Recently I was asked about an article that I had shared awhile back so I am sharing it again. The focus is around the things we can do in our classrooms to help our students be more successful in regards to mathematics.
The ultimate goal of mathematics is to produce students who can think mathematically and solve
If that is truly the ultimate goal, we have to teach as though we believe it. We have to maximize every
opportunity for students to think deeply, to create their own solutions, to build/write/draw/talk about their thinking! Students learn important mathematical concepts THROUGH problem solving. This is a mind shift away from the idea that we teach math concepts procedurally first and only then can they do problem solving.
Quotes from Principles to Action: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, NCTM (2014)
Here are some different ways we can change our practices to be more effective.
We think we are being helpful, but are we handicapping them for later?
We used to help students identify words like “altogether” and “in all” in story problems and we said these meant to do a particular operation. I clearly remember posting lists of these words under various operations. My intentions were good and I had seen it done by others. Now, I know there is strong evidence that this practice may actually hinder students’ comprehension of the story! Why?
1. Now we know that when the emphasis is on the “key words” themselves, students tend to find the numbers and just do the operation without thinking about the overall story in the problem.
2. These words can be present in a story problem but not necessarily indicate a particular operation. For example,consider what operation you would use to solve the following problems that contain the word “altogether”:
3. Standardized tests often make a point to avoid these key phrases. When students become dependent on finding the key words and doing that operation, they no longer have a strategy for solving problems when the words aren’t there.
Even at the earliest grades, our focus needs to be on comprehension of the story and true problem solving. It is with good intention that we offer up tricks or shortcuts, but in the long run, these tend to expire and negatively impact student learning.
At every grade level we want to be sure that we are presenting students with practices that create a problem solving environment because that is where true learning and enduring understandings are taking place.
This post brought to you by Carol Lucido, the K-8 District Math Coordinator
How many times has a student pushed your buttons or tried to get into a power struggle with you? Low breathing and smiling keeps a teacher’s body and heart rate calm, which in turn keeps the students calm and prevents verbal challenges. So, do you want to build even better relationships with your students with an even greater focus on content?
It is essential, that as teachers, we give students fair and consistent boundaries, while at the same time, maintaining and preserving relationships. A majority of our students are motivated to learn and behave when we operate from a base of INFLUENCE instead of POWER.
In our work as ENVoY coaches, we have seen teachers consistently use Educational Non-Verbal Yardsticks (ENVoY) GEMS to build more meaningful relationships with all students, focus even more on content, and increase student independence.
Some may think using ENVoY means misbehavior is ignored but that is not the case. ENVoY is not void of discipline. It is more importantly, a set of solid culturally responsive routines used to influence students to increase their on-task independence. When discipline is needed, staff should utilize their building-wide processes and procedures.
According to ENVoY’s author, Michael Grinder, adults who systematically utilize the full range of nonverbal management skills reinforce consistent and fair parameters with all students, regardless of unique learning styles or cultural backgrounds.
Think of it like this: If you purposely tried to use words mostly for content and relationships, and used non-verbal signs, gestures, or signals to manage behavior/transitions, how would that impact your classroom? Coaches can help you identify the balance and art of managing behaviors by influence rather than power.
These practices are not only for classrooms, but media centers, hallways, gyms, computer labs, special education rooms, and main offices can also feel the positive impact of ENVoY.
ENVoy strategies- are identified by 4 phases of teaching and include the following GEMS:
Getting Attention: Freeze Body, Above Pause Whisper
Teaching: Raise Your Hand/Speak Out
Transition to Seat Work: Exit Directions, M.I.T.S. (Most Important Twenty Seconds)
Seatwork: Off/Neutral /On, Influence Approach
Below are some ideas and examples of how teachers tailor ENVoY fit their personal teaching style:
Above (said 2 levels above that of the group) Pause (for silence and attention) Whisper (to begin the content)
The value of the routine affords any guest teacher the opportunity to gather students efficiently with their own Above Pause Whisper as well.
