Sunday, April 24, 2016

Task cards for "big kid" interventions!

If you are like me, you are frequently frustrated with the options for interventions for struggling readers in the intermediate grades.  No matter how low a student is, a 10 year old doesn't really want to read "Henry and Mudge" or "Billy's New Shoes"--not when their friends are reading and understanding Percy Jackson and Diary of a Wimpy Kid!

That being said, we know that students need "just right" instruction and just right books to read.  There ARE some great series starting to appear on the market that look like more "grown up" books with high interest topics yet at accessible reading levels.  The "Branches" books seem to really be getting this concept, and I am about to invest some money in more of them to appeal to those struggling readers who are several grade levels behind!  (I included a few links at the bottom of this post if you haven't seen these books)

What about those "gray area students--the ones who might slip through the cracks?

For those students who are CLOSE to grade level, I try to find short interventions that don't take away from their independent reading time but give me some one-on-one time working on critical reading skills like fluency, context clues, and inferential thinking.  After getting tired of scrambling for short and appropriate texts, last year I made some task cards with short text selections that were PERFECT for these 5-6 minute daily meetings.  It kept ME organized (no scrambling for resources), they were high interest for my students, they didn't interrupt their regular reading, I could get through 5-6 students daily, AND I saw the carry over into their regular reading. 

I was sold!

I started with a few groups early this year but in recent weeks, a few more students have "graduated" from their more intense interventions with a specialist and now are in my room daily with no support. I wanted to make sure they weren't left totally on their own during reader's workshop right away, so I wanted to meet with them daily to do some fluency and inferring work--at a more fourth grade level.  
I love this set of cards because there are so many teaching points on each one--and they are only a few sentences long!  We can work on our fluency--because the cards are designed to have a variety of "clues" that impact fluency--dialogue, bold words, words in all capitals, as well as a variety of punctuation hints (commas in a series, and so on).  There are so many talking points with students--and they can read and reread these short cards really quickly to practice each new concept.

In addition to the fluency work, the cards are written in such a way that students need to imagine the situation--and talk about what might have happened before and what might happen after.  This ability to infer enough to place a situation--as well as to infer about character feelings and actions is so critical as students move into more complicated texts.  After working with these cards, it's great to dig into their independent reading books and then find similar situations where we can ask the students to make inferences about characters, settings, and events.

To keep my life easy, I simply keep a recording sheet for each student--and in that short 5-6 minutes, we usually tackle two cards and I jot my notes--words they might have missed, teaching points they struggled with, or other notes I want to remember.  It keeps it all in one place and helps me know what cards we have done and how they are progressing.
So...consider seeking out some really short texts to try some of these strategies--reading for fluency for "big kids"--looking for those trickier punctuation and comprehension clues as well as considering different inferring skills.  Whether you pull small selections out of your read aloud, use poems, write them yourself, or want to try these cards--these little frequent "mini interventions" have been REALLY effective for my students.  Give it a try!
Want to read another post about a "context clues" intervention group I did earlier this year?  Just click here to check it out!

Like I said in this older post, ideally, these students would get endless one-on-one attention, but the reality is that there is only one of me.  These students are also the same ones who struggle with their independent reading--so not much reading gets accomplished.  Pairing their 30 minutes of independent reading with this assortment of 5-10 minute mini-interventions from me is a nice blend of reading experiences.  Students are learning to read--and they are feeling like they are developing into "real" readers.

Here are a few of the task card sets I have used with success in my class.  I'm open to suggestions for my next set! 

Interested in looking at those Branches books?  Here are a few--but there are lots more!

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

3 Formative Assessment Tips: Coaching Misconceptions in Math

One thing I know to be true...

Most struggling students do not do their best learning during large group instruction.  Sometimes, even small group instruction isn't enough.  Some students just need coaching--pure and simple.  

Of course, we can't do one on one instruction for 25 students every day.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.  But we can work to get better and grabbing these precious moments with students whenever we can.  Knowing how to "spend" your intervention minutes is an integral part of what we do.

One way I make sure to touch base with students who need it is to use entrance slips OFTEN.  I use entrance slips several times per week to do any of the following:

1.  See how students are doing on a topic we are working on

2.  See how students have retained a topic we did days/weeks/months ago

3.  See how much students already know about a topic we are about to cover.

Sometimes these slips are purely computation based like those shown above.  We are currently working on partial quotients division, so nearly every day I do an entrance slip to see how my students are doing.  Sometimes the slips are more open ended or problem-based.  It all depends on what information I am trying to collect.

