Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Checking In!

Hi bloggers!

I am bummed I haven't had enough time to finish up my Guided Math series but I just had a big surgery yesterday and am focusing upon recovery for the moment. Doctor's orders are no housekeeping, dishes, cooking or lifting for at least two weeks. I do, however, plan to work on some crafty-type things for school over the last couple weeks of summer break. I can do them all sitting down so that will be okay. The Husband is home with me this week to take care of me while I recover and he won't let me do much more than be on my iPad and read, which is a good thing so I can go back to school on time.

I'm hopeful to finish my write-up of Guided Math by the end of the week because I have another math series I would like to get started on soon. I also hope to be working on all of the products I've been meaning to make for TpT and TN while I'm not allowed to do much. I just haven't had time to make them.

I'm reading everyone's blogs but not commenting much. Take a sponge bath wears me out so too much time on the computer just isn't happening at the moment. 

If anything super amazing has happened that I may have missed, please leave me a comment about it so I can check it out!


Friday, July 27, 2012

Google Handwriting

Ever need to search for something quick and fumble with pressing the wrong key on your phone? Try Google Handwriting. (Go to your Google settings to enable it.) When you need to search, you can quickly write the terms and Google changes it into written words and searches for it. It's very neat! Give it a try!

(Sorry I can't show any pics of how to do it since I'm up north and not able to do all the fun techy stuff!)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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!


Monday, July 23, 2012


Hi friends! Do any of you use PlanbookEdu? You should! I can't even remember how I found out about this site but last spring I started using it a little for my plans and WOW. It is a truly awesome planner that allows you to customize and detail your plans however you'd like. 

It's totally free too! You CAN upgrade for $25/year which I did choose to do. (Here's a breakdown of the freebie vs. paid features.) You can color code your boxes by subject area or to highlight special events such as field trips or assemblies. I personally like to make each subject a different color so that I can quickly and easily see when I am teaching what (for those days when you have some shifting around due to specials classes or other duties).

There are a lot of features that come in the free version if you aren't willing to pay for it. You can change your schedule if you are on a rotating basis, access the planbook anywhere, use the program on your iPhone/iPad and (my favorite part), it acts just like a word-processing program so you can add bold, italic or underlining to your plans.

If you upgrade to the pay version, you can embed your plans (for those teachers who have to put them up on websites for parents), attach files and add standards (Common Core and state-specific) to your plans with a few clicks. It's really cool and really easy to use.

You can also make a template if your schedule stays relatively the same from week-to-week so that you simply have to go in and add the information for the new week. There are a lot of tutorials and other help articles to get you started as well. (Check those out here.)

I really ♥ PlanbookEdu and am excited to be working with them very soon as a blogger on their site! Very awesome and I will post more about it once everything is officially "official". 


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!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Something super exciting!

Happy weekend blogland!

Something super awesome happened to me this week. I am beyond thrilled about it. I can't share what it is quite yet (I know that is so mean, isn't it?). I promise as soon as I get the go-ahead, I will announce it. I am BEYOND words over it. (No, I didn't quit my job and join the circus in case you were wondering!)

As such, however, I decided to "come out of the closet" as it were...and reveal myself. This could potentially bite me in the behind later but I'm willing to take the risk. So, no longer will my posts be signed with my "alias", but with my own name. I'm willing to bet dollars to doughnuts you'll understand why I didn't use it before--it's not common at all!!

Also, as a special Saturday surprise, The Phoenix Rising is free on Kindle today! Head on over to Amazon and snag a copy on me :) [I would ♥ for you to leave a review also--as I am trying to get my book on one of Amazon's fun lists that they email out. Only for pure entertainment reasons because it's so fun to see my book in print like that!]

I will be finishing up my Guided Math series hopefully this week. I plan to write the posts and schedule them out so I can finish them before my surgery. I have some Common Core things up my sleeve that I hope I can work more on during my recovery time. Hope you're having a good weekend!


