE awesome!)

Follow these super simple steps to enter my giveaway!  In honor of my upcoming 7th year of teaching, you have seven chances to win. 
1. Follow my blog and leave a comment (with your email)  that you are a follower (1 entry)
2. Leave a comment letting me know how this software would help you with planning and organizing for instruction (1 entry)
3. Like PlanbookEDU on Facebook (2 entries)
4. Blog about my giveaway and leave a comment with a link back to the post (3 entries)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Note: A super HUGE thanks to Erika and Matt at PlanbookEDU.com for stepping up and offering the free codes for this contest. It was unexpected and is totally appreciated!

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Guided Math: Chapter 8


This post is part of my Guided Math Book Study. I will discuss each chapter in two sections: an overview of the chapter and my learning/wonderings and how this learning will affect my mathematics instruction. You can read the entire series of posts by clicking here. (Graphics for this post provided by Scrappin' Doodles.)



Assessment in Guided Math


Information gathered through assessment not only provides information about where to begin instructionally, but also guides future instruction and the students' learning. (Sammons, 2011, pg. 227)

Teachers need to know how to assess their students in order to help students make growth as mathematicians. Instructional effectiveness is lost when instruction does not mirror student needs. How is this obtained? Assessment. 

Teachers constantly gather evidence about their students--from observation, conferences, work samples and more. This evidence provides teachers with a framework upon which to build instruction, matching student needs to instructional content. It is a win-win situation. However, students need to be taught how to self-assess as well. This will allow them to monitor their own learning and hopefully be more mindful of the work they are doing as they are working.

Assessment can not only happen at the end of a unit of instruction; it needs to be embedded throughout the curriculum to allow for
-continuous information for instructional decision making
-continuous assessment of student strengths
-discovering what students can do independently and with teacher support
-documenting progress
-summarizing student achievement
-reporting data to various stakeholders (administration, etc)

The above rationales focus first on LEARNING. This is vital. Learning is the most important thing that happens in any classroom. The first three factors are dependent upon each other; one needs the other to thrive. When teachers can manage this, they know their students well and are able to make instructional decisions frequently and accurately that will meet their students' needs.

When teachers assess more frequently, they can ask themselves the following questions:
-How well did my students master the curriculum or standards?
-Are students ready to move on?
-How the the whole class perform on this assignment/standard?
-Does anything need to be retaught, in part or whole, before I can move on with instruction?

When teachers ask these questions, they are able to focus and refine their teaching toward student LEARNING. 
I don't know anyone who doesn't have to keep some kind of data notebook of some sort to document student progress. I also know many teachers who simply stick the data in the notebook and don't use it except when they have to present it to a review board. By USING the data and allowing STUDENTS and PARENTS to see, understand and use the data, students will be more successful. If little Joe is struggling with fractions even after remediation, the teacher should know this based upon observation, work completed and conferencing with the student. All of that information will allow the teacher to pursue even more intervention, as needed, to help this child to master concepts that are giving him difficulty.

Standardized testing does not provide enough feedback for students to make it meaningful. In Michigan, we take our MEAP standardized test in the fall (October) and usually get results back in March. Not helpful. With the new MAP test that we've implemented in the last several years, students (and teachers) get feedback within 24 hours. That is data that I can use, from a standardized test, that will allow me to change my instructional focus. However, it's only given three times per year. While I DO use this information and I DO love how much information it provides me (and my students), it isn't enough. You have to have data from YOUR DAILY TEACHING in order to be the most effective at teaching to your students areas of weakness as well as their areas of strength.

Assessment and Learning in Guided Math

In short, teachers must assess frequently AND manage the data from the assessment effectively in order for the assessments to be worthwhile in guiding student learning.

Using exemplars and other criteria can teach students what SUCCESS looks like. When students are going blindly into a problem without a clear path as to what will make their answer a successful one, they are more apt to struggle. Students who struggle frequently probably do not fully understand what is expected of them. To help combat this, there are three steps for providing descriptions of the expectations (Davies, 2000, as cited in Sammons 2011):
1. Describe what the students need to learn in a language the students will understand
This could be in the form of I-can statements in terms of the objective and short statements of HOW the students will use the objective to learn. eg. I can make equivalent fractions by comparing fraction cards from the Everyday Math program.
2. Share the description with the students and how it relates to success in life after school
Always relate what kids are doing to something beyond the current classroom. (You will need to know this so that next year, you can build upon it in X-grade or If you ever want to build anything, you will need to understand fractions to the 1/16ths.)
3. Use the descriptions to guide instruction, assessment and evaluation
Once students know what the expectation is and have exemplars, they must be used in evaluation and assessment! You can't throw a curve ball and suddenly grade based upon a criteria you didn't explain to your students.