What is most important to me is the next step...I quickly sort their slips and "see what I can see".  I do this AS the students are turning them in whenever possible because I want to be ready to address misconceptions in any spare time I have.  These slips aren't meant to be taken as a "grade" (although often I record them because I can't remember ANYTHING these days), but are meant to guide my instruction.  After all, what "grade" do you give a child who gets one out of three division problems wrong?  What if it was a simple fact error?  What if they got all three wrong and it was simply because they didn't include the remainder?

So what I do is simple...after sorting the slips into groups based on levels of  success, I have one of three options:

1.  Do I really need to reteach the entire class?

2.  Do I have a group that has similar needs--not necessarily the same number wrong--but are making the same mistake(s)?

3.  Do I have some individual needs that are best met in a one-on-one conference?

By asking these three questions, you can make decisions on the fly as to how to spend your precious minutes!  Yesterday I did the entrance slip pictured below.  We are on about day 4 of "partial quotients" and we've been doing a LOT of collaborative work.  It was time to start honing in on who was getting it and who was not.  Today, learned that . . .

1.  I did NOT need to back up and reteach the entire class.

2.  I did NOT have a small group that needed reteaching.

3.  I DID have 5 students I wanted to confer with about some misconceptions or "technique" issues they were having.  One student was really not understanding the method at all--so I knew we needed to back way up and get some manipulatives to model the process.  Two students needed me to talk with them about how they were organizing their work because their lack of organization was leading to precision errors.  One student needed me to help them better understand remainders.  Finally, one student needed to find his own mistakes...he is a "rusher" who knows EXACTLY what to do--but tends to rush and make silly mistakes.  He was easily able to find his mistakes.

So my "food for thought" for the weekend is--how often are you using formative assessment?  What are you doing with the information?  If you are interested in some ready-made formative assessments, I have many in my store.  The slips shown above are found HERE

I also have them for area and perimeter and addition and subtraction with more on the way!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Math Talk, Open Ended Problems--and Thinking Backwards!

As you know if you have followed me for any length of time, I love to have my students work collaboratively on "challenging" tasks...and because it is testing season in my room, I like to give my students as much interaction with each other in our non-testing hours as possible!

You may have seen (or even tried) some of my "Thinker Task" they involved a real-life scenario where students work alone or collaboratively to find a solution, organize their work, explain their thinking...blah blah blah.

I was getting ready to introduce one of them to my class when I accidentally turned on my document camera with my stack of  papers under it.

My students went nuts.  

"Do we get to plan a menu?"
"How many movies can they see?"
"How much money can we spend?"

(Remember, they haven't seen the scenario yet!)

A little light bulb went on in my very tired brain, so I told them that THEY had to write the questions!   They seemed less than impressed with this idea...but I sent them to get their notebooks and asked them to try writing some questions using this real world data.  Some did a decent jobs...others struggled with how to get started.   I love the idea of this "backward thinking"--making THEM think of the math.  I've done it quite a bit in the past...check out THIS POST and THIS POST for some more examples.  This is TOTALLY something easy you can do any time you see numbers in the real world!

After a few minutes, I brought them back up to the front and we studied our "Math by the Numbers" sheet a little more closely.  We talked about the different types of numbers found on the page.  We talked about the types of QUESTIONS we could ask ("how many more..." problems, multiplication problems, comparing problems, elapsed time problems) and I heard a lot more "ohhhhhh" murmurs.  So many had started with rather simplistic questions like:

"How much would 2 small pizzas cost?"

and started coming up with questions like:

"If I had to be my friend's house by 6 pm and it is now noon, which movies do I have time to see?" and other more outside the box ways to look at this information.  I saw questions that had more than one answer begin to appear like, "What are all the different ways I could spend $20 at the restaurant?" and then I knew we were ready to tackle the ACTUAL task that I had created!  Students did ask if they could keep writing their own questions and solving them ( want to do extra math?  SURE!)

Getting better!

So...the next day I gave the students the actual scenario to work on and asked them to work in teams of 2 or 3 to dig in and start TALKING about what some of the possible ways to tackle it would be.  Because we had already studied the data sheet, they had some great background and this process went quite smoothly.  I didn't want them to start just solving the problem without thought--so I made them take some time to think.  The scenario asks them to make a bunch of decision--and eventually come up with both a budget AND a time plan for the time frame of the sleepover.  Students had to decide if the brother and sister and their friends would do everything together or separately--and how they would allocate their time and money.  OH the discussions and negotiations I heard!  After some planning, they got to work in their notebooks.
...and although they aren't finished with the first part (this will go on for the next week or so for my fast finishers), they are well on their way to planning a superb sleepover!
I dare you to give it a try--snap a photo at the grocery store or bring in ads from the newspaper--ask students to think backwards and write their OWN problem and see how it deepens their understanding!  In a nutshell...make your STUDENTS work hard than you do!

