Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to Plan and Schedule Guided Reading Groups

Planning for Guided Reading can be a particularly daunting task. Especially if you want to meet with your lowest groups every day, and every single group at least once a week. Throw in a few assemblies, library time, and any other number of interruptions and it's a hair pulling experience! I'd like to share my solution for planning all this out.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thinking Across Content - Good Mathematicians Poster

We all know that students who monitor their thinking while reading do better. Therefore it follows that students who monitor their thinking across ALL subject areas will do better in other subjects as well. The problem many students face is knowing how to transition those skills to other subjects. In fact, many don't even know they can! We have to explicitly teach kids to use thinking skills across all subjects.

Language of Learning
Kids need to know that there is a "language of learning." This is particularly powerful with students who are strugglers, or "our low babies" as we call them at my school.  This language includes, but is not limited to: inferring, thinking, determining importance, predicting, questioning, visualizing, schema, purpose, structure, monitoring comprehension, etc. These skills help students dig deeper into metacognition and actively improve their learning.  I won't cover the meanings of each of these as I have previously done so on the blog.

Actively Using the Language

The most important role you play after teaching the skills is to model their use. No matter what subject you are teaching, use the language of learning. Help students find connections (schema) to other content areas. The brain looks for patterns, so encouraging schema helps students move new content into long term memory.  Use questioning strategies to help students make inferences, predictions, and determine importance. Make sure you are using the terminology as you teach for the most powerful results.

Won't This Take Too Much Time?
Ah yes, the time issue. Believe me, I'm right there with you. No it doesn't take a lot of extra time at all. When you are planning, look for places you can utilize the skills in your lesson. However most of your opportunities will arise through active questioning and discussion during the lesson. That's the beauty of this, students will see the application of the skills in real time!

To give students a visual connection on bridging the skills from reading to math, I have created a companion poster to my Good Readers poster called the Good Mathematicians poster. This one takes the same skills from the reading poster, but targets them for math.  Side by side, these will be a powerful reference for reinforcement! You can make your own posters (I used Swift Publisher 3 on my Mac), or you can download the posters at my TPT store here: Good Mathematicians PosterGood Reader Poster.

I have seen the profoundly positive impact of teaching students to THINK across the curriculum year after year.  If you have not yet discovered this amazing tool, I encourage to you begin tomorrow! You will be thrilled with the results.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Using Data to Drive Meaningful, Targeted, Brain-Based Math Instruction

     Imagine a student's face lighting up upon seeing a math quiz, running home to excitedly show their parents the current math homework, or begging for more word problems at the teacher table. Now envision your own contentment at knowing the math they are excited about is targeted directly to the needs of those very students. I want to share how I create this excitement in my class using data. I'm a data-nerd...I admit it.

     In Texas we have end-of-unit Curriculum Based Assessments (CBAs). Our instruction is delivered through the workshop model. The goal is to meet with our lowest students at the teacher table every day, all the way up to our highest students once a week. The teacher table does give us valuable information. However, life happens and there will inevitably be a group of students who don't get to the teacher table for one reason or another. Since there aren't "turn in" type assignments, I wanted an additional method of monitoring individual student mastery and need of intervention.

     The Solution
     My solution is a multifaceted approach. It involves knowing your students interests well, reflecting on the content you have already taught, what you will be teaching, student performance on past quizzes/CBA's, knowing the language your students need to know to be successful, and then it all circles around again. 

     To Begin
     As an example, if you are teaching 3D shapes next week, sit down and analyze what students need to know. Design instruction and stations around the content and language, and then blend in their personal interests whenever possible (music, sports, games, etc). Use data to determine which content you need in your spiraling stations. As much as possible in stations, use student names, names of their friends, other teachers, and school staff in problems. They will be more engaged with more brain involvement because the work will be more meaningful.
     The Language
     Before I explain "language," let me emphasize that I am not talking about teaching to the test. I experienced a pivotal moment when a woman named Sue McAdams told me that it is simply unfair to give students a test without preparing them for the language (or vocabulary) they will be tested with. I had never really looked at it that way.  For example, one of our 2nd grade CBA questions is worded like this:

  Which value is the shaded portion of the fractional model closest to?