Friday, July 20, 2012


Last week I hit up Walmart and got a bunch of back-to-school goodies. I'm pretty set for that stuff since I can get pencils, crayons, pens and markers galore at school thanks to the fabulous folks who donate to us from the churches. 

Today I had to make a trip to Office Max and since Target is right around the corner....I couldn't resist. I was a tad disappointed in the One Spot simply because they didn't have enough of some of the items I would have liked to buy but that's alright. I have the means to buy them elsewhere for just a little more cash so I'm not going to be too upset.

I did score a bit though:
I have lots of pocket folders I have bought in the One Spot the last couple of years but PURPLE?! Heaven folks. Heaven!! (Even better because one of my colleagues got me a purple poof/foof chair from a friend. Yay!) I saw other people with those "Star Student" chair pockets and I am excited about them. I think I am either going to have one boy and one girl helper each day OR one 4th and one 5th grader each day (if I remember correctly I will have a lot more girls so it might be more fair to do it by grade). And that cursive alphabet was a steal for $2. I have taught upper elementary for most of my career and have NEVER had a cursive alphabet because I could never find one that wasn't outrageous in price.

Perhaps this will help me get some excitement going for Back-to-School. :) 

Speaking of which, I decided to open a Teacher's Notebook shop. I will likely keep all of my freebies and such at TpT but I like that TN allows me to make a bit more profit on anything I sell. Check me out here. There isn't much there yet simply because I haven't had the time to sit and upload the stuff I've been working on. I have some Common Core labels that will be going up and a couple of other things. I plan on working my creative powers while I'm on forced relaxation mode (ie bedrest) following my July 30th surgery. I have some Common Core stuff up my sleeve that I plan to be putting together in the next few weeks as I plan for the upcoming year.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Finally thinking about it....

I have started to turn my brain toward next year, albeit a tiny bit reluctantly. I am amazed how many bloggers have posted pictures of their finished rooms or posted about how often they are at school setting up and preparing. We aren't allowed in our buildings until mid-August so anything I want to do, I have to do at home. Fortunately since I am teaching summer school and am in a school building four days per week, I have access to the intranet and have been able to download and save some things to help me prepare for my split class next year. Last time I taught a split (which was my first year teaching), I taught 4th grade science and 5th grade social studies because the students take the science MEAP in 5th grade and the social studies MEAP in 6th grade and I felt like I needed to ensure my students had the most bang for their buck by focusing on those things. It worked out pretty well. It will have to again because there is no way that I will be able to teach two entire full curriculums in all subject areas. I'm all about the Bang for your Buck!

As I have had math on the brain due to my book study of Guided Math, I have been thinking a lot about how to do justice to my math workshop with two grades since I am responsible for teaching both curriculums. We use Everyday Math but we have the old version so it isn't Common Core aligned which is an issue. Last school year I went to a math workshop about measurement and they told us about how Michigan created "Crosswalks" to help align the current GLCE standards to the CCSS. (Michiganders can snag a copy for your specific grade level here). 

This is nice for me because a couple of years ago our district Math curriculum folks came out with some "common assessments" for Everyday Math. They did this because there were standards that were in our GLCEs not addressed in Everyday Math that we needed to ensure that we taught the students. The problem is when they first gave us these assessments, they didn't tell us there were gaps so we'd go to give the tests and realize there was stuff on them we hadn't taught. OOPS! Yeah, that went over well. Ahem.

Now that I am older and wiser (and make sure I check the stupid test BEFORE I give it!!), I realize that these assessments can guide my instruction and now I can even align them to Common Core. Last year our 2nd grade team (and I'm sure all of our other grade levels) decided that Everyday Math is our resource and CCSS will be our curriculum. Using these cross-walks will allow me to determine what areas my students are being asked to know for our common assessments AND I can then do my best to align them with the other grade level if that is possible and really get a bang for my buck.

