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!  

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!

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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One of my favorite "mini units" to teach is area and perimeter...I just love how well it ties to everything we've ties to measurement.  It relates to multiplication.  Most importantly, it's a "real world" skill that helps us as teachers to help our students recognize that math IS important!

When I teach area and perimeter, my goal is to get my students to think flexibly enough to be able to solve any problem that comes their way.  In order to do that, they need PLENTY of hands on investigations where they CONSTRUCT their understanding.  Teaching the formulas is most effective after they have derived them on their own--and I feel the activities we did this week truly built that foundation.  When I shared the formulas at the end of the week, the students laughed and said, "We already figured that out!".  Mission accomplished.

So...what kinds of things did I do to build this understanding?  To begin, we "played" with 1 inch tiles.  If you only have a little bit of money available to buy math manipulatives, you can't go wrong with one inch tiles.  I have some that are plastic and some that are foam--and I use them ALL the time.  The first exploration asked students to use 12 tiles to build as many rectangles as they could.  We reviewed the difference between length, width, perimeter, and area--and talked about how we measure them.  I tell my students to think about "painting perimeter" like the machines that paint lines on the roads...we could take one of those machines and ''paint" around the outside of any shape.  I make sure they are clear that this is a way to measure could be in millimeters or inches or feet or meters or miles--or ANY measure of length.  We talk about how area is measured in "squarea" ('s cheesy--but they REMEMBER it!) units...square centimeters or square inches or square miles.  We practice recording our findings on these charts--and then try with 36 tiles.

The most important "discoveries"?

Hey...this is like multiplication arrays.
Hey...the area isn't changing but the perimeter is!
Hey...the longer the rectangle, the greater the perimeter.

So what next?  It was time for some collaboration!  This activity asked the students to all work with 24 tiles (again, keeping the area constant).  The catch?  Their group of six had to find six DIFFERENT shapes with six DIFFERENT perimeters.  Yep.  I forced groups of six 10 year olds to work together to solve this problem!  They had to practice finding perimeter...practice "give and take"...practice using accountable talk to ask questions and make suggestions.  This was AMAZING to watch. 
Once a team solved the challenge, they transferred their solutions onto grid paper and we displayed our work in the hall!  It's so much fun to watch other students stopping by to count their perimeters to check my students' work!  HINT:  Find areas in your school where work can be hung at student level (not above lockers!) so students CAN interact with it.   
So what next?  We were getting pretty clear on the different between area and perimeter--and had discovered the formulas for rectangles.  Time to apply the knowledge to an open ended challenge!  My students were given a three rectangle challenge--where they needed to discover three rectangles that each fit a certain set of rules...within a set range of perimeters and areas.  They used grid paper to plan and worked to coach each other.  After they completed the task, they used their rulers and narrow paper strips to actually BUILD their rectangles and create works of art to hang in the hallway. They even created a little "key" at the bottom to show which rectangle matched which rule. 

 We got lots of "ooohs" and "ahhhhs" when this display went up!
 So...students were feeling pretty good about rectangles, so it was time to do some reviewing, practicing, and some new "irregular" challenges.  I made these task cards for us to use as a whole class review.  The cards ask students to find the perimeter and area of shapes...some with square to count, others with rectangles (great for practicing the formulas) and then...
Fun irregular ones where students had to "decompose" the shape into smaller rectangles--or find the area of the "whole" and then subtract the negative space.  Students worked in pairs and had amazing math discussions!  Even better, because the cards were laminated, they could use wipe off markers and "interact" with the card to record their thinking.  Each student had a recording sheet to record their answers-and to practice using correct labels. 
 I walked around and watched and noted who was struggling...and then used the cards later in a small group to do some additional coaching and reteaching.
 So how are they doing?  Each day I gave an exit slip and pulled small groups for reteaching...and I am pretty confident we will be ready for our summative assessment!  The image below is a sampling of some of the slips from my Formative Assessment Toolbox for area and perimeter.  I use it ALL the time!

Hope you get some ideas for your own area and perimeter studies!  The resources pictured above are all available in my store--just click the photos above to take you there!  Also, check out my explanation of these ideas tonight on Periscope as well...7 pm central!  Not on Periscope yet?  Give it a try--I am trying to provide video professional development through that medium along with my blog posts.  It's a great way to get interactive--and it's free!  I'm "FourthGrStudio" so find me and let me know if you sign up so I can follow you too!

Stop by tomorrow for a GREAT guest post by the author of Closer Reading in Grades 3-6, Nancy Boyles.  You won't want to miss her insight!

Check out today's blog post over on Upper Elementary Snapshots! watching here for more information about Close Reading--including a guest post by the author of (in my opinion!) the BEST book about Close Reading coming Sunday!  Also coming soon...area and perimeter ideas that you won't want to miss!  Thanks for stopping by...

Today is my day to post over on Elementary Chalkboard...I'd love for you to stop by and check out my post about MEANINGFUL test prep that doesn't consume you OR your students!  Just click the image to take you there!

By the way...if you haven't joined my on Periscope yet, I'd love to see you!  I am working to share "live blog posts" to really try to make my blogging life more interactive.  It's super easy...

Just download the Periscope app (TOTALLY free), create your log in, and get started!  I'm still a really small fish in the Periscope Sea--but I am really hoping to provide GOOD content for my professional development on the fly!  Not sure how it works?  Get the app, find me (@FourthGrStudio), follow me, and then check for replays.  They are only available on Periscope for 24 hours, but I am creating a video library of them which can be accessed later.  More to come!

If you catch me live, feel free to ask questions, add comments, say "hello", and--for some bizarre reason--tap your screen when you see or hear something you like!   Those "hearts" that show up mean you value something being said which helps me know what kind of content to provide.  Feel free to message me, leave me a comment here, or email me if you have suggestions for future Periscope videos.  If you are like me and "seeing" is better than "reading", Periscope might be for you!