My job really is awesome. Tonight I spent three hours editing pen pal letters. I should explain. My fourth-graders are pen pals with senior citizens, organized through the senior center, in the town where I teach. They keep their identities anonymous, using pen names, until the end of the year when we have a luncheon and the the writers meet one another. I know, stinking cute, right? I love being a part of this experience. I love everything about it...except quite possibly, editing the pen pal letters that my students write. It took me three hours to get through 22 letter this evening. However, only two letters in, I stumbled upon a little gem that kept me giggling all night long.
Here is the truth: I generally do not read the letters sent to my students. They arrive in special envelopes and they are given directly to the students. The seniors are carefully selected so I've never worried about content before. I'm not really worried about content tonight...but maybe I should be after reading this opening.
Holy crap! Please tell that my student meant to insert the word PIES! I mean, it is still kind of a weird statement (I love whoopie pies) but it is SO much better than the alternative. I shared this with a few friends and colleagues tonight and boy did we have a good laugh.
My job really is that awesome. I can't imagine any other profession where you come home at the end of the day with stories as good as teachers' stories. On any given day, the students can make you crazy but they sure do make you laugh too!
Today was a good day. Today, a few things happened that shouldn't have surprised me. I was surprised though...pleasantly surprised. I shouldn't be surprised when decisions are made that put kids first and when everyone steps up and does their jobs. I'm likely the problem. I'm getting cynical and crusty in my old age. It is not that I expect the worst. I'm just usually prepared for anything. If I'm going to be disappointed, I'd prefer not to be surprised too.
I wasn't disappointed today.
I was teaching math. The students were gathered around the SmartBoard for the whole class instruction portion of our lesson. That's when our district's new behaviorist came into the room to observe one of my students. She didn't interrupt my teaching. Instead, she waited until I had sent the kids off to work and then approached me to ask some questions. Despite the fact that she hadn't yet met my student, she'd read his IEP and safety plan and her questions were 100% appropriate and thoughtful. She had clearly done her homework. This boy really is thriving right now. She could have received that information from me, turned on her heel, and headed out to tend to more pressing cases. She didn't. She continued to observe and question. She was doing her job. I found her to be impressive. This was a positive change for our district. The last behaviorist was entirely ineffective.
As I finished up with the behaviorist I noticed that the ELL teacher was standing at my door with one of my students who she sees a few times a week. This kid is a very smart boy. He has been in the country for approximately four years. You would never guess this. His spoken English is automatic, grammatically correct, and confident. He has grade level math skills. He is struggling with his reading. His greatest difficulty is with accuracy. When he comes upon a word he doesn't immediately know, he very often inserts any word with the same initial sound. So, the word "communities" is read as "countries." This student has tremendous listening comprehension. Yet, he is unwilling to stop and struggle even when the text doesn't make sense. The ELL teacher wanted to share this observation of his reading behavior with me and wanted me to participate in the conversation with the student. This doesn't always happen. I get it, it is hard for specialists and classroom teachers to find the time to confer with one another. However, this specialist brought me into the circle today so that we could work together to best help a student. This is what should happen all the time.
Meanwhile, in the classroom, the academic tutor and one to one aide worked the room ensuring that every child was getting the support he or she needed. I was tied up for ten to fifteen minutes yet the students remained engaged in their math task and were productively working. This wasn't a surprise. These two women show up every day and work hard for our students.
Finally, we've been dealing with a sticky situation with a one to one aide. At the beginning of the school year, a different aide serviced a child in my room. She is a veteran aide with a gigantic heart. She adores the student to whom she is assigned. A month and a half into the school year she began to suffer with debilitating back pain. She was in agony and her pain compromised her ability to effectively do her job. For example, she could not work with this student on the floor and could not supervise her on the stairs. After suffering for some time, she took a leave from school. She is slated to return, after being out of school since the second week of October. I have many concerns about her return. I worry first about her mobility and safety at school. I wonder about how effectively she'll do her job. I wonder how long she'll be able to sustain her position or if the pain will return requiring another leave. I worry about the student's ability to adapt to change again and if we'll see a set back as she transitions to another change in staff. In the end, I hoped that we would consider the needs of the student first. Today my principal let me know that the district will place the returning aide in a classroom support role where she can work with small groups of students while safely seated. Her mobility and potential effectiveness in her previous role will be evaluated. again at Christmastime. I know she'll be heartbroken and I feel so badly about that but I am so happy that my principal and Director of Special Ed. are putting the student first even though it is tricky business.