Establishing Criteria for Success with Checklists and Rubrics

Before planning for instruction, teachers must have a clear vision of what they want their instruction to accomplish: what standards do students need to learn for this unit of study? We often use rubrics and checklists for literacy, so why not also use them for math?

Checklists
Checklists can provide students with an idea of whether or not they have met requirements for certain things such as problem solving. When students peer-check or the teacher checks, the checklist can be a good starting point to help students to see if they are meeting the minimum criteria for being successful. The problem with a checklist, however, is that it doesn't provide students with feedback on what they need to have to BECOME proficient if they aren't meeting a specific criterion. 

Rubrics
Rubrics allow teachers (and students) to see whether students are meeting the standards in specific areas. In the problem solving example, there could be five criterion: Conceptual Understanding, Reasoning, Computation, Communication and Connections. With each criterion there can be levels of proficiency such as Emerging, Developing, Proficient and Exemplary. Therefore if a student achieves proficiency in all but one or two levels, the rubric provides the student with the information they need to understand how to become proficient.

Descriptive Feedback

Students need to understand exactly what they are doing well and what they need to work on. This is where Descriptive Feedback comes in. Descriptive feedback should occur during and after the learning session, it shouldn't wait until a test or assessment has been administered. It should relate to the learning and be specific so the student can continue to do what they are doing well at and work on mastering concepts they may be using incorrectly. This feedback should be delivered as part of a conversation about the student's learning (CONFERENCES) and provide the student with models of ways in which to show the learning (models, problems on paper, etc).

Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock (2001) (as cited in Sammons 2011), provide four generalizations to help guide teachers in providing descriptive feedback:
1. It should be corrective in nature: if the student work is all exemplary, the student still needs to hear what they are doing that is correct; if the student work is a mixture of correct/incorrect or is all incorrect, they still need to hear what they have done CORRECTLY as well as INCORRECTLY
I think that many of us teachers become so time-pressed we only focus on what is WRONG and don't focus on the positive. I know I have tried over the last year or so to give the student feedback on how they did something WELL no matter how small it is. This is vital in order to keep student motivation up.
2. It should be timely: the longer it takes the child to get the feedback, the less effective the feedback will be. In other words, don't assign a test on Monday and take two weeks to get the results back to the students.
I know this drove me crazy in college. I hated busting my behind on an assignment and not getting feedback on it for weeks or months. Over the last two years, I have honestly tried to ensure that I give a test the day of or before one of our specials classes so I have time to correct the test during that prep time and can provide feedback to my students quicker. Since I haven't really done math conferences before, this will really be vital for me so that I can meet with students who had a lot of trouble on a particular assessment within a day or two and help them get back on track.
3. Should be SPECIFIC: linking the feedback to the criteria that has been established, students will learn what they did well and what they need to keep working on as well as HOW they can become proficient at it.  By using the established rubric, students will know exactly what to do to improve their score (ie I didn't clearly explain my thinking and I need to do that to boost my grade.)
This is something that I do with writing. We have very specific rubrics we model and teach our students. That way when we confer, we can point out where and why the student score was not where we want it to be (ex. I noticed you did [blahblahblah] very well, see this example here in your writing? It really spoke to me. I also noticed that {blahblahblah} was confusing because you aren't using [whatever criteria]...) This would be very easy to transfer to math conferences, especially with rubrics already created for students.
4. Students can add to/provide their own feedback: as students learn the criteria for success, they are more accurately able to assess their own strengths and weaknesses based upon a checklist or rubric. This allows students to peer-correct and self-assess in order to determine where they are struggling and can encourage them to seek extra help and support if they need it. 

Assessment for Math Groups

There are no set assessments for guided math groups the way there might be for guided reading. However, using formative assessments, checklists and rubrics, teachers can determine if the students in their groups are making the progress they want them to make. It is important to remember that this is assessment FOR learning in order to guide the instruction.



