Happy New Year, everyone!

I have a couple of exciting pieces of news to share with you today-and hopefully you find something interesting!

1.  Today was my day to blog over at Upper Elementary Snapshots.  I'd love for you to stop by and check out my post all about helping students be more prepared to tackle CHALLENGES in the new year!  Just click the image below to take you there!

2.  To celebrate the end of a great year, I'm saying "Thanks!" to all my loyal followers by having a special one-day sale...New Year's Eve only!  Take 15% off everything in my store...a great way to stock up for January!

3.  I'm not sure if you follow me on Facebook, but if you have been around the last few days, you might have seen that I have a new product line!  I have had so many requests for bundles--but haven't really seen a huge connection between a lot of my products.  I have bundled sets of word problems...and writing prompts...and my Thinker Tasks...but beyond that?  After a lot of thought, I realized that a lot of people tend to buy similar resources to help them teach a concept--so I thought that it might be nice to be able to get two correlated products at a reduced price.  The idea of my "Teaching Tandems" was born!  I have gradually started pairing products that I use together and uploading as a sort of "minibundle".  As I upload each one, I'm giving away a copy on Facebook so stop by!  I've linked a few of the ones I've already done--there are 10 more on my list!  I'd love for your ideas for other "Tandems" as well.  Check these two out and see what you think!  They will always be available in my store by clicking on "Teaching Tandems" in the custom categories on the left side.  Enjoy!

So...those are the three big pieces of news for now!  Stay tuned for some other exciting tidbits over the next few days...and don't forget to check Facebook for the Tandem giveaways over the next few days as well!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!
For those of you who follow me, you know I use formative assessment slips.  A lot.  I have a number of resources in my store to help...some are specific to certain math topics--but the one I use the most is my exit and entrance slip bundle...customizable slips to use on the fly whenever I want to take a quick "dip" to see how my students are doing.  I keep the resource on my computer...but when I'm in a rush, it does take a little time to "page through" it.  A few months ago, a fellow blogger told me about a new business she was starting where she binds resources into hard copies.  She offered to bind my resource for me so I could see how easy it is to use in this format.  I sent her the file electronically and...VOILA!
 I LOVED it!  Now, I can have everything at my fingertips...

When I find the slip I want...I run a quick copy and write in what I want to assess.
So...my "teacher tip" for today is that some resources might be more useful in hard copy.  I know THIS one sure makes my life a little easier!  Interested in getting this resource for yourself?

Interested in Appletastic Learning's printing and binding services?
Email AppletasticLearning@gmail.com for information about how to get YOUR resources bound or visit their site for more information.

One thing that continues to challenge me as a writing teacher is helping my students push themselves outside of their comfort zone.  As my fourth graders began to write in sentences in kindergarten and first grade, they practiced writing "simple" sentences.

I like ice cream.

The Packers are awesome.

Snakes have lots of scales.

After teaching older students for 24 years, I still see many many students who are trapped in that mindset when they write.  They do string sentences together but they are often choppy, simplistic sentences.  No matter how much I model and talk about using compound sentences and other more sophisticated strategies, some students simply don't seem to be making the connection.

I had had some great success with my writing dialogue task cards where we practiced as a whole class, then partners worked on some, then we shared, then we worked in small groups, and so on.  (Blog post HERE if you are interested) so I thought to myself, "Self, let's try a similar set of cards to teach students how to improve their sentences."  After all, we had a BLAST working with dialogue and students were creative and didn't even feel like they were working.  The best part?  The skills actually TRANSFERRED to the realistic fiction we were writing!

So...I started thinking about the types of sentences I wanted my students to write.  I wanted them to start combining small sentences into more complex sentences--with conjunctions, with commas in a list, and in other ways. I wanted them to get more sensory details and emotions into their writing.  I wanted them to see that you can add phrases and words to the beginning, middle, and end of sentences to make them more interesting for the reader.  I wanted students to see how easy it can be to improve basic sentences--and I wanted them to do it before we started writing our feature articles.  (You may have noticed, fourth graders are somewhat reluctant to revise their work once it is written--so we need to make sure it is as good as possible the first time!)

