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Monday, March 27, 2017

Clear Expectations: Teaching Well

Last spring, at this time, I felt that some parents were unsure about the Middle School transition process particularly to do with math placement. There's all kinds of attitudes and research related to math grouping, but the reality is that our system does group students by ability in sixth grade and it's part of the fifth grade teacher's job to recommend which group is best. We make these recommendations based on a very tight point system that includes many data points, observations, and other information.

Because some parents were confused last spring, I decided to share all of the grouping information upfront at the start of the school year this year so parents would not be surprised. That seemed to have worked. Now, this spring, I realize that there are a few other areas of the math curriculum that I can make more explicit as well in order to help parents and colleagues support students well. As I think about this, I am thinking of the expectations that the system and I have for our fifth grade math students:

Math Facts
Expectation: Ability to complete 50 facts in three or less minutes for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, add/subtract, multiply/divide, add/subtract/multiply/divide, simple algebraic expressions
Practice: Test at start of year, and develop personalized practice programs for individuals still working to obtain this goal. 

It is an expectation of the system that every student is facile with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division math facts. Facile means that most students can complete 50 facts in three minutes or 100 facts in 5 minutes or less. After research, I believe this is a reasonable expectation, and most students at the grade level can do this. Next year I want to make this goal a part of our first weeks of school as we develop understanding of algebraic thinking, review multiples/factors, and learn about coordinate grids.

Symphony Math
Expectation: Complete Level 26, Fifth Grade
Practice: About 3-15 minute periods a week plus some immersion times too

It is the expectation of our system that students will complete the fifth grade Symphony Math online exercises. Symphony Math has been evolving since we started using it many years ago, and I find it to be a good match for math learning and teaching. In general, we want to foster a regular pattern of Symphony Math practice, however, sometimes devoting substantial time to immersion and heavy practice results in greater success with regard to teaching and learning. I will, for the most part, make this a regular part of the curriculum beginning at the start of the year, and then adding some immersion days/weeks towards test time to help every child complete the task.

Khan Academy
Expectation: Complete Fifth Grade Mission
Practice: Both at-home and in-school practice that corresponds with students' individual goals

Khan Academy is a perfect learning/practice site for the fifth grade standards. Khan Academy reviews each standard with exercises that helps a child to see each standard in a number of ways using words, numbers, and images. For students to use Khan Academy well, it takes some immersion time too--time when teachers are available to answer questions and teach students how to learn online. It's also helpful to set goals with regard to time/mission goals to encourage students' online practice. The more students get used to using Khan Academy, the better support it is. The expectation for fifth grade is to finish the fifth grade mission. For some students it's best to begin with early math practice or practice with earlier grade missions. Levels and personalized goals should be determined early in the year with students and families.

Expectation: Complete each TenMarks grade-level unit exercises in correspondence with similar classroom work/goals. Take the unit tests prior to the paper/pencil unit tests
Practice: Regular in-class and at-home study. 

Our system also uses TenMarks. It is a language-heavy program, but also a program that helps student learn the fifth grade standards. If our system continues to use TenMarks, the expectation will be that every child completes the TenMarks section and assessment that corresponds with the classroom teaching/learning goals.

That Quiz
Expectation: Students will complete discrete That Quiz tests that allow students to test their skill knowledge now and then
Practice: Used as needed for quick student/teacher-assessment of discrete skills

This is an ideal site used to test students' discrete skills. Students can easily self monitor their learning and needs with these exercises.

Standards Scope and Sequence
Expectation: Students will participate in each unit of study including the unit assessment
Practice: The program follows the Scope and Sequence of Units so that all students learn all standards.

This is a system-wide program that is outlined on a grade level document. Each unit is taught with multiple activities and exercises.

Home Study
Expectation: Students are expected to complete home study assignments, if that's difficult teachers and parents will create modified assignments for the child.
Practice: Students are expected to practice math skill for twenty minutes each school night.

Assignments are typically passed out on Monday and due the next Monday. This is so that families can support students math practice in conjunction with students' many other activities and commitments. Home study assignments are listed on an online document that usually contains the link to the assignment page or site.

Struggling Students
Expectation: Some students come to the grade level well behind the grade level expectations. In cases like this the teacher team will work together to craft a program to support these children's efforts to strengthen their math foundation in positive ways.
Practice: A thoughtful, carefully crafted program taught by a number of educators.

Mindset and Work Habits
Expectation: Every child will learn why it's important to embrace a growth mindset as well as the many positive strategies that support positive math learning/teaching.
Practice: Learning to learn, cognition (brain-science), SEL and growth mindset lessons will become a regular part of math lessons to foster students' ability to maximize their learning potential.