Honestly, today was a day filled with happy surprises. Kids were put first all day long. Everyone showed up and worked hard for our students. Decisions were made in the best interest of the kids. Today was an excellent day.
I fell upon a doozie of a post tonight. Sometimes I think that there are math angels working for Twitter and they generously throw the exact stuff I need to read into my Twitter feed. Tonight, I read this post, "No More Mathematical Matchmaking: the Return of the Inaba Place Value Puzzles" by Jenna Laib (@JennaLaib) It was the perfect follow up to a couple of Mark Chubb's posts I've read recently. I tweeted precisely this idea.
There is a teacher in my building who has said things that have been critical of the way my co-teacher and I "do" inclusion. Reading Mark Chubb's posts validated everything I feel and believe about inclusion and what it should look like. If you've read his posts but can't quite picture what it looks like in a real classroom then read Jenna Leib's post because she illustrates her inclusion practice and use of a low-ceiling/high-floor task to meet the needs of all learners.
Being fairly progressive and feeling judged by your colleagues is a tough nut to swallow. Pile on some, "the superintendent and principal prefer that inclusion is done the way I do it" sentiment and you become susceptible to self-trash-talk where the end result is your self-esteem spiraling down the toilet.
What I'd like to do:
I swear this is the last time I'm going to gloat about my red splat. Seriously.
Generally, I begin the week with a Number Talk from Shery Parish's Number Talks book (@NumberTalks). We focus on one strategy and work on progressively difficult problems as the week unfolds. Fridays are "FUN FRIDAY" which obviously means we do fraction work in place of our standard sense-making routine! I use the resources at www.fractiontalks.com or "Fraction SPLATS" at Steve Wyborney's site, www.stevewyborney.com.
There was NO WAY I could wait to share the red splat with my students till Friday. This was, OPEN UP YOUR MATH LESSON ON THE MONDAY MORNING AFTER THANKSGIVING material! When I told the students that we received a response from Steve the excitement in the room was palpable. When I posted his response on our SmartBoard and the students learned about their access to EXCLUSIVE slides with a RED splat they nearly lost their minds.
I decided that we'd try to solve the first "puzzle" only that morning as I anticipated that it would challenge my students.
TRUTH: It was hard for many of my kids. The language in the clue was complex and required that they process multiple ideas simultaneously. I think it was the personalized note at the beginning of the slideshow that had my students so determined to figure out what was under the red splat. They read the clue COUNTLESS times in order to make sense of the problem (without my prompting!) They experimented with a lot of different strategies. Most were strategies they'd developed when we worked on regular spalt and fraction splat puzzles. Many used guess and check to settle on an answer. No one frustrated, even after MANY failed attempts.
Steve made the math really personal for my students today. In their minds, an internet celebrity designed a math experience just for them. They saw it for the gift that it was and they treated the experience as such! Many students were able to walk away with a correct solution after lots of time to work and many failed attempts. Even those who did not come away with an effective solution, worked hard to make sense of the work of their peers when it was shared out.
I wish I could recreate that sense of agency, excitement, determination to make sense, and to succeed every day. Today was a gift. Thanks again Steve Wyborney!