I started with a series of minilessons where I projected a card on the screen with my document camera and we looked at the simple sentences and the "hint" about how to improve them.  This one asks them to add more details.  Some cards ask students to combine sentences. Some ask students to add emotion to the sentence.  Others tell students to add words at the beginning.  You get the drift...I picked three very different cards for three minilessons and we really worked on those explicit techniques for improving writing.
As you can see, there is a huge variety of cards to choose from.  I deliberately chose three very different ones for my whole class lessons.
 After each minilesson, I asked students to work in partners and trios to practice with new cards.  I projected some on the screen for them to try and then in later lessons, I passed cards out to each group to try.  We then rotated the cards from group to group.  Students LOVE these "quick writes" because they only need to write a few sentences, and the quick time frame keeps them focused.
In three separate 20 minute lessons, I was able to teach about different ways to improve sentences, how to use commas to separate a list AND when using an introductory clause.  We learned about compound sentences.  We talked about adjectives and descriptive phrases.  We talked about "showing" not "telling".  And guess what?  I am starting to see the payoff in their daily writing!  

Want to see the cards I put together?  Click the image below...

As you may  know, my students LOVE open ended problem solving....and so do I!  As I introduce each open ended "Thinker Task", I try to focus on at least one Standard for Mathematical Practice.  For this one, I talked to my students about finding ways to organize their work, to look for patterns, and to find multiple solutions.  I really want them to start to find their own ways of digging into problems and organizing their work--not waiting for a chart or a fill in the blank math sheet.

This task is the PERFECT fit for our fraction studies because in addition to having multiple solutions, it requires some basic work with equivalent fractions and the addition of mixed numbers.  I challenged my students to first find ONE solution, and then to go back and see if they could solve the problem a new way--and to get MORE cookies from their ingredients.  This was new for some of my students who are used to getting math done quickly--and getting it done well.

When I posed the question, "Are you SURE that there are no solutions that are better?" They were stumped.  They really had no way of knowing if there was a better way--so off they went to try to find better ways to show their work and to look for patterns in what they had done.
The "math by the numbers"!  A vital part of the task...
The digging in begins!  It's so fun to watch how differently each student/group tackles the beginning stages of these thinker tasks!
This group overheard me telling another group about how labels can really help organize your work...I peeked over and saw them begin to organize their work with labels.
I love the technique of drawing lines through two "halves' to represent a whole.  One student said, "Hey!  This is kind of like regrouping tens."  Yes.  Yes it is.

I loved how some grabbed graph paper and started making charts.  Some started arguing with each other about the math.  Some even consulted with other groups to see what they might be missing.  I loved it!

We are just two days into the challenge, and some students are really taking off--but others are needing a little probing to dig in and really push their thinking.  Those bright kiddos are sure used to getting the right answer instantly, aren't they?  I can't wait to see how far they take this one over the next week...I think we may have to celebrate with some cookies of our own!

Want to see more details about this project?

Or the bundle of all 7 of them!

Have a great weekend!

I have done this project every year for quite some time, and I have to say--I don't know who loves it more, my students or me!  I love that I can have fun with my students, can encourage creativity, BUT can reinforce the writing skills we have focused on so far this year.  Our previous unit was opinion writing and we are now deeply in the trenches with informational writing--so what a great way to revisit the idea of stating a "claim" and giving reasons to prove it!  This isn't your traditional book report--but we now have 25 great recommendations above our lockers for others to read and enjoy--and I have to say, they look pretty cute (and can stay up until March if needed!  HA!)

I rotated my students through a tracing station with different sized circles for tracing and reminded them of the size of their "final copy" circle--they needed to make sure their bottom "bump" was large enough for their writing piece.  I also reminded them that the space above our lockers was limited so we had a 
"measuring station" as well so students could check the height of their new friends before it was too late!

Each student picked a  much-loved book or series to write about--they drafted in their notebook and a parent volunteer and I were each able to get to every student to make sure everything was spelled correctly and that the writing made good sense.  We made sure there was a decent topic sentence and that the reasons that followed supported their opinion.  While they were waiting for their conferences, they created their snowperson!
The students had a blast naming their snowpeople, getting creative (yes, some have facial hair), and just enjoying the process.  It's always amazing to me when the directions are minimal how many students struggle...

"Can it have 2 bumps or 3?"  Whatever you want.

"Can it be a girl?"  Whatever you want.

"Can I make my nose stick out like it's 3D?"  Whatever you want.

Don't get me wrong--I had my limit pushers.  

"Can it have a weapon?"  What do YOU think?

"Can it be just one bump?"  What do you think?

"Can I make it yellow?"  Don't go there.

So after an hour or so, we had drafts, final copies, and MOST projects were complete and ready to be displayed.  