I have not used rubrics or checklists for math, ever, and definitely plan to integrate that into my teaching this year. I am all about transferring learning ownership to the students so they can be accountable for their work and the learning they do. This will be a great part of that if I can help my students to learn the criteria for being "successful" at specific math concepts.

I am really getting into the "backwards planning" method as well. We have made "Common Assessments" in our district that don't necessarily match our teaching resources. My thought is that we need to sit down and determine WHAT is in the common assessment for each unit and ensure we are teaching the students those concepts, whether or not they align with our Everyday Math series. In an earlier post in this series, I mentioned the State of Michigan Crosswalks to help teachers link our current Grade Level Content Expectations (GLCEs) to the CCSS. By examining these Crosswalks as well as our end-of-unit assessments, I can better look at WHAT I want my students to learn and then determine HOW I am going to teach it to them. Making rubrics or criteria charts will allow my split grade students to be more independent and work together when I am working with small groups or doing assessments.


Stay tuned for my thoughts and reflections as I wrap up my study of Guided Math by exploring Chapter 9: Putting it into Practice!


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Guided Math: Chapter 7



This post is part of my Guided Math Book Study. I will discuss each chapter in two sections: an overview of the chapter and my learning/wonderings and how this learning will affect my mathematics instruction. You can read the entire series of posts by clicking here. (Graphics for this post provided by Scrappin' Doodles.)



Conferring with Students During Guided Math




Most teachers are familiar with conferring with students during reading and writing. We often neglect to implement this important teaching opportunity with math. This chapter focuses on how to integrate conferences during the Math Workshop.


When teachers are conferring with students, they learn about the students' work, whether students are understanding or struggling with specific concepts and what they should do next to boost the child's learning. When we confer and use that information to guide our teaching, our craft becomes more powerful than if we don't confer. 

As we confer with students, we learn immediately if the child has grasped the concept(s) we have taught and want to make sure they know and understand. If they do understand, we can continue to push them forward. If they don't, we can provide immediate remediation to help each child master the concepts we are required to help them learn. In addition to conferring with a teacher, students should be taught how to confer with each other. If Little Joe is struggling with a concept that Big Joe has mastered, it would be fair to have Little Joe seek Big Joe's help if the teacher is otherwise busy.

Conferring allows teachers to target their teaching. Every child is met at his/her level during a conference and can be given the assistance that is most appropriate to their learning needs at that moment. 

A big thing to keep in mind is how to teach students what to do if they do become stuck during workshop time. We don't want the children to interrupt our conference or small-group teaching but they need to know what they will be expected to do when this problem arises. It is mentioned that the teacher can meet with the students who needed extra help later that same day or first thing the following day so the teacher can provide the targeted help and assistance that child needed.

This got me thinking about HOW you would know a specific child needed help during the workshop. If my goal is to teach my students to be self-sufficient so that I am uninterrupted in groups and/or conferences, how would I know that someone really needed help? Years ago, in college, a strategy was presented to us about allowing children to sign up for extra conferences. If there is a write-wipe board or other signup sheet available, students can add their name and if the teacher finishes early with a small group or has time left after the day's conferences, s/he can go to the sign up sheet and meet with anyone who has signed up for an extra conference because they were struggling and needed help. I also think it is VITAL that students be taught that if they do have a problem with something they are working on and sign up for that extra conference, it doesn't mean they SIT and do nothing until the teacher comes--they go on to another task or problem until the teacher can come and provide assistance.

It is mentioned that many of our students develop "learned helplessness" because they want help instead of thinking through the options they have when they face difficulty with a problem. They don't want to work through any obstacles and would rather we continue to "spoon feed" them and walk them through the steps themselves. As a result of this, when students have to struggle to learn, they become frustrated and give up. There are also students who, for whatever reasons, dawdle getting started or finish as fast as possible without a care in the world if they are correct or not. These sorts of behaviors are what makes it crucial for teachers to spend a few minutes of the workshop surveying the room to ensure that students are working and being productive before they begin their first group. 