A few days ago, I blogged about my experience using Steve Wyborney's math routines with my fourth graders. His "SPLAT" presentations and newer "Esti-Mysteries" are amazing free resources generously shared on Twitter. My students have loved this activities. On the day before Thanksgiving my students wrote to Steve and thanked him for his work sharing a bit about what they find enjoyable and why they are grateful. If this sounds familiar to you it is because I've already blogged about this in a previous post. Anyhow, I took photos of a few of their sweet notes and tweeted them out to @SteveWyborney. Here is the tweet:
Big picture: There are many amazing math educators working hard and sharing their work so that we can ALL be better for our kids. Most share their work free of charge. A lot of it is amazing stuff. This couldn't be more true for Steve Wyborney. It was the day before Thanksgiving and I was feeling grateful. Sometimes, when we can, we need to take a moment and show our gratitude. Plus, these little notes, which were just a small sample of the notes written, were lovely and captured my students' true feeling so well. Knowing that I was going to tweet some of their notes was highly motivational for my students. They put their hearts into the writing. This is what Steve had to say about the notes:
He also sent me this message:
My key takeaway: My students spent less than ten minutes expressing their gratitude. I spent less than ten minutes tweeting out those letters. The ten minutes we invested in showing our gratitude made somebody's day! It is totally worth ten minutes of our time to make somebody's day. This is especially true when the work that somebody puts out into the world makes a tremendous difference in the learning that unfolds in your classroom.
I'm telling you, sometimes it is like Mark Chubb is reading my poorly constructed blogs and then spitting out eloquent blogs that capture all of my thoughts and beliefs. He says what I think and believe. He just seems to say it in a way that is far more clear.
I've blogged about co-teaching before. Some of the points I've made are:
In his blog, "Co-teaching in Math Class", Mark Chubb distinguishes implications for co-teaching when one partner is a special ed. teacher versus when one partner is a math coach. I wanted to sing out an AMEN as I read specific sections. I'll leave you with these two screen shots from his blog but it is truly worth the time it will take you to read his work. He gets it and has a gift for communicating his thinking.
Visit Mark Chubb's (@markChubb2) blog by clicking HERE.
This is the perfect time of year to consider this question. My own children just received their report cards last week and I'll be completing report cards for my students next week. I was thrilled with my children's report cards. My son is a sophomore in high school who is taking all honors classes. All As and Bs for him...even in geometry and chemistry. My daughter is in eighth grade. She takes all honors classes too. She was recently inducted into the Junior National Honor Society. She received all As on her report card. Good grades are important to me and I've put some pressure on my kids to get good grades. So, my response to Will Richardson's recent tweet about grades might be surprising.
Good grades do NOT necessarily equal a good education. Higher grades do not mean that a student has learned more or knows more. High grades mean that the student has acquired some soft skills, like organization, time management, and perseverance. High grades say that he or she takes school seriously. High grades indicate that a student can use self-control and has developed the ability to make responsible decisions. Good grades, in my mind, actually say little to nothing about learning. Good grades say that a kid has figured out how to "do" school.
However, despite the grade-grubbing culture at my son's high school, I witnessed a beautiful thing happen in his honors English class. It is an ungraded class. This is not to say that he doesn't get a grade at the end of the term, it just means that pieces of his work are not graded throughout the term. Instead, he submits work throughout the term and receives actionable feedback from his teacher. At mid-term, they conferenced and discussed his progress toward his goals. His goals were revised and his work continued. At one point he came home and, in an intense way, said that he had to up his game in English. I asked why. He explained that he had peer-conferenced with a girl from his class and her writing blew him away. She had given him some helpful feedback. However, it was her writing that motivated him. It was refreshing to see my son motivated by the talent of his classmate versus her grades. I hear so many parents, when we talk about the importance of learning versus grades, talk about competition and how motivating and healthy it is. I couldn't agree less. Just knowing that someone is getting better grades than you is not motivational. But for my son, seeing an example of quality writing and receiving some feedback from a peer was helpful, motivational, and inspirational. Inspired learning is what I desire for my kids. I don't want them to be competitive grade grubbers.
So the quick answer: grades have nothing to do with learning. As teachers, we need to concern ourselves deeply with providing rich learning opportunities and then figure out how to measure that learning. I'm fairly certain that the way we measure learning today is actually having a detrimental impact on learning. We certainly have our work cut out for us!
I had a sneaking suspicion that attendance was going to be down today. I have 22 students. I began the day with 17. Then, over the course of the morning, three were dismissed. Still, there was a lot of energy in the room. It was like the 14 students who remained were trying to fill the void the others left. It didn't make sense to introduce new material in math class. I toyed with a Math In Three Acts but I'd hate for so many kids to miss out. We started the day with a number talk. The strategy was to use partial products to solve more difficult multiplication problems. This strategy is truly connected with the math we're teaching in our core lessons right now. The kids are doing a great job of visualizing arrays and then decomposing the arrays into two or more smaller arrays that make solving the larger problem easier.