Exit Directions (visual list of what students Need, Do, When, How, and Then)
ENVoY recommends routines for students to manage their own learning. After group instruction, teachers go through Exit Directions then allow students a moment to process, ask questions for clarification, then move into work time. The teacher can use the visuals to NONVERBALLY direct students who may need additional help getting started. Exit Directions also ease transitions for students and adults entering the room at various times. They quickly read what the class is working on and are able to begin with minimal direction/distraction.
Silent Select (written names for student selection)
ENVoY recommends silent select for least disturbance when requesting students from classrooms. Support teachers could write students names on whiteboards or have printed lists and smile and stand silently at the door.
Developing ENVoY routines and management strategies help students feel safe and experience structure and expectations that support their learning. Contact an ENVoY Resident Coach to increase your ENVoY capacity!
This post brought to you by Paula Kuisle, Instructional/ENVoY Coach, Elton Hills Elementary
and Angie Ellsworth, Behavior/ENVoY Coach, Pinewood Elementary
Feel free to connect with Paula via her email or Angie via her email
Remember the days you spent hours creating beautiful lesson plans (for imaginary students!) only to be reviewed and assessed by college professors who perhaps have never taught in a k-12 setting? While we may have moved away from writing lesson plans that include the detail necessary to earn passing grades, formal lesson planning may be an exercise worth revisiting.
Examining a traditional lesson plan template forces us to consider who our students are as learners, the learning objective of each lesson, what mastery of that objective will look like, and the materials needed to engage our learners by differentiating for their needs. Your overall instructional plan will also include interventions and extensions for those who fall below or far exceed the learning target.
That’s a lot to plan for, and for some, our pedagogical tool boxes are just full enough to carry us through the instructional phase; however, mindfulness about the desired learning results and evidence of learning should not be overlooked as we plan. Through John Hattie’s extensive research on student achievement published in Visible Learning (2009), we know that there are some educational practices that are more impactful than others. He found, “effective teachers set appropriately challenging goals and then structure situations so that students can reach these goals.” Being mindful about what we want our students to know and be able to do as a result of the learning experience and determining what that learning looks like is what Hattie termed “teacher clarity.” Teacher clarity ranked in the top 10 or over 100 positive influences on student learning that Hattie studied. He further defined teacher clarity as “organization, explanation, examples and guided practice, and assessment of student learning,” which brings us back to the lesson plan.
The process of creating a narrow focus for learning when lesson planning—writing it down and determining what success looks like—is one of the most effective things we can do as teachers. Making the learning visible for our students, offering precise clarity about what they are learning and what it should look like when they have learned it, matters. When we consider that framework, creating meaningful and engaging learning experiences becomes more targeted.
Identifying academic learning targets for each lesson as part of more formalized lesson planning will help us problem solve the “what ifs...” What if students appear bored? What if they struggle so much they give up? What if they get through the learning experience in half the time I had planned? What if they just don’t get it? What if…
What if my lesson plan included:
You might be thinking: “Won’t this take a lot of time to plan? I teach many grade levels or different content within the same grade—I am not sure I have time.” Determining the learning objective and success criteria are often already embedded in curriculum; making a purposeful plan to share them with students in a meaningful way may take time. Most classrooms post daily learning objectives already; taking those visuals a step further to include what success looks like may be the first step you could take to make the learning more visible.
Planning instruction that engages students, increases student voice, includes instructional dialogue, and is differentiated takes time; however, you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Many instructional strategies work well within many different content areas and for various ages and can be used in rotation. See what works for you and your students. Knowing what it looks like when they have met your objective, though, is an important piece of the plan.
This post brought to you by Kari Kolling-Anderson, Instructional Coach, Gibbs Elementary
Feel free to follow Kari on Twitter @KollingAnderson, to call her at 507-328-4122, or to connect with her via email
Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement; Routledge, 2009.
Getting students to talk more seems like a very simple task. Students talk all the time, right?! Sometimes, it’s hard to get them to stop talking! The question is: are students using social language or academic language? Our goal should be to increase academic talk in our classrooms, while encouraging students to continue to develop their social language. Seems easy right? Not always true, as I have discovered in my teaching experiences.