It is mentioned that conferences are most effective if they can occur right after a teacher observes undesirable behavior. This isn't always possible or even feasible, however, so that is something that I think needs to be handled at the discretion of the teacher. If I am working with a small group and scan the room while the kids quickly work out a problem and notice a child totally off task, I can't stop my group and go conference with this child. It might be 5, 10 or even 15 minutes or more before I would have a chance to sit with that child and talk about what I noticed. I think it is vital that teachers use what they know and use common sense when they are thinking about how to handle issues such as this.

Structure of a Conference
Conferring with children across subject areas allows the child to become more responsible for sharing the knowledge and learning they have participating in and gained. Students need to understand that it is okay to make mistakes--that's why we're here! We're here to make mistakes in a place where we can figure out how to fix those mistakes so that they won't happen out in the real world where it could cost us a job. There are four main components to a conference, again adapted from the work of Lucy Calkins and colleagues.

Research Student Understanding: it is important for the teacher to know and understand what the child has been working on. A quick scan of the child's work or even ASKING the child to share what they have been working on can provide a launch point for the rest of the conference

Decide What is Needed: once the teacher understands what the student is working on and trying to accomplish, the teacher can decide if they need to solidify or modify the child's process or strategy. If the child has grasped a concept and is using the strategies taught, that's awesome.  If not, this is the time to determine if you need to help the child make modifications to their strategy. This is the time to determine if you need to extend the learning or remediate the learning.

Teach to Student Needs: help the child, based on the need for extension or remediation, by using manipulatives or guided practice to help the child to complete the task provided.

Link to the Future: restate what this child has been working on and remind the student that they will need to work on this again in the future to provide the understanding that this is an important concept for the child to know.

Record Keeping
It is important to document the conferences that are held with students, not only to satisfy data requirements but also to ensure that you can look back and see what the child has already been working on and notice gaps that might be preventing the child from moving forward. There are so many ways to keep these kinds of records: clipboards, data binders, sticky notes, etc. As mentioned previously in this study, I plan to use the Confer app since it saves paper, allows me to print if I want/need to and allows me to group and regroup my students based on their most recent conference goals and needs.




I really enjoyed this chapter about the conferences. Most of us use this format for language arts and it makes sense to shift it over into math. I like the idea that you don't HAVE to have a set schedule for the conferences but rather can shift and roam based upon observations of students working or wanting to check in with a child who was struggling yesterday to ensure they are doing okay today.

My principal is a stickler for having posted conferences so I will likely have to do that--but the idea of having an extra conference sign up sheet is appealing so if I finish early with a group or with that day's conferences, other children know that I will have time to get to them if they really need help and couldn't get it from a peer or any other adults that might be in the class.


Stay tuned for my thoughts and reflections on Chapter 8: Assessment in Guided Math!

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Guided Math: Chapter 6



 This post is part of my Guided Math Book Study. I will discuss each chapter in two sections: an overview of the chapter and my learning/wonderings and how this learning will affect my mathematics instruction. You can read the entire series of posts by clicking here. (Graphics for this post provided by Scrappin' Doodles.)







Supporting Guided Math with Math Workshop







This chapter provides information to help teachers support using small groups with math by setting up and running a Math Workshop. 

"The Math Workshop component of Guided Math shifts much of the responsibility for learning to the students." (Sammons, pg 183).

Students need to be able to deepen their mathematical understanding and they can do this by working independently and learning skills that will help them to work independently. 

Advantages of Math Workshop
-allows for a broad variety of tasks that students can work on independently including: investigations, paper-and-pencil activities, math-facts practice, games, explorations or problem solving. You can also include journal writing related to math, computer games practice or cross-curricular activities that emphasize math.
-allows for CHOICE which helps build student independence and confidence as each child can work to his/her strengths and needs
-promotes the development of life skills such as listening carefully and anticipating questions or obstacles they may have to overcome because the teacher won't be there to simply "fix it"
-students learn to work collaboratively to complete an assignment or project

Challenges of Math Workshop
-student procedures and expectations must be taught and retaught in order for M.W. to succeed
-it may be necessary to limit the range of activities initially which could lead some students to be too challenged or not challenged enough
-planning time increases when planning for whole group, small group lessons and independent work for each student or group

