Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learning Forward: An "Aha!" Moment

December 6-10 was the annual Learning Forward Conference.  There were many phenomenal speakers throughout the event.  This list included  John Hattie (Visible Learning), Barrington Irving (Flying Classroom), Michael Ungar (Resilience in Action).  Additionally, there were lots of opportunities to collaborate and network at a state and national level. It was amazing.

With that said, each participant of any event has their own personal "Aha!" moments. For me, it was during a break out session with Dr. Tracy Garrett a professor at the Department of Teacher Education at Rider University in New Jersey.  The session title was, "Classroom Management: Dispelling Myths and Mentoring Beginning Teachers." During this session we explored the effects of teacher beliefs on classroom culture and examined the components of classroom management in the format of a sliding scale.   Based on this encounter the following plan for implementing, sharing, and expounding on the ideology of classroom management is now hanging on my wall.

  1. Explore, “Effective Classroom Management: The Essentials,” by Tracy Garrett through the lens of mentoring/leadership.  
  2. Share Dr. Garrett’s scale “The Process of Classroom Management” with colleagues.
Goal:  Develop an understanding of the relationship between organizing the physical design of a room, developing rules & routines, establishing relationships, implementing engaging instruction, and addressing discipline.
Guiding Questions:

  1. What are the personal beliefs of individual educators about classroom management? How do these beliefs affect classroom culture?
  2. How do we develop a balance between caring and order in a classroom environment?  What will the impact of this balance be? How will this impact be measured?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Empowering Little Hands to Write: Informational Text

Whether you are utilizing POW TIDE, Write From the Beginning, Four Square, or a different program to build writing skills, the ultimate goal is to empower little hands to get their thoughts down on paper.

As social beings, we have the ability to fluidly move between conversational topics and everyday niceties.  Speaking and listening are the corner stones of topic development.  Unlike social dialog, classroom conversations are intentionally designed to be learning opportunities.   These experiences are utilized to build stamina.  They  build students' ability to  focus on a topic long enough to get to "the details." For those using POW TIDE this is the "P," pull apart of POW

These conversations need to be quickly snapped up and recorded.  This is where graphic organizers (the "O" organize of POW), Thinking Maps (TM), and other tools come into play.  Students use tools to create landing pads for their ideas. This enables students to develop and manipulate their ideas without loosing their original vision.

Finally, students take that leap of faith and begin to write (the "W" write of POW) down their ideas. With informational text, students have the opportunity to dive into topics that truly interest them.  The signifigance of this transition from personal narrative to relaying information lies in the development of a larger vision. Maturing from a narrow egocentric vision to one where the story line is broader and allows readers and writers to share in common interests.  

 In preparation and participation of a recent TNCore professional development day, there was an opportunity for TN educators to preview student samples and engage in discussion about K-2 student writing.

This first set of student work is from a week long writing project in second grade. Throughout the week, students previewed several informational texts. They chose their favorite as the foundation for their writing task.

After choosing a text, students brainstormed important words that they might need to know or use in their writing. They recorded this information on a Circle Map (TM) .

Students then identified three interesting facts that drew them to this text.

These graphic landing pads were used to help focus and direct their writing.  POW ... It was time to write a rough draft. The focus thus far was on simply getting the words onto paper in a way that cohesively discussed the chosen topic.

After small group conferencing to check for fluidity and focus, students made revisions to the content of their writing.  Grammar conventions were not the initial focus of the project, but were discussed in a final one on one conference; again, corrections were made.

Students built their stamina by staying focused on a chosen topic and in persevering to a finished product. As a reward, students could use "fancy pens" on their final draft. 

In this first grade sample, students read about apples and summarized what they learned using graphic organizers (webs).  Information was then used to create sentences.

Below are kindergarten/first grade samples.

Here students used word wall words to create writing based on informational text. Notice that the word wall words have been highlighted.

Another variation is to "butter" sight words with yellow.

In the following first grade examples, students used pictures as inspiration for their words.

The next set of samples shows the further development of these skills, as second grade students use sight words and pictures to inspire their writing practice.

In conclusion..  "Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.” – Edmund Burke
Writing is that liberating bridge that allows students to take ownership of what they have read and internalize all that they have learned.