Anyhoo...we get lots of compliments on our creations...and if you want the template and the letters to display, I have put it together in a little resource.  Talk about an instant display, right?  Have a wonderful Friday and thanks for stopping by!

OK...today was a little fun in math.  A lot, maybe.

I stumped my students.  Yep.  All of them.

I have a huge range of skill levels in my class--from SUBSTANTIALLY below grade level to top of the heap...and today, everyone was a bit stymied.  I loved it!

In my constant fear of my students becoming "box filler in-ers", I am always looking for ways to get my students to think outside the box and to present information in new ways.  Today's problem was one of my "perseverance problems"--but, to be honest, I thought it would be a decent warm up.  Not too challenging that it would eat up too much time because I did have another lesson to teach.  Well...I had a little surprise waiting for me!

The standards for mathematical practice are clear--the "work" of math is just as important as the skills in math, and today made that very clear to me.  The first standard, "Makes Sense of Problems and Perseveres in Solving Them" is often interpreted by teachers as "Will my students keep trying?"--which, is--of course--a critical part of "perseverance".  However--the main gist of this standard focuses on the FIRST part--the "make sense of problems".  The standard is written as follows:

Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution. They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals. They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt.  
(...and it goes on from here)

Make sense of problems.  Look for entry points.  Plan a solution.  Lots of verbs here!
So I passed out the problem and gave the students a few minutes to read it and discuss it with their group.  I heard a little bit of bickering here and there--but mostly what I heard was...

"I don't get it."

Gasp.  These words don't get spoken in my room!  They just DON'T!  We have talked all year about TRYING something.  About rereading the problem.  About underlining key information.  Circling the question.  ANYTHING to get started--an ENTRY point.

This one had them flummoxed.  The vocabulary "sum" and "difference" had some confused--even though we have used them all year.  They are rarely seen together and the students were confused. The question asks for TWO numbers--and they just didn't know where to go.  They tried drawing pictures to no avail.

Others were pretty convinced they KNEW the answer and were frantically writing their explanation--but when I asked them to show me the question being asked, they froze and realized that their answer was NOT a match.

So now what?  We were at a complete standstill.  I made the following offer.

"For those of you who are so stuck that you don't think you have any way to even get started, feel free to come to the easel.  For those of you who think you have a start, feel free to keep working."

I had 17 students up front.  We started by reading the problem and picking apart the vocabulary.  We tried restating the problem in a few different ways.  A handful of students got the "a ha!" they needed and left.

For those who remained, I made sure we were clear on the terms "sum" and "difference" and then asked them to help me show with a diagram what the first sentence represented.  After some time, we got a few options.  We did the same for the second sentence--and a few more students felt confident enough to continue to work.

For the rest, we worked ourselves through the process by "guessing and checking".  We played a game of "What's my number?" where they tried to guess a number I had written on a card...I said "higher" or "lower" to their guesses to help them see how to use the previous information to change their thinking.  A few more light bulbs went on as they realized they could TRY 2 numbers in this problem--and then go up or down from there.
 Some TRULY persevered--AND made sense of the problem.  For others, we have some work to do!
So...as I plow through the next few weeks trying to finish up some work with fractions and division--I need to keep remembering the process.  The truly "deep" understanding comes with struggle, with questions, and with time. 

If you are interested in the rest of the problems in this set, here they are!
When I start the school year, one of the first things I tackle with my students is "reading behaviors"--how we function within our reader's workshop so that we maximize our own reading and don't disrupt those around us.  We talk about just right books...about stamina...about thinking while we read.  From the very first week, we work to build these good habits so that we can get TONS of reading done--and so I can work with students individually or in small groups while others are working and reading productively.

So...why am I blogging about this in DECEMBER?  Here's the simple truth.  

We have gotten lazy.

Much of November was focused on informational text reading and I stopped doing status regularly...I lost the continuity of always knowing what students were reading, how much they were reading, and HOW they were reading.  Gradually I have started to see reading behaviors, focus, and stamina slip--and it's time to regroup!  We revisited some of the same expectations we did in the first weeks...how to make good book choices, what it means to read with "stamina", what to do when you are getting distracted, and more.  (Click here to see the resource that helps guide me to start the year).

In addition, I retrained MYSELF to start doing anecdotal records and status of the class every day--to keep us all more in touch with what is happening.  My round of book clubs is over, our information text studies are nearly finished--so it's time to rebuild some of those good habits!