Best Bets for Math Workshop Tasks
  1. Review of Previously Mastered Concepts: Since most math concepts build upon the ones previously learned (ie. there is a reason you learn to add before you learn to subtract), students can benefit from continuing to practice previous concepts that the class has mastered and moved on from. In the case of a spiral curriculum (such as Everyday Math), this review is built into the math boxes. If that component is not already embedded into the curriculum, it is worthwhile to provide review and practice activities of these concepts to ensure students don't forget the skills they have learned. This practice and review is important for standardized test preparation where students will be required to work with previously taught concepts.
  2. Practice Math Facts: Students need to know math facts from memory. It may be the only skill that teachers feel must be memorized. Students can develop this automaticity by practicing number relationships. Students can work with math facts flash cards, games or computer programs to help them build this fluency with math facts for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  3. Math Games: Games for math are not a new concept. Many curriculum programs today include some form of games reinforcement. However, teachers can also create or purchase other games to reinforce the standards they are teaching. It is important to remember that these games must meet the standards in the curriculum--they are not meant to be busywork activities, they should be meaningful practice. The games should also be practiced in class before students begin to use them independently (this can be done in small groups). Students also need to be able to understand the rules of the game so they are focused on the mathematical aspect of the game rather than trying to figure out how to play it. (This is, in my opinion, a strength of Everyday Math's games component--many of the games are taught in lower grades and then just modified slightly for the upper grades so that less time has to be spent teaching the procedures of the game with the older grades. This can also be a weakness of the program if teachers at a lower grade level haven't utilized the games component because students won't have a grasp on the concepts and then they must be taught by the current teacher.)
  4. Problem Solving Practice: Problem of the Day or Problem of the Week type of problems can be used as independent work during Math Workshop once students have learned the procedures for the task. These problems should be challenging for the students as the goal is to ensure they can think about how to understand the problem. Meaningful problem solving problems should include the following criteria: a perplexing situation the child can understand, student has interest in finding the solution (it it means something to them), the student can't simply go toward a solution and the solution requires the child to think mathematically (Burns, 2000). These types of problems should be introduced to the whole class before being introduced as part of the math workshop. Students have to have comprehension skills in order to understand word problems so teachers may want to introduce graphic organizers or other strategies to help students successfully attack these sorts of problems. Due to the nature of different ways to attack these sorts of problems, it is wise to have manipulatives available for student use or to create math toolkits that students can access with the materials they will need to be able to work through these problems. 
  5. Investigations: Students can work on investigations that require data gathering and some kind of reporting back of what they have learned. Students can be assigned specific investigations (to coincide with group work) or students could select from a bank of investigations kept in the math workshop area. Students should keep a log or folder of their work with investigations to document not only the quality of their work but also to determine the strategies and resources students use to help themselves as they work through the investigation. 
  6. Math Journals: Using journals during math workshop allows students to share their mathematical ideas in writing as well as preserve strategies and concepts they have found to be useful. Students can use the journals to document the steps they took to solve a particular problem or write about something they learned or found to be difficult during a particular part of the math workshop. Questions can be posed that ask students to "dig in" to their thinking as it relates to math: What did you notice? What did you find interesting? What patterns did you notice? What surprised you? What did you predict and why? What do your findings make you wonder? What does this work remind you of? It is vital that teachers who ask students to use math journals respond to their writings with specific and descriptive feedback based upon what the student has written or shared. (Remember these can be used as part of your overall assessment.)
  7. Math Related Computer Programs: We all know students are more focused and motivated if they can use computers or other devices to help them learn. Using these programs, apps or websites to allow students to practice math skills is an easy way to keep students engaged and monitor their progress (you can use programs like Xtra Math for free and IXL which has a subscription fee but allows a certain number of "free" problems per day).
  8. Cross-curricular work from other subjects: Math is not something we see in isolation in the real world. We use it everywhere: grocery store, to balance check books, to compute earnings, etc. Students need to see and understand this and integrating work from other content areas that have a math focus is a great addition to independent work time to help students make the connections between math and the real-world scenarios in which they will find them.
  9. Complete the Work from Small-Group Instruction: Once students in a small group have demonstrated their understanding of the concept being taught, there is no need for that student to stay with the group as the other children finish. Allowing students to complete the rest of the activity or assignment from the small group time during math workshop allows the teacher to focus his/her time on the students who really need the extra support and provides the students with more time to work on other math workshop tasks once their group work is finished.

There is a great chart on pages 188-189 that provides a list of these tasks with examples of each AND the objective(s) that will be attained by using these tasks.