That may  have made zero sense to anyone but me. But grab those Crosswalks if you're from Michigan and hopefully they'll be helpful to you too!


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!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Not-so-Flash Sale!!

Happy Monday (is that an oxymoron or what?? *wink*)!! 

I am having a sale on my super fabulously fun book, The Phoenix Rising: A Survivor's Story through the end of the month! 30% off if you order directly from me (there is a link on the left side of my blog). E-crater won't let me charge anything but flat-rate shipping so I discounted it a little more than originally planned.

I've had a lot of great personal feedback on it and how it has helped people to begin to see that things aren't always as bad as they seem. Take advantage of this sale! 


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Guided Math: Chapter 4

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 the 
Whole Class

This chapter focuses upon how teachers can best utilize the Guided Math model with the whole classroom. Clearly the author is a proponent of using this with small groups as she has mentioned several times throughout the first three chapters how much she modeled this after Guided Reading. 

Advantages of Whole Class Instruction
There are many ways in which teaching the entire class is appropriate and even beneficial. Examples include:
-providing active engagement strategies
-reading aloud for math
-preparing for Math Workshop
-the Math Huddle
-practice and review
-tests or assessments that are more formal

Clearly whole-class instruction requires much less planning and preparation. Teachers are able to plan one lesson and present it to the entire class. If teachers are planning to engage prior knowledge, whole class instruction is very appropriate and worthwhile. Teachers are engaged with direct teaching during whole-class instruction which can maximize the amount of time students are being taught by the teacher rather than a peer or in self-guided work. 

Working with the whole class during a Math Meeting or Math Huddle allows teachers to create a sense of community, specifically focusing upon math and math-related concepts. When students engage in conversations about math, they are more likely to understand the concepts better than if they simply read about it or listen to it described. The student conversations during this time can be monitored by the teacher and misconceptions can be addressed immediately so students are not going into independent practice with misunderstandings about the concept or process being studied.

I agree that whole-class instruction can have it's place, no matter the subject. Gathering students together to explain directions, provide brief overviews or review of concepts is probably the easiest way to give the information to everyone all at the same time. I also feel very strongly after piloting a new math review system in our district this spring that students need to be able to EXPLAIN their thinking--not just how they got an answer but how they know the answer is correct. All too often, students know the process of getting an answer but they haven't internalized it in that they can't tell someone else how to do it. The Math Huddle, which allows the entire class to meet together daily, provides time for students to engage in this talk with the teacher there to provide help or correct misconceptions. It's meant to be a very brief time but can also provide a big "bang for your buck" when students do most of the talking and explaining. 

Challenges of Whole-Class Instruction
It is nearly impossible for any teacher, no matter how good they may be at delivering instruction, to meet the needs of every student in their class when engaged in whole-class instruction all the time. Students become distracted, get lost or bored during a lesson and may not have enough active engagement if the teacher is teaching to the entire class. 

Teachers have a hard time being involved with all students when they teach in a whole-group setting all the time. They won't know if little Susie did not understand a concept until perhaps a day after she has been working on something incorrectly and ingraining the incorrect procedure or process more deeply as she works. Additionally, feedback can't be provided as readily if the teacher is trying to engage the entire class at the same time because the teacher can't be with every student during their independent practice. 

Teachers know that a balance of summative and formative assessments provide the most effective feedback for teachers in order to design their instruction. The summative assessments provide an assessment of the learning that took place while the formative assessment demonstrations what students already know (or don't) so the teacher can plan continued instruction. It is stated that the use of assessments FOR learning allow students to have tremendous gains because of the immediate feedback and change in instruction to meet their needs (pg. 110). However, it is difficult to engage in conferences and conversations when teaching the entire class and thus, some of the formative assessment information is lost because observations and conversations don't happen as often as they might.