I knew we'd be trying something new during our main lesson and I was pretty excited. Steve Wyborney is a math educator who shares his work generously on Twitter (@SteveWyborney). My students have really enjoyed his engaging splat and fraction splat routines. I had recently seen a couple of tweets from 5th and 6th grade teachers endorsing Steve's latest creation, "Esti-Mysteries". I couldn't wait to check them out. They couldn't have been more perfect for my students and the day we were having. From the first moment, I had 100% engagement. The students loved how Steve rolled out the clues and the suspense building in the class was tangible. This routine, due to the clues Steve used, addressed quite a few of our fourth grade learning standards. The mysteries welcomed different approaches and demanded higher-level thinking skills. I knew that the learning had been meaningful when my students cheered at the first reveal. We solved mysteries #1, #2, and #3 today and the kids begged for more.
Here is the thing. Math should be challenging. Math should require kids to dig deep and struggle. Math should be fun. It can be all of these things at the same time. Steve Wyborney has certainly figured out how to get it done. I'm thankful for his work and my students are too!
I have a student who is struggling in math. What she is able to do is so interesting. It is even more interesting when I consider her struggles. It seems like the number sense that she should have gained in second grade is NOT intact. For example, she cannot move around the hundreds chart with ease. If asked what 24 plus 30 is she would have two strategies: standard algorithm and counting on by thirty singles! The problem with her standard algorithm use is that she has memorized the procedures with no understanding. Therefore, 26 + 6 is sometimes 86! She cannot count by ten from any number. She has little command of facts that sum to ten so she has a difficult time knowing that n = 6 when 34 + n = 40. She cannot respond accurately when asked, "what would you add to 8 to get a sum of 18?"
Here is where it gets interesting. She knows her multiplication facts COLD. She can play "Big Array/Small Array" covering a larger array with two smaller arrays. She can generate algebraic notation showing her thinking (ex: 18 x 7 = (10x7) + (8x7) 18 x 7 = 70 + 56 and finally, 18 x 7 = 126)
When given a problem to solve like the one shown in the assessment below, she struggled. Even though she works proficiently with the array cards, she is having a difficult time moving from the concrete to a more symbolic representation. Today, she wanted to decompose the 7. I asked her how she would break seven apart. She said she would break it into a 3 + 4. I asked her what her next move would be. She froze. At this point I wish I had her grab the array cards and work to find two array cards that would cover an 18 x 7 array. Instead I showed her the smaller array she was left with. The one we discussed was an 18 x 3. I asked her if she knew her three facts up to 18 or if she knew her 18 facts. There was a long pause. I was even hoping that she might suggest adding 18 three times but that suggestion didn't come. My next move was to ask her if there was another option, other than decomposing the 7. She was able to suggest decomposing the 18. When I asked her how she might break it up, she struggled. I asked what 7 facts she knew by heart. She suggested 7 x 5. I asked if she knew any larger facts. She knew 7 x 10. I asked her to partition the array so that one part was a 7 by 10. She was able to do this. When I asked the length of the remaining side, she couldn't tell me. After many attempts, she counted on from 8 and settled on ten as her answer. Once she was able to decompose the large array and label the array's dimensions, she was on her way and completed the rest of the assessment independently.
I wish I always knew the best path to help students work through problems. I ask a lot of questions. I give think time. Still, I wish I had grabbed the array cards because she may have been able to make the connection between the physical arrays that she has worked with successfully and today's more symbolic representation. I wish I had a math coach or another adult who loves math as much as me, by my side in the classroom, so that we could strategize. I'd love to have more confidence in the math moves I make.
I still have to think about how to fill some of those number sense gaps. I'll begin with an Investigations game called "Capture 5" and go from there. I hope that this game will help her to add ten to any number with ease and to learn facts that sum to ten and make the connection between these facts and figuring out missing addend problems or subtraction problems where knowing those critical facts is helpful. This is what I'm thinking. I just wish I was more certain.