The resource used in this post is listed here, as is the bundle that includes 7 of these tasks.

This bundle currently has SEVEN Thinker Tasks to use!

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Benefits of Spiraling Math Instruction..and a few tips on how to do it!

One thing that always bothered me with many math textbooks and curriculum maps was the idea that math instruction is best done in "blocks"--3 weeks of geometry.  2 weeks of addition.  4 weeks of fractions.  You know as well as I do that students need far more repetitions of math concepts that this arrangement allows.  That being said--I have no problem with intense units on different math concepts.  Heck, my fraction unit is pretty involved and intense!

That being said, I make sure I deliberately plan to keep weaving other concepts into my instruction no matter how involved we are with our current units.  The simple truth is, if we don't continue to review and reinforce and reteach skills, our students simply don't solidify those synapses to make that learning permanent. can we work this into an already packed math class?

I have a few ideas for you!

1.  Math warm ups

Whether you throw a problem under a document camera or print problems off for students to glue into their math notebooks, warming up with problems from previous units is a great way to keep them fresh.  Not only does it help students understand that topics aren't learned and forgotten (think weekly spelling lists!), but it can really help us as teachers see who is continuing to struggle.  In fact, I often will throw an "entrance slip" in as a warm up--and it's rarely on the content we are currently studying (unless I am trying to judge how instruction is going) but is often revisiting a skill from a previous unit to see if it "stuck"--and who might need more review.

2.  Practice activities during math workshop

If you teach in a "math workshop" or guided math format, students' independent work time is a great way to spiral past instruction.  Whether you have some review sheets that you didn't get to, workbook pages you skipped for whatever reason, games or other activities related to past units, or other practice activities--providing students with opportunities to use those skills on a regular basis is so important.  I often have students work in partners to do this kind of work to serve as a sort of  "checks and balances"...they can refresh each other's memory along the way.  I love to use resources like THIS and THIS that are a little more open ended so all students have the chance to practice skills at a "just right" level.

3.  Intervention groups

As I move from topic to topic, I keep a list of students who need continued work.  I don't know about you, but I feel there is a constant battle in my mind of "Should I move on because MOST students get it?" or "Do I need to spend another few days on this concept?"  Know what I mean?  The best solution I have found is to be constantly on top of which students are the "getters" and which are the "needers"--and I move on with the class and focus the "needers" in small group work.  After all, if they aren't getting it with whole class instruction, another few days of it probably won't help either--they need more targeted help.  I use formative assessment resources for this constantly so I always know where my students stand.  Here is an example of how I keep track of this...
This is from my Area/Perimeter Formative Assessment Toolbox...
4.  Games!

If you have followed me at all you know that I am a firm believer in using games as a way to review skills.  I have games in circulation at all times that help reinforce a variety of skills...and I work very hard to help students recognize the different value of playing games and how to choose the best games to build fluency and accuracy. Check out THIS POST for more details! I was doing my planning over the last month or so and wanted to do some really focused review work.  State testing was coming up and I wanted to at least give a cursory glance to a few topics we hadn't studied in a while.  As I started creating some task cards to use during math workshop, an idea came to me.   What if I created cards that addressed ALL the fourth grade standards?  What if the first set was at a more basic level (like to help transition from 3rd grade), and each set got progressively  more rigorous?  I could use them all year to build in this spiral review--and it would be a TOTALLY flexible resource that I could use for any of the above purposes--I could use them under the projector (or photocopy some) to use as warm ups.  I could use them in stations.  I could use them with partners.  I started working on them--and this resource was born!  Right now I have the first three sets made...and if it looks like they will be helpful for others, I will keep going!

So often task cards are based on skill--which is GREAT if you are in the middle of an in-depth unit...but I wanted MIXED cards to deal with everything from place value to fractions to computation to geometry.
 I also didn't just want "fill in the blank" work...I wanted students to have to explain their thinking at times...write equations at time...find rules...critique reasoning...look for patterns...I needed cards that addressed the math standards at a deeper level.
 I also wanted to make sure that I had plenty of rigor--but also a way to push those students who could handle it, even on the easier first sets.
And I wanted a chance for students to practice some of those all-important standards for mathematical practice...explaining thinking, using proper labels, working precisely, and so on.  I wanted to be able to print them in color and black and white (this set is printed in black and white on orange cardstock).  Each color set has a different background color to keep them organized.