I am a huge proponent of formative assessment--I don't want to waste my students' time teaching them something that they know. I would never know where they are and how quickly they grasp concepts and are ready to keep going if I didn't use formative assessments. It's MUCH harder to use anecdotal notes when you can't meet with students to do the observations and ask students about their thinking.

Methods of Whole Class Instruction
There are several methods that can be used during whole class instruction to engage students and maximize learning. Mini-lessons, activating strategies, preparing for Math Workshop, Math Huddle, Practice and Review sessions  and Assessment are all areas in which teachers can effectively use a whole-class model.

Mini-lessons: Just like with reading or writing workshop, this time is meant to be very brief, no more than 10 minutes in length so teachers can identify the day's learning and get students started on the work for the day. Each mini-lesson consists of four parts (as adapted from Lucy Calkins' writing mini-lessons):
Connection: make a connection to prior learning or to a real-life experience outside of school that relates to the math concept. Utilizing the connections helps engage students with something they already know so teachers can move forward.
Teaching Point: the teacher clearly states the learning for the day and then models and demonstrates the strategy being taught or the concept being used. The modeling and demonstration is vital.
Active Engagement: then students have a very short time to practice what the teacher just demonstrated. This may be individual white-board practice, a think-pair-share or restate the teaching point in their own words.
Link to Ongoing Work: the last component is to link the teaching point to something the students have already been working on. The students need to leave the mini-lesson understanding that the teaching point is something that they should remember and use when appropriate.

This is a great way to keep those mini-lessons in check. I know I am guilty of not always linking the teaching point to something we have been working on or WILL be working on. I try to remember to give them a reason (we learn X in 2nd grade because in 3rd grade you'll add Y to it so make it more challenging) but it doesn't always happen the way I intend and sometimes when things are crazy in the classroom, this part is forgotten. 

Here's a brief sample I wrote up for determining Factors with 4th graders (pulled from CCSS). Very short and sweet.

Activating Strategies: By using different strategies to activate prior knowledge and/or engage students before the lessons begin, teachers can again maximize the time they have for math instruction. Some sample strategies include:
KWL: Most teachers know what the KWL chart but there are modifications suggested for this common strategy when used with math. You can change the K to "Thinks I THINK I Know" which will help dispel anything the students thought were true about the concept but may have been incorrect. Another modification suggestion is to change it to "What do you know for sure?" "What are you trying to find out" and "Are there any special conditions in the problem?" By changing the questions to fit math, student engagement can go deeper and misconceptions can be addressed immediately.
I LOVE the modified KWLs, especially the "what do you know for sure?" question. Often students think they know a lot about how to do something and they have been doing the problem incorrectly for a long time. This will provide students with the level of comfort to still share but be open to being corrected if, in fact, their thinking is off.
Anticipation Guides: This is another strategy often used with reading. Students can provide a wealth of information to their teacher by identifying what they already know to be true or false about a concept about to be studied and can look back at the end of the unit to see their own learning. It's important to remember to explain to the students this isn't a "graded test", its purpose is to guide the instruction of the class or group so that everyone is getting their needs met. (There is a great anticipation guide sample on page 120.)
Word Splashes: Students can preview and learn vocabulary while activating prior knowledge by seeing words "splashed" across a page or charge that deals with a particular concept such as the relationships between fractions, decimals and percents.

Reading Math-Related Literature: Using stories that relate to students' lives but also teach about math can be a great way to bridge connections between concepts and reinforce ideas that students may be struggling with. 

Setting the Stage for Math Workshop: Teachers can use whole-class instruction time to set the stage for math workshop by introducing, modeling and reinforcing procedures and practices of the workshop. During the first weeks of school, procedures will be taught, practiced and reinforced. After the procedures have been taught and used successfully, time can still be set aside to discuss any problems occurring during workshop and/or for teachers to explain what students will be engaged with during individual learning time of the workshop.