Managing Math Workshop
Just like with a reading or writing workshop, the teacher must teach, model, reteach and remodel the expectations and procedures that will be in place during Math Workshop. Students must understand, accept and abide by the following principles of a learning community:
  • all members have rights and responsibilities
  • all members take responsibility for their own learning and will help others learn
  • all members responsibly manage their time and activities
  • all members self-manage their learning and work
  • all members keep materials orderly so everyone can learn
If students become lax on the behaviors and expectations necessary to make the small group time effective, they must be revisited and retaught. It is a good idea to revisit the procedures and routines periodically (after long school breaks for example) to ensure that students are maximizing their learning time and the teacher is not spending the small group time managing behaviors and activities of students who should be working independently. 

When workshop is first introduced, the teacher can refrain from working with small groups to observe the students as they work. This is similar to the Stamina Building talked about in The Daily 5. When teachers notice a problem, they pull students back together and discuss what was working, what wasn't working and how the community of learners present can work to fix the problems. This can continue until students are productive enough in independent learning time for the teacher to begin to pull small groups. 


Teaching Math Workshop with a Co-Teacher or Aide
There are several options teachers can take advantage of if they have a teacher's aide or a co-teacher who works in their classroom during math. Both teachers can work with a small group or one can work with a small group while one confers. The teacher can handle the small groups and conferring and the aide or co-teacher can help students who are working independently.



As someone who has attempted portions of a Math Workshop in the past, this chapter really helped me to see where I need to make changes in my rollout of this model for it to be effective. I like the different tasks that Sammons mentions for use during the workshop portion while children are working independently because it does allow for the choice that was mentioned and provides students with a variety of tasks they can work on that will prevent them from getting discouraged if they get stuck on one activity because they can set it aside until they can get teacher help and work on something else.

I have been tossing back and forth the notion of using a form of Daily 5 Math this year as well and I think putting these tasks as choices is a great way to help students focus their learning for the day and give them a "menu" of items to work on during workshop time. It will provide the students with the opportunity to be productive and engaged in meaningful math from the moment that Math Workshop starts. 

I also like how I was able to make a connection back to the Stamina Building that is such an important part of teaching the Daily 5 (something I also plan to implement this year). We often want to jump into something but don't give our students enough time to really and truly understand what they are being asked to do which creates problems while we try to work with our small groups. Taking advice from both Guided Math and the Daily 5 framework will positively impact how I am able to teach math and maximize student learning and student time engaged in learning.


Stay tuned for my thoughts and reflections on Chapter 7: Conferring with Students During Guided Math!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Guided Math: Chapter 5




This post is part of my Guided Math Book Study. I will discuss each chapter in two sections: an overview of the chapter and my learning/wonderings and how this learning will affect my mathematics instruction. You can read the entire series of posts by clicking here. (Graphics for this post provided by Scrappin' Doodles.)



Using Guided Math with Small Groups


This is a really long and in-depth chapter that guides you through the process of using Guided Math with smaller groups as compared to using it with a whole group like in Chapter 4. This is not a chapter that you can get through in a few minutes; in order to process and absorb what you are learning, it is probably necessary to make notes, either in the book itself for future reference or on sticky notes or other paper as you keep track of your thoughts. This was not a chapter that I could write about in a few minutes--there is a lot of information and in order to synthesize it, it is necessary to often stop, think about what you've read, reflect on it and then keep going. So let's dive in!


Sammons begins this chapter with a quote from Debbie Miller's book Teaching with Intention which mentions that we want to create the "luscious feeling of endless time" in our classrooms (Miller, 2008, as cited in Sammons 2011). While I have not personally read Teaching with Intention, I have heard of it and this phrase speaks to me. We all want to feel like we have more than enough time in our classrooms--it's so easy to feel rushed and worry about the "getting done" and "finishing" rather than having our students "do" and "figure out". We want these things for our students in reading but it is necessary for us to desire and crave that same feeling as we teach math.

