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Interested in some food for thought about self-assessment---and the importance of creating a culture to nurture it!  Come visit over at Upper Elementary Snapshots to learn more!  Click HERE or the image above!  Before you go...

By the way...not sure if you have noticed but I have added a few new products to my store that might help you out next year!  Just click the images below if you are interested...
Another set of task cards perfect for developing student writing skills with quick writes!

So much fun for students--they can finish the narrative and YOU can easily assess!
Sets 1-3 are my best seller--and here is set FOUR finally!
Perfect to help students REALLY understand the standards for mathematical practice and to help them be more reflective.

Want to pin the blog post for later?  Here you go!

productive struggle
If you have followed me for any length of time, you know that I am a huge believer in helping students learn the "behaviors" needed to be successful students and human beings.

Whether this means immersing them in the Standards for Mathematical Practice...coaching them on discourse and accountable talk strategies...or helping develop life skills that will extend far beyond my time with them--I firmly believe that spending instructional minutes explicitly working on these skills will pay off BIG time.

A few years ago I started digging into the work of Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler because I knew what I believed--and wanted to understand the research behind it.  I blogged about Carol Dweck last year...just click the image below if you missed that post about the need to nurture "productive struggle".  There's a short video clip that is super powerful as well.
teaching growth mindset lessons and activities
So over the years, I have started to formalize the work I do in my classroom related to this idea of "productive struggle" and "growth mindset"...and the beauty of teaching intermediate grade students is that they can LEARN about these ideas.  I love to teach students about how their brains work--and the truth about how they learn.  It has become more and more clear to me that I send messages to my students without doing so deliberately...the "hidden" curriculum.

If I insist on silence during work times, it shows I value working independently.
If I give time tests, it shows I value speed in math.
If I use wait time, it shows I value thinking and reflection.
If I teach students to work in groups, it shows I value collaboration.

So you can see, this "hidden" curriculum can be a GOOD thing--or a negative thing and we need to be more mindful of the message we are sending.

For that reason, I try VERY hard to be transparent with students.  I try to explain WHY we do what we do.  "I want you to work in pairs today because I think it's important that you try to coach each other and push each other." or "Today I'm going to give you a precision grade because it's important to look over your work and check for accuracy and completeness." or "Let's study our mistakes on this problem because investigating errors helps us grow connections in our brains--research shows us this."  I really believe it helps build the culture in our classrooms--that it gives students ownership of the learning and helps cement my role as "facilitator", not "boss".  I want them to know why I do what I do.  It's important.

This leads to very explicit instruction in some of these ideas early in the year that I then revisit all year long as routines and behaviors might start to break down a little.

What are some of these "learning behaviors"?

We talk extensively about "helping" each other...how it's ok to offer help and also ok to "give it a try" on our own--as long as we are respectful about how we do it.  We also talk about the different ways to OFFER assistance without being a "boss" or taking over.  We want a climate where students know how to manage help!

Also, I talk about how our brains grow and learn and how important it is to make mistakes, to recognize the feedback of others, and to be willing to tackle challenging tasks.  I purposely put students in positions to practice this...with collaborative activities, challenging math problems, and more.  I want to establish a culture where it's acceptable and ENCOURAGED to say, "I don't understand," or "Can you please help?" or "Let's try something different."  The real world is NOT fill-in-the-blank, is it?

I explicitly teach the language of "growth mindset" and "fixed mindset".  We brainstorm the language associated it and post examples that I leave up all year. One of my favorite things is when a student recognizes these behaviors--perhaps in a book we are reading--and says something like, "Hey!  Elise is really using a fixed mindset in this part."  The discussions we have then are amazing.
growth mindset bulletin board

I use discussion starters to keep us talking about writing about these behaviors...we make anchor charts...we take surveys...we assess our own behaviors...we set goals.  We immerse ourselves in these "learning behaviors".

lesson plans growth mindset

Why?  Because if students don't have a true awareness of these behaviors, the fractions and verbs and summarizing and map skills just don't matter as much if students are missing the other piece.  We can continue to work ourselves through our textbooks and our curriculum documents.  We can write learning targets on the board and do our assessments and fill out our spreadsheets and track our data.
We can continue to go skill by skill, day by day--or we can stop, help students understand how they learn, and create a climate where learning is exciting, meaningful, rigorous, and extends far beyond the objective on the board.

I think it's worth it.


Interested in what I do to help teach growth mindset?  Check this out...
Want to see some of the problems I use to encourage productive struggle?
What a fun freebie to help students learn to work collaboratively?
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word problems
One thing that I really try to be mindful of when planning my math instruction is how I "spend" my minutes.  There are some things I really try to minimize as I plan:

  • Transition delays 
  • "correcting" things
  • passing out/collecting materials
  • filling out practice pages
And I try to spend as many minutes as possible doing the following:
  • high-level problem solving
  • math discourse
  • small group teaching/coaching
  • partner work
  • open-ended tasks
Apparently, a lot of you feel the same way because I am constantly being asked to provide MORE open-ended, rigorous tasks--because they are VERY hard to find!  I also think it's important to realize that this type of task can be used in a variety of ways...as enrichment work, for fast finishers, as math "rotation" work, and more.  I would like to challenge you to think more "instructionally" as you look at some of these tasks--because ALL our students deserve quality math experiences!