     If I didn't prepare my students by using that language (value, portion, fractional model) in my daily instruction/quizzes/homework, they would likely be thrown off by the wording of the question even if they understood the concept. If I were teaching to the test, all of my instruction would be based around only what the test will cover. That would be just as unfair to kids as not teaching the language would be. Moving on...

     The Next Step
     At the end of the week, if you want to see what they learned and what they still need help on, you need data. If you were unable to get a class-wide feel for it at the teacher table, create a quiz. It is very important that you continue to use the language, names and interests, and spiraling content. Here is page one of a quiz I've written for next week.

     You'll notice I've used student names, interests, necessary language, and spiraling content while still maintaining a high level of thinking.
     When you grade your quiz, note the questions kids missed the most. I like to have a tally chart to mark each time a question is missed. If you notice a class-wide trend... it's time to reteach! Then be sure to revisit that concept on your next math quiz.
     Use the individual data to target your instruction at the teacher table.  For example, if I had four students miss number 4 on the quiz above, I would call those four back to the teacher table to work on two-step problem solving. As part of that targeted intervention, I create problems using their names and interests.  I am also careful to target their learning and processing styles during instruction. This is so important because you WILL get more engagement from them. They always ask for more!

Morning Math Talk
My student teacher, Mrs. Harris, working on the morning math talk.
     Every morning we write four math problems on the board for students to solve. The problems include content we know students need more work with. This is based on data from quizzes, homework, and teacher table discussion. Morning math can also include current and spiraling content.
     During morning math, students discuss strategies and different ways to solve the problems presented. This way, students get to hear how their peers think through problem solving in different ways.

     Homework can be a valuable tool if it is not overused.  Every other week our grade level team sends home math work. There are four days of homework with six to eight questions a day.  Again, we utilize current content, spiraling content, content that needs to be reinforced, student names and interests, teacher names, and even parent names. Additionally, trying to wrap content around a real-world theme makes it more meaningful and engaging for developing brains.
     For example, we are currently participating in a food drive.  One of the other 2nd grade teachers (Mr. Wandersee) has agreed to shave his head if our pod brings in the most donations. As a result, one page of our homework looks like this:

     On this page of homework, there are 3 current content questions, and 3 spiraling questions centered around a real-world theme students that are currently experiencing. Additionally, both teacher and student names are used, and a high level of thinking is maintained.
     In this next example, I spiraled content around one of our 5th grade math teachers. Mrs. Tipton asked me how we come up with our homework questions. So I highlighted her on a page for fun! Students will be excited to see her included in our homework. In this example, you will see that I opened with a current content question, then spiraled through several past units using real-world applications.  The brain looks for patterns and connections, the connections are obvious here.

     Through the spiraling content in homework, you are also given a peek at things students might be forgetting (although the hope is the spiraling will keep them from forgetting), or still struggling with. This gives you valuable data to drive your teacher table instruction.  

     If you are concerned about the time involved, consider involving the rest of your grade level team. My 2nd grade team is wonderful about sending me questions for the quizzes and homework.  That makes it less labor intensive.

     These techniques give you immediate data to drive meaningful, targeted, brain-based instruction.  Begin with in depth reflection on upcoming content. Weave the students names, interests etc. into morning work, daily instruction, quizzes, and homework. Use your data from your teacher table, quizzes, and homework to meaningfully drive your instruction and intervention. Wrap content around real world situations and themes.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tips for Productive Math Groups

I was at the teacher table, working with a small group. Glancing up, I tensed as I noticed Tommy, Sarah, and Tanisha arguing about who should have the first turn. A game of Rock, Paper, Scissors ensued to solve the disagreement. Congratulating myself on having taught such a valuable problem solving skill (*cough*), I refocused on my group. A few moments later, Tommy appeared at my table. He tearfully explained that he had been winning the Rock, Paper, Scissors best-of-three round, when Sarah changed the rules to "next-one-wins." I quickly UN-congratulated myself for not seeing that one coming, (sneaky little Sarah!) and then spent the next few minutes dealing with the Rock-Paper-Scissors conundrum. Due to the crisis, Tommy's group lost a good 8 minutes of work time. My teacher table group lost about 4 minutes of valuable intervention work.