Special thanks to the following Tennessee teachers for sharing classroom samples: Deborah Holtzclaw, Kerri Surgenor, Kristin Hale, Christy Nelson,  & Nancy Parker.  You are amazing teachers and I am perpetually learning because of your willingness to share!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Student Samples: Patterns to 100

Below are examples of student work from the Patterns to 100: Skip Counting lesson. Throughout the lesson there was about a three way split (25%/25%/50%) among levels of understanding. A little less than 25% were able to see the patterns, but were really struggling with identifying why the patterns were occurring.  The second 25%+ saw the patterns and were able to relate the patterns to the concepts of numeracy and sequence.  Often this subset seemed to lack the ability to put their thoughts into words.  The final 50% were able to take it a step farther and relate the number patterns to place value.

Student Examples:

After looking at the samples, there was a clear need to have some time for learning dialog. We took a break and came back to the over arching idea of 100 patterns at a later time.  Students viewed a quick Brain Pop Jr. video about patterns to 100 & then shared in think pair & share conversations about what patterns they personally observed on the 100 chart (rug). 

This was followed up with an independent task and small group discussions that utilized Mathematical Practice # 3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.  This was a great opportunity to solidify understanding and address misconceptions.  Discussions included a large amount of peer feedback and accountable talk.  There were quite a few Ah-ha moments as students built schema and participated in bridging dialog.  

Instead of using the text book quick check, this mini lesson utilized a revised quick check/exit slip. Notice that the question is contrived to illicit a more explicit response from students. This was intentional to gain a more definitive overview of their conceptual understanding (2.NBT.A.2 & 2.NBT.A.1).

Quick Check Prompt:  Madison counts 22, 24, 26. Zane says 28, 30, 32.  Which three numbers come next in the pattern?  How do you know?

Student Examples:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Patterns to 100: Skip Counting

Many elementary teachers like to save that all about one hundred book for the 100th day of school. I challenge you to grab your favorite book about one hundred and use it earlier.  This is the perfect "hook" to up the game in your classroom.   Use this resource to spark learning dialog about patterns and place value!

There are so many great books about one hundred it's hard to choose and you could substitute any of them for the following lesson plan...

This lesson will begin with 100th Day Worries by Margary Cuyler.
This lesson was approached with the mind set of universal planning.  For those unfamiliar with this phrase, it's basically planning with the end goal in mind.  

This lesson's goals & Objectives all stemmed from Tennessee State Standards &  NCTM focal points.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.NBT.A.2Count within 1000; skip-count by 5s, 10s, and 100s.
Mentally add 10 or 100 to a given number 100-900, and mentally subtract 10 or 100 from a given number 100-900.
NCTM Focal Points: Use number patters to extend the knowledge of properties of numbers and operations.

What are the desired outcomes of this lesson?  
Two goals were identify .  The goals are both measurable and attainable.  Goal 1 is a foundational skill that provides insight into student understanding. Goal 2 taps into essential understanding. It attempts to build schema between foundational skills and the larger concept of place value. 

1.  Counting and place-value patterns can be seen on a hundred chart.
2.  Digits and place value are relational; this relationship determines the value of any given digit based on the magnitude of the place value.

Brainstorming assessing and advancing questions was the next step.  This was important because it ensured a foot hold on where this particular lesson falls in the trajectory of learning for students.  It allowed for planning of differentiated moves and contributed to the artful movement of facilitation.

Advancing and Assessing Questions:
What are some patterns that you have seen at school, outside, or at home?
·      Explain patterns that you have identified.
·      What is the value of digits in the ones/tens/hundreds place?
·      How does the position of a number affect its value?
·      What number patterns can be identified on the hundreds chart/number line?
·       How can you create number patterns using skip counting/rote counting/hundreds charts?
·      Can you predict how this number pattern will continue?
·      Looking at the number pattern and using the hundreds chart, how can we predict what will come next?
·      How can the pattern be extended?
·      What do the number patterns look like on the hundreds chart (describe)? Why?

Finally I wanted to ensure that I kept my students' interest. I did this by incorporating an iPad app and a book/board game that reinforced the targeted skill. 

Hundred Chart App:
Book/Board Game adapted from Envision resources:

Downloaded this lesson plan and/or the accompanying smart notebook document via Mrs. Dowell's Teaching Resources Wiki or the second grade shared resources wiki.  Grab your favorite all about one hundred book and dive in. Feel free to take this lesson plan and make it your own. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Cheesy Task: Addition with Regrouping

Place Value, Place Value, Place Value!  