Math Huddle: Like a morning meeting, this time focuses the students for learning and discussing math and math-related concepts. It can be teacher-led or student-led or a combination of both. Students share ideas, problems, solutions and provide proof during this time. Students can stretch their thinking when challenged by a classmate who may not understand how (or why) a student got a particular answer and the student who shared may experience growth as a mathematician while explaining their thinking and surely the students who are listening will gain insight as well. 
I really like the Math Huddle concept. It is important for students to discuss their thinking and engage with each other about math and other subject areas being learned. Having a set time every day for them TO engage in this kind of talk will encourage them to share, stretch their thinking and be prepared to provide proof if another student (or the teacher) isn't convinced by their statements.

Practice and Review: Students can participate in brief practice and review sessions as a whole class. Since most high-stakes state tests are done with paper-pencil, it is important that students can spend some whole-class time reviewing how to take these assessments and what they will look like. Games can be played to review math concepts as a whole class such as "Around the World" or games such as Jeopardy that use PowerPoint to be presented to the whole class.  Clickers can be used as well to review as a class where data about student responses can be graphed and displayed for students to interpret and analyze.
I love the idea of using the Clickers and we have them at my school...but the computers rarely allow them to connect so it's wasted time. There are many places around the internet to find games such as Jeopardy, Who Wants to be a Millionare? and more that are used with PowerPoint and can be played as review games with the class provided you have a computer and some kind of projection system.

Assessment: Assessment is usually conducted as a whole class so that all students can be engaged in the test at the same time. Most of the time these are paper-pencil tests and can be multiple-choice or constructed response (or a combination of both). These can be used as practice for standardized test-prep as well since most standardized tests are still done on paper.

I have done both whole-group instruction for math all year and done small group instruction for math all year. Regardless, it becomes necessary to teach the whole class sometimes, even if you are using some small groups either to provide directions or clarify things that the whole class had confusion about.

I will definitely be using the Math Huddle this year. I love the concept of it and how it doesn't have to be really long to be effective. 

I will also definitely make an effort to use more mini-lessons for math. The adaptation of Lucy Calkins' model is a great reference to have. When I wrote out that brief mini-lesson for Factors, it took me less than 10 minutes and even though I focused it for 4th grade, it is something 5th graders would benefit from reviewing (or learning!) as well. This may be a bit more challenging since I will be teaching a split grade, but I am hopeful that my using the CCSS for most of my mini-lessons I can provide a common lesson to my whole class that satisfies what both grades need to learn to maximize the time that I have with my students.

I am going to look at my math series and think about how I can integrate the Anticipation Guides and the modified KWL because I think those are strategies that would really benefit the students, especially the A.G. What better way to engage children than keep them accountable for their learning by going back to that A.G. at the end of the unit and notice how their own thinking has changed. 

Stay tuned for my thoughts and reflections on Chapter 5: Using Guided Math with Small Groups!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Guided Math Delays

Happy Friday the 13th! I took the day OFF from normal life and took my girls to little fair in town. I'm tired but they are happy so it's okay.

My Guided Math posts are behind (not that anyone is waiting on them with baited breath or anything *wink*) but I will resume them next week. I've been trying hard to upgrade my small business website and it has been a lot more work than I was originally anticipating it to be. It has taken up a lot of my free time lately. Hopefully they both will be back up and running next week :)

I am heading out of town for the weekend. No computer, no internet and barely phone service. It's fine with me! I just need to be able to text and call The Husband and The Oldest and it will be a-okay. The Oldest, who is waitressing now in a small place up the street, made me promise to NOT WORK this weekend because she said I look exhausted.

Who can argue with that? So I shall take her advice and just read, relax, hit the beach, read some more and sleep as much as I need to.

Have a great and safe weekend everyone. I hope I return Sunday night refreshed and rejuvenated and feeling much more like myself again!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Busy, busy, busy!

I thought teachers had "summers off"??? 