"But my struggling students don't even know their math facts!"

Agreed.  Mine don't either.  That being said--problem-solving doesn't require students to know their math facts--especially not quickly.  If we withhold quality math tasks from our students until they know their facts...I think you know what will happen. #stillwaiting

"So what am I supposed to do to support ALL of my students so they can be successful?"

 Plenty!  I like to think of teaching as being like working construction...construction workers need to have a host of skills, know how to use a variety of tools and know WHEN to use them.  Same with us!  Here are a few of those "tools" that can help us make these rigorous math tasks accessible to even our most struggling students.

1.  Explicitly teach students how to work together.  I start this conversation from the very first day of school and hang up the chart we make together and refer to it OFTEN.  We practice it often with short, simple tasks so they learn how to work together when it matters!  By doing this, you can get creative with your pairs/trios for problem-solving--either by grouping students together with varied abilities to support each other OR "like-abilitied" students can work together and then get extra teaching coaching or a simplified list of expectations.  Math is a collaborative activity, so it's critical that they learn how to work well together!
teaching problem solving real world challenges

2.  Vary the "tools" you have available.  If students struggle with computation, they may still be able to solve challenging problems when given tools...calculators, manipulatives, graph paper, number lines, and more.  Here's the deal.  When we make these "tools" available to all students all the time, students can learn to access them when needed.  When we pass out rulers and TELL students to use them, we are taking all the decision making away from them.  Have your materials accessible, teach them how to use them, and then--if students are struggling--gently encourage them to "find a tool" to help.  You may even need to coach them on how to use them.
teaching problem solving real world challenges

3.  Teach problem-strategies explicitly.  Just like teachers need tools in their "toolbox", so do students!  When we help give them strategies to try when faced with a problem, they are far more willing to dig in.  One of the first things I talk to my students about is VISUALIZING.  I'm not sure this is mentioned in any research anywhere--but let me tell you...it helps so much.  When I introduce a problem to students, I always ask them to IMAGINE what is happening.  If there is a bakery shelf with 3 trays of cupcakes--picture that.  If there are 24 cupcakes on each tray, picture that.  If a customer buys 3 cupcakes off each tray--picture THAT.  When students learn to do this, it helps avoid that common problem-solving strategy--ADD ALL THE NUMBERS.

There are a ton of other strategies I like to teach explicitly as well--so that students have some base experiences with them.  I have put together a sequence of problems I use...but I always want to make sure I explain to students that we are practicing them so they can USE THEM LATER.  So many math resources have a page called "Draw a Picture Strategy"--where students know exactly what strategy to use (because of the title!), but they don't really understand that the reason we teach the strategies is so they can recognize them later and solve those types of problems.  Interested in what I do?  Just CLICK HERE for the paper version or the image below to see the digital version!
Also available in a digital version
Once students understand their role--to be ACTIVE problem solvers, then we know what to say when they are struggling.

"What have you tried?"
"What tools have you used?"
"What strategies have you tried?"
"Can you visualize what is happening?  Tell me."
"Tell me something you can do to get started."

By "coaching" this way, students maintain the power and ALL students have access to challenging work!  We may need to come back in with more detailed coaching if they are still struggling...but giving them that toolbox gives all students something to grab onto.

4.  Find real-world experiences to help students realize that we learn math to solve REAL problems in the REAL world...it isn't just filling in a workbook!  When we create a climate where students understand the purpose of problem-solving, where they have the strategies needed to tackle them, they know they aren't in it alone (they have classmates and a teacher coach to help), we are helping students build confidence, their perseverance, and their understanding of WHY we learn math.  Have a problem at your school that needs to be answered?  Solve it!  Do you have something in YOUR world the students might like to investigate?  Try it.  A perfect example of this was a few years ago when I took a trip to my local apple orchard and it turned into a great problem.  Click HERE to read about it and grab that freebie!
Because I know how crazy the school year can get, I have been building my own collection of "real world" problems that I use with my students...from a bakery trip to saving for a new video game to planning a party to helping at an animal shelter...students LOVE solving real problems that matter.

You may have seen the first three sets that I've been using for the last few years, and I've had countless requests for more.  I finally dug in and got going!  Set 4 is ready for you...a shelter problem, a bathroom tile design challenge, and a present-wrapping challenge!  Take a peek and see what you think.  I worked hard to add extra challenges with each of the 3 tasks as well so that students who handle the tasks with ease can continue the learning.  See what you think!