So...these have been working great for my class and hope you find them an easy way to keep the spiral going in YOUR room.  Whether you try them for warm ups, math stations, or with intervention students, I am just happy to have them all ready to use!  I'd love to know what you think...and your thoughts about proceeding with the next three sets!  Interested in checking them out?  Just click below to see them!  I have the first three sets finished and figured I'd bundle three at a time for those interested in digging in!

Also...congratulations to Holly M and Heidi S for winning the two $25 Teachers Pay Teachers gift certificates in my giveaway!  Check your mailboxes, ladies!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spring Things Sale and Giveaway!

It's been a long winter here in the to celebrate the change of seasons (despite our 8 inches of snow on Thursday!), I am doing a couple of things to celebrate.

First of store is on sale Saturday and Sunday...for those of you returning to school next week, this would be a great time to stock up on some resources to boost your teaching now that we are in the home stretch!  For those of you on break, enjoy your time off!

Secondly, I haven't done a giveaway in FOREVER so I thought that would be fun too!  I'm giving away TWO TpT gift certificates...and then five other readers will win a product of their choosing from my store (up to $15).  I figure it's more fun to have 7 people win than one person win a huge prize, right?

Another reason I wanted to do this giveaway is to encourage a few more of you to join me on Periscope!  For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Periscope is an off-shoot of Twitter which allows people to stream video and interact with followers.  What this means for ME is that I can share more of my ideas with "video blogging"--where I can explain and show things more clearly than I could maybe do just in "print".  As nervous as I was to have my face and voice out there...I'm starting to get used to it!  I've seen a lot of "fluff" on Periscope so it is my hope to do my part to making it a great way to access quick, easy professional development--and a way to let you interact with me as well!  I'm hoping to get better and better at it...and I'd love for you to join me.

So...what do you have to do?  Not much!  There are a few ways to enter...none are required but the more you do, the better your chances.  If you already ARE a follower in these different ways, just leave me your follower name.  If you want to win one of the five resources from my store, don't forget to leave a comment with the link!  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Elapsed Time,Solving Problems, and Addressing Misconceptions

As we move into the upper grades, we sometimes make some assumptions about some of those "basic skills" such as time, money, and basic computation.  It is super important that we consistently put students in positions to apply these skills in new, more complex ways so we can keep our eye out for deficit areas and misconceptions.

So...I wanted to bring out some money and time problems to see how my students tackled them (we are NOT in the middle of a unit related to this...I really like to "spiral" my content).  I  use this as a perfect opportunity to reinforce quality work, accuracy and precision, and organization. 
 ....and then I see this.
So...not only do we have an elapsed time problem, we have a subtraction problem too!
 So it because pretty clear that we needed to reconvene and do some troubleshooting.  (Ignore the hideous handwriting...this is just "real world math class"--no frills and pretty fonts!)

I brought the students together to have a little chat about different strategies--and estimating as well!  Students need to be able to carefully read problems and have some idea about what the answer will be before they solve this case, if a plane is leaving at 6:35 AM and arriving LESS THAN TWO HOURS later, they should be thinking about what they know about this information...2 hours is 120 minutes, so a reasonable answer would be less than 120 minutes.

We worked as a class to find different ways to solve this problem...from finding easy numbers (in this case, "whole" hours)...
We modeled it with numbers...

And with an open number line in different ways...

 And then we went back to this algorithm..  At this point, I wanted students to be able to explain in clear math language WHY this algorithm doesn't work--at least not by trading "tens"!  We had a great chat about how hours are really "sixties" trading an HOUR gets you 60 minutes, not a "1" in the next place.  It was quite an epiphany for some students--but I hope the strategies we did first help secure some other strategies to help solve this type of elapsed time problem.
 So...pull out some problems unrelated to your current topic (It's a lot easier to solve fraction problems when you are working on fractions...the real test of learning is being able to solve them at other times!).

Where did these problems come from?  I keep problems like this at the ready in a tub...all printed, cut, paper clipped, and ready to use whenever I want! These are sets that have problems in a huge range of topics...the top resource is what I use the second half of the year and the bottom set is what I use earlier in the year (and for intervention groups later).  See what you think!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Close Reading: What is it really?