Sound familiar? Maybe you have these students in your class too. You may also have: excuse makers, wanderers, socialites, the bosses (Sarah), the I'm-too-good-to-work-with-him/her, the argument makers, the wallflowers (Tanisha), the criers (Tommy), and the refuse-to-work with anyone else students. Hopefully you've also got the all important: always-on-taskers, the peacemakers, the little teachers, and the rule-followers. With such a range of personalities, how can you make math stations productive?

What Do We Want?
Before looking at HOW to make productive stations, we need to define WHAT we want. First, how will our students be held accountable? As teachers, we need proof that our students were actually doing their work rather than visiting (or arguing) while we were engaged at the teacher table. Next, how do we ensure that all children participate? We don't want our rule-followers and little teachers doing all the work while our wanderers and socialites do their own thing. Finally, we need to know that students are practicing how to get the correct answers. That was my biggest fear; I was afraid students were practicing and reinforcing incorrect procedures. Once those pathways in the brain are reinforced, it can be difficult to undo! Let's look at solutions now.

How do we know students are doing their work? I have tried station answer sheets and weekly station rubrics which were glued into their math journals. However, students often forgot to glue them in and/or fill them out (2nd graders). I want their grades to reflect their math ability rather than their gluing ability! Additionally, the students' station rubrics ended up taking valuable time, and both solutions wasted paper. I finally decided on what now seems such an obvious answer...have them write the answers directly in their journals (*facepalm* Why didn't I think of THAT first?). Students title the page with the station name and write the answers underneath. If the station is unfinished, then they can go back to the page to complete it next time they are at the station.

Wouldn't it be nice if they were all able to take turns? If they could support, listen to, and coach each other with ease? Pipe dream? Nope... Kagan structure! Our district has been training us in Kagan structures, and I have to say I am sold. It compliments the valuable research and strategies I learned in the BrainSMART graduate program.

Update: I've updated the structure listed on this post after a discussion with a Kagan representative.  I discovered there is an even better structure for math stations, with more involvement! 

The structure we now use for our groups is called RallyCoach (Kagan, 2009). Students work in pairs. First, partner A solves, while partner B coaches. (Students need to be instructed that coaching means helping and guiding, not giving answers.) Once the problem is solved, partner B will give partner A praise and then the roles switch.  Now partner B will solve, and partner A will coach. Each student is getting a turn to solve and coach.

I have mentioned on this blog before what a powerful tool peer-coaching is. Students who teach each other will retain far more than students who work alone. The RallyCoach (Kagan, 2009) structure has this powerful brain-based component built in.

For more information about Kagan please visit the website

Correct Answers
Now that we have the accountability and the participation pieces in place, we need to make sure the kids are practicing the correct procedures. I try to have an answer key at each station. Therefore, the “answer checker” is able to be sure of his or her response if a challenge is issued.

Another, more fun way, is to use QR codes. After student 2 works out the answer, student 3 can use an itouch or ipad to check the corresponding answer embedded in the QR code. The app store has tons of free qr code readers. I like the one called Scan. Students love to check their answers with technology, so you’ve got instant engagement! Best of all, you can easily make your own qr codes.

Creating QR Codes
QR codes are embarrassingly easy to create! Simply google “Create QR Code” and you’ll have lots of possibilities. I usually use the website Type in the information you want to appear when the code is scanned, click on the “create qr code” button, and the free website will create the code for you. All you have to do is copy and paste the code into your document! (There are also iphone/ipod apps you can use.) Here is an example of station task cards I created:

You can download this taskcard set free in my TPT store Number Sentence Task Cards for a closer look. 
Now I am comfortable at the teacher table because I know my kids are LEARNING! They are problem solving and determining the best way to get the correct answer.

Are my stations perfect now? No.  However, things have dramatically improved! Now I know my kids are all engaged, I have proof of their work, and I know they are practicing correct procedures. Plus, I won't have to deal with the whole Rock, Paper, Scissors issue because the student with the lowest class number always goes first! What procedures do you use in your classroom?

Kagan, Spencer & Kagan, Miguel. (2009). Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.