Here is an example of a lesson that I learned a lot from:
Interaction is a key component of SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Promotional). We often say we want students to talk more and teachers to talk less. However, before we can expect students to interact and use academic language, we first need to teach them the procedures and routines to do so. The error I made was I wanted students to use the academic language, but I had not taught them how to do so in the Turn and Talk.
So, here are some eight steps to help you not make the same mistake by instead creating an environment that teaches students how to build the skills needed to interact with one another and to use academic language (Echevarría and Short).
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Teach students how to listen to each other.
If we want students to talk, we need to teach them also how to listen. What does listening to each other look like? Model for students what active listening looks like. Have students practice listening skills using social conversations first (i.e. tell each other about their favorite TV show) and then move into more content-rich conversations.
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Teach students how to respectfully speak to one another.
What types of respectful words or phrases do you hear (I agree with you because…, I don't know that I can agree with you, and here's why...)? Provide sentence frames and model how to use them. Hang them up or write them on the board for students as a reference or to keep in a journal.
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Align the conversation to lesson objectives.
Make sure students know the goal of the lesson. That way they know if their academic conversations are on-topic or on-target. If they are not on-topic, remind them of the target or objective to help get them back on track.
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Pose questions that prompt high-quality discussions.
If you want students to increase their academic language, then make sure questions lend themselves to higher-order thinking skills. Questions should make students think, clarify, predict, or explain. A question such as “Tell your partner one fact about the Gettysburg Address” could be changed to “What do you think the reaction of the crowd was after President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address and why would he have reacted that way?”
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Teach students to ask questions or expand their thinking.
Students often need to be taught how to keep a conversation going. Put question and sentence frames around the room that expand discussions, such as Tell me more about …, Why do you think… I heard you say…, That made me think of …, Do you think that …, or That idea connects to the story by …. These frames allow students to build on each other’s thoughts and create engaging conversations.
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Link oral discussion to reading and writing.
Academic speaking and listening are deeply tied to reading and writing. Student discussions that are linked to text bring forth deeper academic discussions.
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Set reasonable time limits.
Think about how long it will take students to talk to each other. Don’t let a turn and talk that lasts 1-2 minutes turn into 10 minutes. This creates wasted academic time and often leads to off-task behavior.
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Hold students accountable for their talk.
Let students know that you are listening to them. Walk around and listen to what they are saying. Have a clipboard and write down what students say. Them, when the class is brought back together, talk about the great conversations you heard. Provide examples and discuss why these conversations were so powerful. This will motivate students moving forward because they know you are listening and sharing out their examples and ideas.
Consider using all of these eight steps to take your classroom conversations to the next level. I know they certainly helped my students.
If you would like to study these ideas future, consider reading the article "Student Interaction Gone Awry" by Jana Echevarría, and/or watching the Teaching Channel video "Talk Moves in Academic Discussions". Both provide great ideas on how to help students interact.
And, of course, feel free to connect with me directly. I would love to help you increase the academic talk in your classroom.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
During the Back-to-School staff development days, the vast majority of our elementary and secondary math teachers attended a training on the 8 research-based mathematics instructional practices from NCTM. Participants had amazing conversations about how to make math learning more powerful for all of our students. The million dollar question now is… NOW WHAT? How does this impact my classroom?
It can be daunting to make sweeping changes to your instruction all at one time. Don’t let that deter you – just start somewhere. Here are some first steps you might try!
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Get to know your students as math learners
Pose some questions and ask students to discuss, write, or even draw a picture about their answers…
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Establish positive norms for your classroom and revisit them often
Communicate ideas such as those suggested by Jo Boaler in Mathematics Mindsets:
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As you begin to plan lessons, try to enhance the use of the 8 instructional practices.
Even small changes can have a great impact. As one math teacher shared in the August training, “I started by just having kids talk more and explain their thinking…and it made all the difference!”
Here are a some things to consider (again, from Jo Boaler, Mathematics Mindsets):
Finally, don't forget to give yourself and your students time to grow into these new practices!
This post brought to you by Carol Lucido, the K-8 District Math Coordinator
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