Advantages of Small-Group Instruction:
-teachers can slow down and savor the time they have with students (trying to capture that feeling of endless time)
-instruction is focused, materials can be easily managed and students can be monitored easily
-groupings vary frequently as does the time spent with each group allowing teachers to provide more 1:1 help for students who need it and less for those who don't need it
-students are more able to work in the Zone of Proximal Development when working with a teacher in smaller groups more frequently as needed
-student behavior can be monitored more easily during the group time
-students get immediate feedback during practice since the teacher is right there with the students as they practice
-students working directly with the teacher need to be encouraged to explain their answers so ensure they understand how to complete a math problem or know the process. It is difficult to see this understanding when teaching a whole class because the time to speak with each student becomes limited where in a small group, each student has the opportunity to share their thinking and reasoning with each other and the teacher

Challenges of Small-Group Instruction:
-Small group instruction requires more planning
-differentiation must be embedded by either varying the content, process or product of the lesson based upon the needs of each group; the content of the group might be the same but the product or how it is delivered changes which requires more planning on the part of the teacher
-students receive less overall direct instruction from the teacher as compared to a whole-group teaching situation
-teachers must also plan independent work that isn't busy work but is meaningful for students who are not engaged directly with the teacher

Effective Uses of Small-Group Instruction:
There are many ways in which small-group instruction can be utilized for math. Some suggestions provided include:
Differentiating Instruction: this really should be seen as a teaching philosophy because it isn't a strategy that should be used "if you have time". Often students who are high achievers miss out when teachers think they are differentiating because the higher students are given busy work or work that does not push them forward in their thinking. It is necessary to ensure that all students, even the higher achieving ones, get the benefit of small group instruction with the teacher that focuses on differentiating the process or product as well as the content (if necessary).
I think this is very important. Where I teach, we have often been told to "teach to the top" and then our strugglers fall even farther behind. On the reverse, we are told to "teach to the middle" and then our highest kids become apathetic because there is no challenge for them and learning becomes boring. It is necessary to find a way to differentiate EITHER the process/product/content, not necessarily all three so that students are still making meaning from the math work but are not becoming overwhelmed or bored in the process.

Teaching Mathematical "Hot Spots": Hot spots are defined as those concepts that year after year students have a difficult time grasping (addition and subtraction with regrouping for example). When the teacher focuses on the "hot spots" during small groups, they ensure that students are being monitored as they work through these tougher concepts and can be redirected if they are having trouble. Students don't have to wait until the next day to get feedback (which often happens in whole-group settings) and teachers can correct misconceptions faster with these concepts that are often hard for children no matter how advanced they may be.
This is a great idea. I think using the "Hot Spots" as teaching points for mini-lessons and/or small groups will be effective in helping ensure that students are mastering the concepts that they need to be successful in their current grade and the following grade. 

Teaching with Manipulatives: Manipulatives are great learning tools that can enhance student understanding of concepts as they can build visual models or use hands-on materials to help them make sense of the concepts being taught. The NCTM process standards are supported by the use of manipulatives as students need to make models and then explain their representation thereby constructing meaning through the use of the manipulatives which is what we want them to ultimately do. Small group teaching is ideal for using manipulatives because less manipulatives are out and teachers are right there with students as they use and manipulate materials which makes it easier to monitor their use and ensure that students are making the best use of the resources they have.

Formative Assessment--Assessment for Learning: Assessment it critical throughout any unit of study in order to ensure that students are learning what they need to learn and that they aren't struggling throughout the process. Assessment can not happen only at the end of a unit test. Teachers should be continuously monitoring student progress through quizzes, homework, in class practice and observation. This allows teachers to modify instruction as often as needed during the lesson and for the following day to ensure that students' aren't falling behind and are being met where they are.
Sammons points out in this section that it is important to have students participate in goal setting. Last year with my 2nd graders, each child had a data book and we made goals for our reading MAP data. We had nothing really to work on in terms of the MATH data but now with that test transitioning to the CCSS as well, we help students to identify what they need to know and help them be accountable for knowing it and making sure they remember it. Yes, teachers are responsible for the teaching but I feel that we have to instill in our students while they are little that it is THEIR responsibility that they LEARN.

Supporting Mathematics Process Standards: Students must know how to problem solve, reason through their math thinking and provide proof for their math thinking. Small group instruction allows students to feel more comfortable with sharing and exploring ideas with a group of 4-5 other children rather than the entire class. The small group time also allows more flexibility in how these standards are used and addressed based on the needs of the children and the comfort of the teacher as well as the curriculum requirements.