I can't remember the last summer I have been so gosh-awful BUSY! I haven't ever done summer school either so I know that is a lot of it. Today was pretty decent without my two worst in the class (and some of my other offenders must've gotten smart and decided to just stay home because they have been absent all week). During our switch time I was told, "by the way we have a guest speaker at 10:20"...and it went for almost an hour! It was interesting but I wish I had known about it so that I could have shortened my earlier class so we aren't ahead of the other kids. Oops.

I don't get it. Nothing gets emailed to us, we don't get told things until usually 20-30 minutes before it is supposed to happen. That would drive me insane if I had to deal with it all the time. I get it that things do come up unexpectedly, but from what I can gather, they have had these presenters lined up for weeks. It would be fair to tell us so that half of my kids aren't getting short-changed. I felt horrible that my co-teacher didn't even get to teach his lesson to our second group of kids because when all was said and done we only had about 45 minutes left and I needed all of it. 

I teased him when we were leaving today that I was going to enjoy a few choice adult beverages this weekend and then maybe I'd be ready to come back on Monday! *wink*

I know I am really busy as well because of my book launch. It slowed down a lot this week which is normal for a no-name book/author/publisher. I'm not complaining. Once people really begin to recommend it, it'll pick up. I don't doubt that at all. I'm not saying I'll make millions of dollars on it (I don't even dream of that happening) but I don't have a doubt at all that I will at least break even on what I have spent to produce it. I am actually working on upgrading my publishing website so it's more of an "e-commerce" sort of site so that I can promote and sell my resources right there as well. I found a really good (and free!) open source software program that will also allow me to sell digital downloads on my site. That would be great if I could sell my teaching resources on there also since I also have a business name. I'm still exploring all of those options.

I am late on my Guided Math post for today and it will likely get posted tomorrow instead. I am absolutely beat and still have some chores and errands I need to do yet today. I can't wait to put my feet up this weekend and just relax (part of that time at the beach)!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Holy &@#$%^& Crap

Alternate Title: Why I would Die if I taught Middle School

Don't get me wrong. I really do enjoy most of the kiddos we've had in summer school. However, we have two weeks to go and some of these kids who have never had a clue why they are there are driving me crazy. My poor co-teacher (who has only subbed before) told me today that he is flat-out exhausted by noon when the kids leave because "I'm not really teaching". One of our girls called him a retard and she didn't get in trouble. I personally hunted down the principal and said "these three children are NOT welcome back in my classroom--it's me or them".

They have been allowed to rule the roost and the other kids who are there to learn, can't. If you are going to announce to a group of children that they will "be gone" if they act up, then you need to follow through on that. On the first day AND the 13th day! We've got 2 weeks and a day left--9 days total, about 6 of them actually in the classroom. I'm supposed to have my kids write a compare/contrast paper and they can't even do an introduction. It isn't because they are dumb. They aren't dumb at all! They just want us to spoon-feed them and I refuse to do that.

I think it makes it worse because I LIKE these kids. And I LIKE having the different groups. I think I would ♥ Middle School in a more "normal" setting. But there? Hell no. :(

We had a rep from WriteSource come and I was just gushing about how much I love the program. I said that if I could somehow get a pilot license to use it with my elementary kids for this upcoming year, I would TOTALLY get on board with begging any and everyone to buy this software for our kids. Then I was telling the data people at the middle school I'm at about it and the Reading Specialist/Data person says "well the program is useless for us because we aren't a Tier I school".


EVERY school is a Tier 1 school! Approximately 80% of our kids should (in theory) be working  in that Tier 1 zone successfully. I'm amazed my jaw didn't hit the floor. Yeah. 

The only awesome thing about this week so far is that TWO different people have told me that when I talk about teaching (in the context of an iPad grant I am trying to get and talking about the WriteSource software) that my passion for teaching shines through. I just wish I didn't feel so let down about the attitude of these kids lately and their behavior. I wouldn't have ever dared talk to an adult the way these kids talk...and it bothers me immensely that kids get away with calling their teachers "retards" and worse without any real consequences.