April 19, 2014

The 24-7 Classroom

As I move into greater emphasis on the details of teaching, I am reminded of this presentation I created. The themes and actions included hold true for my work with regard to teaching children well.

Developing the Language of Mathematics

A number of years ago during a standardized test, a student approached me with a look of confusion, "What does relationship mean?" he asked.

Required to follow the strict standardized testing guidelines, I was not allowed to answer that question, and just remarked, "Trust yourself, and do your best. I am not allowed to answer that question."  After that, many more students came up to ask, and others showed signs of puzzlement and confusion as they read the question.  Not surprisingly, our grade level did not do well on that question.

Every year there's at least one phrase or word that we miss. I remember many of the words including square and compound word.  As I looked at the new PARCC test examples, I noticed the word "graph" used in place of "write" and I started using the word, but I can imagine that would be a word that would confuse children this year and next before we incorporate it into our math program in a broader way.

Standardized tests have illustrated the confusion students have when it comes to the language of math.  Sometimes your best mathematicians get stuck on a problem simply because they can't understand the language. That is particularly true for our English Language Learners.  Many who come from strong math traditions in their home countries, yet puzzle over multi-step word problems because they don't understand the language.

The recent RETELL class I took introduced me to many ways to integrate language study into mathematics, and I offer this lesson including the seven-step vocabulary method and sentence frames as one way to build students' understanding of fractions.

First, when students enter in the morning, they'll work with the tiered words, sentence frames, and each other to puzzle through the language.  That will warm everyone up.

Next, we'll complete the seven-step method for the tier one words, common math vocabulary that often hinder a child's ability to solve problems correctly.

After that, like-ability partners will complete the first problem, check in with me, then continue to complete and create problems.

In the end, it is my hope, that every child will be better able to understand the language related to fractions and the process of explaining their thinking well.

Note I crafted the assignment with the Standards of Mathematical Practice in mind. I believe the more that we create lessons that incorporate and guide students learning with the SMPs, the stronger our lessons will be. With that in mind, I will look for students ability to do the following:
  1. I will remind students before they work with partners that I will be looking for their precision and perseverance, their stick-to-itness when it comes to discussing the problem together, and looking for ways to solve the problem.  I will be listening for that academic language. 
  2. The problem solving sheet is set up for quantitative and abstract reasoning--it leads students through this process. 
  3. Students will use the sentence frames to construct viable arguments, and they will work with partners to critique the reasoning of others. 
  4. The models in the packet will provide students with appropriate tools
  5. When students check-in with me with problem #1, I'll look for precision.  If the solution is not precise, I'll guide their revision. 
  6. The worksheet provides guided structure for problem solving. 
  7. The worksheet sentence frames guides students' efforts to look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning
  8. I designed this lesson to integrate the Standards of Mathematical Practice. 

Note: Using Google's newly improved "Research Tools" truly simplifies the vocabulary work you can do to prepare for teaching.  In this regard you simply open up a document, create a vocabulary chart,  click "tools," and choose "research." Then you can search for images, definitions, information, etymology and more.  It's an amazing tool that will make your lesson planning more efficient and personalized.  A colleague showed me this tool after attending a recent Google Summit--amazing!

April 18, 2014

Student-to-Student Coaching

I sat on the old, blue couch early in the morning looking over students' recent fraction assessments. About 50% reached mastery, and about 50% needed more teaching.  Hmmm, I thought, how would I move this unit forward so that students remained invested and confident as we progressed?

I remembered a moment a few months ago when Henry coached Sam. They sat at the back table totally engaged. Henry was a great teacher and Sam was an empowered learner. I also remembered Hattie's research that points to the research-based power of student-to-student coaching.  That's it! I thought, I'll have students coach each other.

To create enthusiasm, I started the day telling students a story about how a colleague and I coach each other. I explained that we bring different strengths to each other in honest, caring ways--ways that help both of us learn well. I acknowledged that none of us know it all, and our strength comes from using our strengths to help each other grow.  Then I explained that the recent math test showed that some have mastered the concepts, and others have not so today we'll coach each other forward.

I looked out at the students' eyes to see how they were reacting. There was a bit of trepidation so I knew I had to tread gently with the partnerships.  I started with Henry and James--they were thrilled to work with each other again, a sign of approval that relaxed the others as they waited to hear who their partners were.  Then I matched friends together when possible--that worked.  I also matched a number of students who were at same levels, almost-mastery, together so they could coach each other.

There were no complaints as students settled at tables, on bean bags, and at desks around the room. The academic conversation related to the test questions created a happy chorus around the room. Partners sought my help when they reached a problem that was confusing or difficult, and I coached accordingly. I also took the time to observe students' posture, attention, and relationships as they coached one another.

In the end, one of my most rambunctious students came up to me and said, "Can we do this again!"

Success, I thought--just as Hattie's research in his book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning, demonstrated.

"Yes," we will do this again.

Teach Children Well: Blog's New Focus

I'm tired of my blog's daily ramblings of the ups and downs of teaching today.  I'm also tired of the problem solving around system's issues and potential from the vantage point of the classroom. I'm sure I'll continue to take part in these conversations on chats and elsewhere, but for now, I'm ready to take my blog on a new path. I'm going to call the path "365" and dedicate a year to a regular focus on the strategies and efforts that truly empower the classroom community.

To do this, I'll immerse myself in the study of cognition, neurology, content knowledge, and other factors that impact student learning.  I'll try for posts that reflect this research and effort.  I'd like my posts to take on a story structure too when possible.

In the meantime, when I have time, I'll organize the past posts by getting rid of the posts that represent "old think," ideas I've outgrown, and consolidate the posts related to same topics.  As noted before, I hope to cluster those posts into a book titled, Classroom Choreography: Teaching Children Well. 

The next charge will be the design of lessons and efforts that truly impact learning--lessons built on good research, and lessons that respond to student need. I want to clearly determine the lesson's objectives, and assess well so that I'm well aware of students' growth and needs. I also want to be mindful of the holistic goals of teaching children well as I teach looking for broader and deeper ways to assess that work.  In a sense, I want to go deeper, not broader, as I continue down the path of teaching children well.

A year's focus on this is a right direction now, a good path for me. I look forward to the consult of my PLN in realtime and online with regard to this past as there's so much to learn and discover about teaching children well today, orchestrating optimal environments for learning.