I LOVE my calendar system to do this...it is one of the few organization systems that actually works for me in my classroom!  Here's what I do...each day as students are getting settled in, I call out each child's name.  They tell me what they are reading and what page they are on.  I may quickly ask them a question about the book...like

"Are you enjoying it?"

"Have you read other books in that series?"

"Who else do you think might like that book?"


"When do you think you will finish it?"  (perfect for students I really need to keep on track!)

The entire process takes about 10 minutes TOPS and by the time I am finished, I have done 25 mini conferences, I know where my students are in their reading, and everyone should be nicely settled into their place so I can either pull a small group or start conferring one-on-one with students.
 I use the calendars to track their reading--and to track any notes I take when I confer with them.
I can even mark words they struggled with...whether or not they are self-correcting...and even comments about what I am noticing about their reading behaviors.
 To keep ME focused, I use 6 post it tabs.  I put them on the first six students' pages.  After I confer with that child, I move the tab to the next blank page--that way I make sure I see all students before repeating.  That being said, I have some students I want to meet with more often.  I use a different colored tab for them and then meet with them first.  That way I make sure to meet with them daily before I begin my conferring "rotation".

 So...are your students in need of a little refresher in  some of these areas?  I want to build these habits back up so that December can be productive--there are enough distractions already!  
Here is my calendar system...I update it with new calendars each year so you don't need to buy it again.
Many people were buying the calendars and reading logs together--so I bundled them to save money.
It's never too late to "restart" the year--I sure had to!
Have a great week, everyone!
Although we did some dabbling in fractions earlier this year, we now did into the "meat" of our studies and I wanted to get a sense for where my students were with their basic fraction understanding.  One problem I see in elementary math classrooms is our tendency to rely on quick and easy information--a pretest, a worksheet, an exit slip.  The simple truth is, in order to really see HOW students are thinking (rather than "Did they get it right?") requires you to put students in situations where you can watch them work and listen to their conversations.

The other day I gave me students a concept sort to do--it was simply "Is it equal to 1/2 or not?".  I really and truly believed that this should be a quick review and I primarily wanted to use it to get their minds ready for our new unit.

Boy, was I wrong.

I saw misconceptions GALORE--but only after I asked them to do some deeper work.  Here's what I mean.
 The question was simple...the sort was simple.  Looking at the images of shapes, numbers, and number lines--sort them into piles that show which ones are "worth" 1/2 (NOTE:  We DID use the word "equivalent" because it has been introduced before)

Most groups were able to do this successfully...there were a few cards that got some debate and discussion--especially the two that didn't show equal parts.  As I saw groups finishing, I then asked them to WRITE the fraction represented on each card.  This is where things started to get interesting--especially on the number lines.
I circulated around the groups listening for logic, jotting down notes about misconceptions I heard, and getting ready to figure out how to change my plan since it was becoming evident that we needed more time!

I then gave each group a different colored marker (smelly ones, of course!) and asked them to do a gallery walk...they put a colored dot on any card they had questions about or disagreed with.  
After a few minutes, I walked around and collected some "heavily dotted" cards--and all the number line cards because it was clear that we had some HUGE misconceptions to clear up.  I know that we so often present problems in the same way over and over...we tend to use the area model to teach fractions--and number line understanding is usually given only a cursory look--if at all.  It was very clear that we need to zoom in on this--so we did.  Here's the deal--MANY of the students had the cards in the right category--they said they were NOT 1/2...but when I looked at what they WROTE on their cards and listened to their discussions, I knew they weren't getting it.  In other words--on an exit slip or test they would have gotten it right!  YIKES!

We used all the different number line cards to study...we looked at the starting point...the ending point...how many "jumps"...the "halfway" point--and more.  We had some GREAT discussions and you could almost HEAR the wheels turning!
 The biggest issue really seems to be "attending to precision" and detail--students admitted that they rushed through without really looking at all the information presented.  We took this one and discussed it at length because some students still seemed a little fuzzy about why this black dot wasn't 1/4 and the blue dot 1/2.  The students did a great job convincing each other--and what a great way to practice "critiquing the reasoning of others".
As we move through this unit we will be doing 4 more sorts as well--and many of the activities found in my big constructivist fraction resource.  If you value this type of math instruction and want to try it for yourself--consider checking them out!

Have a great weekend--thanks for stopping by!

More fractions? YES!

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