Click HERE to read a post from last year where I go into even more detail about open-ended tasks and give you some great teaching strategies!

So remember...we may need to guide some of our students more than others, but let's remember to not save our best math experiences for only our top students!
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helping struggling math students


It's here!

I am so excited...I have SO much enjoyed interacting with you during my place value webinars in June...and I can't wait to share some more ideas with you in my new problem solving webinar!  (You missed the place value one?  No worries...due to popular request, I've added a few new sessions!)

One thing that I have always been passionate about is trying to get students AND TEACHERS excited about math--and my goal with my summer webinar series has been to share a little of my knowledge, share some research, and then give you LOTS of tips and strategies to use in your classroom to make learning math meaningful and fun--and teaching it easier and more enjoyable.

I really hope you'll join me to keep the conversation going...we can work to make a difference in how students feel about math and how we can be more effective in delivering the rigorous curriculum expected of us.  I hope you find it helpful.  To keep things fun this summer, I am also entering all registrants into a drawing for a $10 voucher for my store--each webinar will have a winner drawn.  If that winner is in attendance at the end, they can pick out $10 of resources to use!

Click the image below for the freebie note taking document and to see the sign-up schedule.
Miss the place value and number sense webinar? I added a few July times!

Click the image below to see the details or to sign up.

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problem solving webinar



Kylene Beers
It's time to share our thoughts about the second section of "Disrupting Thinking" by Beers and Probst--a week late but here nonetheless!  Sorry about the delay--it's been an eventful few weeks for me.

When I first read this section, I think that what first piqued my interest was that we truly got into the "meat" of this book--this idea of "disrupting" our thinking and reading to be changed.  If this idea that reading should trigger change in us is new to you--you aren't alone.  For years we have read (and had our students read) to make connections, to find out how it ends, or to make a story map--but to be CHANGED by it?  Certainly not something most of us have discussed with students, especially at the elementary level.

Without giving away too much of the book--because no one can state it as articulately and as passionately as the authors, the gist of this section revolves around reading around what is in the book, what is in your head, and what is in your heart.  A simple formula, right?
Kylene Beers
If you haven't read the book "Notice and Note", you might want to grab a copy of it to help you understand more about what the "signposts" are.  These signposts truly changed the way I interacted with students about texts--and they helped ME be a more thoughtful reader.  Again, it's too much to include in a blog post (#readthebookitisworthit) but giving students language and ideas to dig deeper into texts is so powerful.

So after this next section, I have a few MORE questions that I need to ponder--and would love for you to add your thoughts about!  If you haven't read the book, feel free to add your comments as well, but if you HAVE read this section, I'd like to know your reflections on all or some of the following:

1.  What are some of the best questions you ask to get these deeper discussions going with students?

Like I said last week, I love our social issues unit--but I have found that by carefully choosing texts to read aloud (picture books, articles, novels, etc) students have NO shortage of ideas they wish to talk about!  I really love it when we find connections between texts.  For example, we read "The Tiger Rising" early in the year and later in the year read an article about poaching.  I didn't have to plan out too many questions because the text selection made it happen.  I think I said something like, "Hmmm...so what are you thinking?" and that's all we needed.  Some of the best questions I use aren't specific to the text but are more general--like "I wonder what the author was thinking when she wrote that..." or "What choices did ____ have?".  What are YOUR thoughts on quality questions?

2.  This section also refers to the idea of teaching social activism through our reading instruction--at a developmentally appropriate level, of course.  Think about texts you have used that might lend themselves to this idea and share them.

It's interesting because I teach in an area with very mixed political beliefs and have always been extremely careful about how I present social topics.  That being said, by tying everything back to EMPATHY, I think I am always helping students look beyond the obvious, beyond what they see on the news, and beyond what they hear at home.  We want students to be thinking about the impact words and actions have, right?  It can be a slippery slope if not handled with finesse.  Thoughts?

3. The book refers to the BHH framework (book, head, heart).  What are some ways that we can work to get students thinking about texts (both informational and fictional) at each of these levels?

I think by their very nature, children are curious.  As teachers, I believe we need to put them in positions to be able to tap into that curiosity, share their ideas, and LEARN about their ideas.  Being mindful of how we introduce texts, how we create a climate where reading to learn and reflect is expected and enjoyed, and how we reward "good" reading...and by "good" I mean thoughtful and meaningful.  I think we need to have more discussions as teachers about what "good" readers are!  I'd love to hear your ideas as well!

I hope you are enjoying the book and are starting to do some thinking about the implications for you and your students.  Like last week's post which you can find by clicking HERE,  I'm hoping to get some great ideas from the rest of you!  Still need a copy of Disrupting Thinking?  Here is an Amazon affiliate link if you are interested.  Stay tuned for the ending next week--and please share your ideas below or on my FB page.  Let's learn from each other


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Kylene Beers

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