I suspect most first and second grade teachers will agree that place value is a significant concept in the development of number sense.  I am more convinced each day of the importance of developing an early understanding of the number ten and how it is used in our place value system.

Traditional sit and get teaching models require that students memorize an algorithm.  While there is a time and place for these algorithms, young students need time to handle and play with numbers.  Beginning with concrete manipulatives and later transferring these concepts into more abstract written format (pictures and numbers).  This time of exploration paves the way for mental math.  

After googling and scouring Smart Exchange looking for a well crafted lesson plan tied to literature.  I quickly discovered a lack of resources.  I  found several slide shows and many textbook examples, but no complete units that hit the mark.  

With all of this in mind, I began to search for quality literature that incorporated place value and regrouping.  My search lead me to The Good Neighbor Series written by Marc Ramsey and illustrated by Susan G. Robinson.    Below you'll find the first installation of Common Core lesson plans and interactive student pages based on The Good Neighbor Series.

This lesson can be down loaded for free by visiting  Tennessee Trending Teacher wikispace on the Second Grade Common Core Lessons page.  There are two versions available Smart Notebook and  powerpoint.   Please note that the powerpoint version does not have the same interactive components as the smart document.  

So here you are…  Store an Award a Cheesy Task: Addition with Regrouping.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Differentiating Instruction: Bridging v/s Building Schema

What an amazing summer here in Tennessee! Lots of warm weather and professional development. Okay, not everyone saw that coming. It is true though!

Thanks to a fabulous group of k-2 teachers, we have had lots of conversation about what constitutes effective differentiation instruction (DI). Differentiation is the artful element of teaching.  How is it implemented? What does it look like? What does it sound like?  We as educators must have a well developed understanding of this crafty piece of our pedagogy.

"...a teacher who is comfortable and skilled with the use of multiple instructional strategies is more likely to reach out effectively to varied students than is the teacher who uses a single approach to teaching and learning. Teachers are particularly limited when the sole or primary instructional strategy is teacher-centered (such as lecture), or drill-and-practice (such as worksheets)."
Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms
by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Susan Demirsky Allan

With that said... my colleagues and I are focusing on math intervention. We have been closely examining what the three tiers of math look like in our k-2 classrooms.  Bridging and Building Schema are two methods of DI that we have been struggling to define in the context of mathematics instruction.   Bridging as a method of differentiation is a new label for our collective group. Building Schema on the other hand is a more comfortable term, because of it's close association with English Language Arts instruction.

Building Schema is the building of relationships among concepts, making connections across experiences. Here, DI is implemented in the form of lessons designed by the teacher to draw attention to relationships across concepts. Students develop understanding of connections among concepts from their experiences through out a given lesson. This is student centered learning.

Bridging (our new term) is explicit intentional instruction or movement by the teacher. The teacher is actually providing a scaffold, a link to a concept. This may occur as a verbal suggestion (ex: reference to prior knowledge, rephrase using simpler examples), or a tool such as a table or graph.   The teacher is intentionally leading students to a conclusion. The art of differentiation is to determine when bridging is beneficial. When utilizing bridging, it is important to think ahead, consider the end goal of the lesson.  Will explicit references give students the leg up that they need to reach the desired conclusions and maintain ownership of the learning? 


When considering Building Schema as a DI method, it is the careful planning of lessons with students as the driving force for making connections  across concepts.   Bridging in this context is an explicit, teacher initiated prompt used to scaffold learning.

What will this look like in a classroom?

All students will have the opportunity to participate in activities designed to Build Schema.  Meaning that,  a lesson is designed with the intention of leading students to the upper level of Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).  Students that enter a task/lesson in the upper ZPD will gravitate towards building relationships across concepts. The teacher's role in this instance is to facilitate, check for understanding, and use advancing questions.  
Bridging will be used when students just aren't quite there. Students that require bridging or explicit guidance are entering a task/lesson in a lower level of the ZPD.  Well designed lessons allow for this, however, students entering the ZPD at a lower level will most likely require scaffolding.  This scaffold may take the form Bridging.  When Bridging, teachers will give students a reference point to get them over the hump and heading toward the main skill/concept of a lesson.      