Forming Small Groups for Learning
Just like with Guided Reading, teachers form groups for math based upon multiple factors. As with most things, there is no one "right way" to determine your groupings. You can use whatever you feel comfortable using to determine your groups. Here are some suggestions provided in the chapter:
-Unit pretests
-Previous performance with similar concepts
-Formative tests
-Performance tasks
-Observations of student work
-Mathematical Conversations
-Benchmark tests

As I have mentioned previously in the series, I purchased the Confer app for my iPhone/iPad to use with conferences in my class. While I believe the design was intended for reading and writing workshop, you CAN use it for math. I added some fake sample data to demonstrate.

This is a screen shot as I have set it up for the 2012-2013 school year. It isn't shown but I added a class called "Fake Data" to demonstrate with to protect the identify of my upcoming students.


Here's a shot with only a few students' data added. As you confer with students, the most recent notes and entries go on the bottom and students who need to still be met with move to the top. This is a nice feature so if a student is absent, you can immediately see upon opening the app whom you need to confer with the most. The date shows the LAST time a student had notes entered. Notice that students one, four and three have a (1) behind their name which shows how many conferences you've had with that child.

Now all of the students have at least one conference and you can see under there name part of the notes that have been entered. 

I've opened up the data within that subject and can now see that my students are NOT grouped. Based upon the notes I have made for these children, I can determine a group that needs to meet. In this example, I focused on geometry, with angles and line segments.

In this final shot, you can see how I have made two groups: Angles and Line Segments. These students are now in a group with other children with similar needs based upon the notes I added into this app. 

*Note: the app isn't flawless and has some limitations but for my purposes I think that it is going to allow me to do a whole lot more with my student data than I have been able to do before. Best of all you can email the notes to yourself so you do have a hard copy if your school is one that requires you to keep student data on hand. (And no, the developer didn't pay me to say all of this nice stuff about him--although it'd be awesome if he did hehe).

Organizing for Small-Group Instruction
Clearly you can not plan a small-group lesson on the fly. You have to prepare and get the materials and information together to help you make the most of the learning time you have. It is helpful to designate an area for meeting with small groups (be it a table or on the floor) and have all of the materials necessary for teaching those groups, including manipulatives, white boards, pencils, crayons, etc.

The Lessons
There are several components to keep in mind while planning for the small groups:
-Identifying the Big Idea this is the overarching concept you want students to understand--it has to be identified for success to happen
-Establishing Criteria for Success students need to know exactly how they will be graded and how they can demonstrate proficiency
-Using Data to form groups using the information demonstrated in confer, students can be moved in/out of groups as needed, even if that is every day or after a week's instruction once they get a concept
-Determining Teaching Points using the data from all of the formative assessments helps determine the next step teaching point; curriculum guides and standards can also help determine where you should go next
-Preparing the Differentiated Lessons again the process, product or content can be differentiated and teachers can decide if they want to differentiate based upon learning styles


The chapter ends with an in-depth look at what small group instruction might look like based upon all of this information.


What a great and in-depth chapter! I have definitely had my brain spinning about this one for awhile. I really love all of the points about how using small groups improves the math process for students. I have really been conscious of my math teaching in the last few years since I have always focused mostly on literacy (my love). By taking an approach to teaching math the same way we would teach small groups, I have rekindled my desire to maximize my math instruction, especially with teaching a split class this year.

I plan to take a long look at the CCSS for both of my grades and begin to think about what my students need in terms of "Hot Spots" and how I can combine them as much as possible so that eventually my students can be mixed up between the two grades for grouping which will provide more differentiation. This may not always be possible but I'm going to experiment with it and see what works. 

I will definitely be making sure I am conscious of the notes I take, using all of the forms of formative assessment to determine my groups and not being afraid to move children when a group just isn't working for them! I think too often it is "easiest" for us to keep our groups the same for the unit instead of moving students as their needs dictate. I appreciate that Sammons points out students can be moved out of a group after only one or two meetings if they catch on with that extra support instead of making them wait for the rest of the group. 

All of this will require planning, preparation and being on top of my game always but that doesn't bother me. If it streamlines my math instruction and allows my students to make progress, it will be worth it.


Stay tuned for my thoughts and reflections on Chapter 6: Supporting Guided Math with Math Workshop!
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