So...I have read a lot of professional books over the years.  A lot.  I am always happy when the information I read supports my beliefs about best practice or reinforces what I do in my classroom.  Even better is when I find a new nugget of information that I can take and try for myself.  

When a book changes me as a teacher, it's something I just have to share.  Nancy Boyle's book "Closer Reading. Grades 3-6" did that for me. It forced me to think about what I believed to be true about reading instruction--and to reassess my own practices.  It's easy to look for "quick fixes" and "programs" to try to reach our students.  I get it.  We're swamped.  We're overworked.  We don't have time.  Nancy does an amazing job of making quality reading instruction ACCESSIBLE to us--and she is realistic about what it looks like.  Reading is authentic--and "close reading"needs to be authentic as well.  I reached out to Nancy a while back and asked if she would be willing to share her ideas with my readers because I think her ideas are so important, and she graciously agreed.  What follows is her guest post...and I think you'll agree that her ideas are spot on.  Enjoy!


When close reading gained prominence a few years ago I was frankly a little insulted that as a professional developer in the area of literacy, anyone could think that the instructional strategies I shared with teachers did not help students to read “closely.” Then I learned more about close reading and saw that it truly did push teachers and students to a whole new level of rigor. Over time I’ve also learned that there are a few principles and practices that when applied well, will make teaching the process of close reading doable for teachers and the outcomes of close reading meaningful for students.

First, close reading needs to be authentic. To me this means that it should fit organically into our curriculum with texts we are already reading with students, or other sources that can enhance our units of study. Yes, the complexity of a text is important because it gives us more opportunities to think deeply about its content and craft. But a factor equally important that we sometimes overlook in our instructional planning is coherence: how things fit together. I believe that the goal of close reading is not just to teach the skills involved in reading closely, but to help students acquire robust bodies of knowledge and insights into issues capable of transforming their thinking. For this reason, my go-to sources for close reading are often high quality picture books both literary and informational, classic poetry, short stories such as fables and myths, and articles. I also like to add video clips, photographs, and illustrations when applicable. I do not put random close reading worksheets and lists of follow-up questions in front of kids because I think these miss the mark in their authenticity, the depth of thinking they inspire, and the connections students can make between their reading and their world.

Which bring me to my next critical close reading component: the questions we ask students—or the ones they ask themselves. Close reading is not simply getting the evidence from a text. When you think about it, that’s a fairly low level of understanding. Close reading should help students dig deeper—into both content and craft. Questions we could ask that empower students’ reasoning might be: What evidence in this [article] is most relevant to the author’s claim? Why do you think the author included this paragraph? What detail on this page do you think is the most important? How is the problem related to the setting? Of course there are many other questions we could also ask as well. Here are a couple of guidelines to keep in mind as you ask questions.

For the purpose of close reading, questions such as those above are better served through oral discussion during reading rather than written response after reading. Of course students will eventually need to respond in writing to questions about their reading. But that is testing, not teaching. For more impactful teaching of close reading, ask these questions as you proceed through a text, pausing at strategic points, and then engaging students in conversation. Even better, in pursuit of close, independent reading, provide students with these four “good reader” questions which allow them to lead the learning each time you pause:

·         What is the author telling me? (This assures they are monitoring the text’s literal meaning.)

·         Are there any hard or important words? (This alerts them to key vocabulary that may be problematic or significant.)

·         What does the author want me to understand? (This highlights inferential thinking, what the author is showing, but not telling.)

·         How does the author play with language to add to meaning? (This addresses elements of the author’s craft like similes and metaphors.)

(These questions are provided in “poster” and “bookmark” format in my book Closer Reading, Grades 3-6 published by Corwin, 2014.)

What I’ve discovered over these past few years is that students thrive with close reading when it is implemented thoughtfully. For me in the intermediate grades, this means teaching a well-designed close reading lesson once a week for about 30 minutes with text-dependent questions I devise or the four “good reader” questions noted above. Teachers using a core program with questions already embedded could add a few “reasoning” and “text connection” questions to push for deeper thinking. All teachers could incorporate close reading into their social studies and science curriculum where insights into issues and problems are particularly needed.

I’ve found that students really enjoy close reading because they feel oh-so-smart when they find meaning in a text that they would not have recognized without reading closely. Even struggling readers do well with close reading because the approach is systematic and thorough. Close reading is explicit teaching at its best. It’s no wonder that the research has found that it’s the close reading of complex text that leads to college and career readiness.


Want to see more from Nancy Boyles?  Here are the links to some of her wonderful resources--and I hope your find them as inspiring as I do!  



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