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Teachable Moment: The Man Who Painted Birds

Teachable moments... those moments when there is a sense of true engagement. There are essential questions being generated not by teachers, but students!

I shared a read aloud with my class titled: The Man Who Painted Birds (Journeys lesson 30, day 1). When low and behold, I looked up and discovered that everyone was not only interested, but eager for more! It was a teachable moment... the last week of school to boot!

The story was a brief biography of John J. Audubon.  It gave a quick description of his early life and a more detailed retelling of his artistic journey.

After exploring the National Audubon Society's web site, the class brain stormed using Thinking Maps.  Students came up with a list of what they knew, wanted to know, and how they would learn it.   Students unanimously decided that they wanted to choose a bird to research. The next step involved narrowing the scope of the research.  What were the most important details to look for?   What was the most efficient way to locate this information?  What skills would be needed to find this information? After much discussion the class had an outline.  I turned their outline into a printable.  As always, the rule for a "worksheet" is less is more. The less I include, the more the students are thinking and taking ownership.

It was time to dive into the nitty gritty...aka the fun part!

The stars must have been aligned, because our classroom had just been equipped the week before with an apple TV.  We checked out a class set of iPads and established listening and speaking guidelines for this media.  The room buzzed as everyone utilized search engines, and exchanged ideas.

At this point, you should be aware that a large number of students were overwhelmed by the shear amount of information available. Much of the text was beyond their ability to comprehend.  This was a great point to stop and discuss exactly what it was we were looking for and techniques for skimming and scanning web pages to find this information.   While this is a very different set of reading/comprehension skills than that of close reading, the idea of searching and retrieving to find text evidence was the same.

After some practice and peer discussion, students were able to navigation pretty efficiently.

Below are a samples of students' products for this lesson.

This was a wonderful way to wrap up the school year.  It's always rewarding when we plan and students explore new ideas, but it's even better when it happens spontaneously.  You just never know when those teachable moments will arise!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Productive Frustration: Implementing Math Learning Tasks

Winding down... While the school year is winding down students seem to be winding up!  With all that anxious energy floating around, we are tackling, wrestling, and basically pummeling Common Core math learning tasks.

Learning tasks are lessons that consist of word problems designed to make students dig deeper.  Tasks provide opportunities to play with numbers.   Students are encouraged to use words, pictures, and equations to explain their thinking.  Often, tasks do not ask for a simple put together or take away answer. Instead, they ask for a variety of solution paths, to compare or explain paths, or to make decisions about whether a given assumption/answer is correct.   

Here are some student examples. I have included a variety of skill levels. 

Lesson Format: 
  • Set Up - Teacher explains the context of the problems and makes tools available. 
  • Private Think Time - Students work independently to create possible solution paths.  Teacher monitors, using advancing, assessing, and guiding questions to correct misconceptions or draw attention to precision (errors).
  • Small Group Discussion - Students work with partners to discuss differences and similarities between solution paths.    Teacher monitors.  
  • Analyze and Share - Everyone engages in discuss that focuses on key mathematical ideas. Models /solutions are explained and critiqued.
Our classroom motto during a learning task is, "Try, try try! It's okay to make a mistake, because we have erasers!" So often, students hold back.  They don't want to make mistakes.  Students have come to expect answers to be given to them. That's just not happening in our class.  This is called productive frustration.  It's not easy, but it is so worth while to creatively work through tasks.  It builds stamina and deepens mathematical understanding. 

Where can fielded, high quality math tasks be found?
There are several places to find good solid tasks.   

  • Illuminations - Lessons for learning is a great place to start. 
  • Tennessee teachers have an abundance of tasks available through
  • K-5 Math Teaching Resources is another excellent site. You'll find tasks, lesson plans, literature connections and much more, all organized by grade level and standard.  There are printable journal tasks/word problems available for purchase. These are formatted to print on 30 per page labels. While a little pricy, they are convenient and good quality problems.   
  • Envision math users will find that most quick checks located at the end of each lesson for K-5 can be tweaked to fit the format of a math task learning lesson.

Keep in mind when planning tasks that they should be open enough to allow for a variety of solution paths.  The goal is to create opportunities to play with numbers and use effective mathematical practices.  Remember it's all about productive frustration!

More student examples from varied skill levels: