Look Who’s Learning

It’s no secret I am an Open Up Resources 6-8 Math junkie. I love what the curriculum does for learners. Today, I want to expand my definition of learners. I am a teacher, but I am also a learner. I have learned more about teaching, learning and math in the past twelve months than I learned in the prior 14 years. I have Open Up Resources 6-8 Math, Illustrative Mathematics and my international PLC to thank for that.

IMG_3343

It’s not just that I have quality material with insights spelled out for me. It’s not that my students are challenged and required to think differently than they ever have. All those things are good. And true. The fact of the matter is that this curriculum makes me a better teacher. I teach better than I ever have. I am more prepared and I have greater insights. I am a better listener. I want to hear how my students are interpreting the math. I want students to share their interpretations. As prepared as I feel each day, I seem to always see and hear and feel something new about the math my students are doing. I am learning. I am the learner and I LOVE IT. Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum makes me a better teacher and learner. Every. Day.

I was starved for quality professional development ever since Common Core was rolled out. The minimal training received on Common Core was ill-conceived and not informative. I remember building fences with posts that were the supporting standards and rails that were supplemental or connecting standards. But I didn’t learn how what I was to teach was better for my students. Everything was theoretical. There was no comparison of how students were expected to learn differently or how I was expected to teach differently. I didn’t practice teaching anything. I was also not given resources with which to teach other than an outline. I learned much more about Common Core as I was teaching seeing my students make connections I had not previously considered. Because North Carolina gutted education funding on the heels of Common Core’s implementation, teachers were left to find and develop their own resources in order to teach and learn the standards. That took a while and I learned much through the school of hard-knocks. Eventually, I was seeing the connections and the wisdom of the sequencing. I was excited. Unsupported, but excited.

IMG_3342

Then Common Core got killed in the court of public opinion. Had Common Core had extensive, quality public relations communications, I like to think the educated public would have bought into the sequencing dictated by the standards. But they didn’t. The only public communication was parents posting homework problems without a context and calling the whole thing folly. There were even teachers that ignored the adoption of the standards and taught what and as they always had. Perfect strangers would come up to me in the grocery store line and see my teacher ID and say something like, “What do you think about Common Core?” expecting me to bash it. I wouldn’t bat an eye. I just said, “ I love it. The connections that students make all throughout the standards are solid. The insights that both students and teachers are gaining are profound. I hope the state has to courage to do the right thing for our schools and ignore the ignorant neigh-saying public. Why do you ask?” I typically didn’t get a response.

I want a do-over on the release of the Common Core Standards. I would start by rolling it out to the elementary schools for three years. Move to the middle schools for a year or two and then finally get to the high schools. Changing horses in the middle of the stream and then providing little to no professional development for teachers and no quality public relations education killed Common Core. Teachers were asked to implement without understanding. Teachers don’t do that. Teachers demand and deserve to understand why. That is a sad fact that was disregarded. We are now getting a do-over, of sorts, via Open Up Resources 6-8 Math, but better. It’s the third word…RESOURCES.

I am fortunate that my district is investing in teacher professional development with the implementation of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math. It seems the phrase Common Core is now somehow forbidden by the state. What we teach are the Common Core standards, but they are simply rebranded. Clever. But the standards are better than solid and it’s working so let’s just keep that little secret to ourselves. Open Up Resources 6-8 Math and the professional development I am receiving through Illustrative Mathematics are helping me connect my teaching to the standards with better understanding and execution than ever before.

IMG_3344

Now for the real purpose of this post. I am concerned there are teachers reluctant to change their ways regarding what they teach and how they teach it and some of these teachers are merely going through the motions as they roll out the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum. Teachers are learners too. Remember, you can’t get more out of something than you put into it. Just because something is good and nationally acclaimed doesn’t mean it will work without effort. Teaching is work. Teaching with Open Up Resources 6-8 Math is a lot of work. It is this work that is making me a better teacher and it’s hard. But my students are worth it. I am worth it. I am grateful that my district sees that we are all worth it.

Home Communication Logs (HCL)

What can I do instead of homework to make a difference with consistently, under-performing students? I need something that will provide learners with the opportunity to intentionally think about and talk about math outside the classroom. I also want to make sure family members, as stakeholders in children’s educations, are kept up to date with what students are learning.

Screenshot 2018-09-17 18.32.14

 

To help address all of these issues, I developed the HCL—Home Communication Log. Students are required to discuss math outside of school for five to twenty minutes each day with an adult. Students then turn in completed logs each Friday.

So far, results are mixed. I still have reluctant students not turning in the logs. I even had a couple students copy somebody else’s log the first week. But, most of the submissions are good. Parents and children are talking about math daily, and without doing homework! I suggest that students review the lesson summary, from the student workbook (Open Up Resources 6-8 Math) if they are stumped about something to talk about with their selected adult.

After the first week I asked students, “when do you talk to your parents or special adult?” A few told me that they have dinner at the table every night as a family. My heart melted. I didn’t think families did that any more. A couple kids told me that mom or dad is not around in the evening so they had trouble with the log. I told them it was fine to talk on the phone with their parent. I also offered up staff members as special adults for students who have trouble connecting at home. I also told them to come see me before school or at lunch if they wanted.

Screenshot 2018-09-17 18.29.21

I know this is not perfect, but it is more than I have done in the past as far as homework. True confession: What prompted this year’s HCL is a devastating failure on my part last year. I had a student performing below grade-level and, here’s the bad part, because that is what I saw in her file, I didn’t contact the parent. I saw it as normal for that student. I made a terrible assumption that I am embarrassed and sad about. The parent came in and we talked about the situation and I apologized. I then tutored the student each morning she came in. I provided additional information for afterschool tutors as well as private tutors for this student. She still performed below grade level and didn’t grow a bit according to state test results. And it was my fault. I didn’t push her enough. I didn’t let her parents know that she was sandbagging all year. I failed her–my student.

So, fast-forward one school year. I now have 38 kids in one class. 75% of them were determined by the state to be below grade level last year. These learners are like the kid I let down last year. I know a simple Home Communication Log is not going to fix that, but neither is homework. That’s why I thought I’d try this log. Students at my school keep Reading Logs so I thought this would fit in with what they were accustomed to doing. Perhaps it is again, naive on my part, but if parents see their kids making progress, they can encourage them. If parents see their kid struggling to articulate what went on in class that day, that should alert parents to an issue and again prompt encouragement and/or action. But once again, the students that don’t turn in the logs are the same students who would not have done homework had it been issued. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these are the same students having trouble making their paper and pencil make contact during class. I do my best to check with all 38 students throughout each activity. Much of my time is spent getting reluctant learners started. They want to hide in a class of 38, but I try not to let that happen. Truth is, if a reluctant learner is also a wallflower, I may miss him or her. It pains me to admit it, but it’s true. That happened, as I said.

So, back to the 75%. On a good day I feel like half of them make progress. Am I supposed to feel good about that? Is that enough? No. Clearly the answer is no. I am doing the best I know how to do, but my boat is taking on water and I feel like I’m bailing out with a sieve. I love my kids and that helps for sure, but love is not enough. I need more. My learners deserve more. Maybe they wasted time in earlier grades. So what! All that matters now is how we fix it.

So now back to HCLs. I’m toying with the idea of adding just 1 practice problem from the workbook to the HCL per day for next quarter. At that point it could be a spiraled question. I don’t know though. If you read this, please know, this is my processing process. This is how I think things through. Don’t take advice from me like I’m some expert. I’m just figuring out this teaching thing one day at a time like every other honest educator in the world.

I am going to continue to refine and adjust the HCL as I work with it this year. If you have suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

 

Gearing Up for Open Up Resources 6-8 Math Year 2

A couple weeks ago I quickly responded to Leeanne Branham’s question about what makes good teacher PD.

leeannepdpic

Had I given more thought to Leeanne’s question I would have added PD must have a common thread running through it, an over-arching theme, aka a number 1 takeaway you almost don’t realize is there until near the end of the session.

As I was reflecting on Year2, Day2 of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math PD with Kevin Liner of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math and Illustrative Mathematics Curriculum fame, it occurred to me that Monday and Tuesday’s PD hit every mark. (Aug 13-14) The number one takeaway, over-arching theme, common thread was simply this: in order to be effective and efficient, don’t over teach the lesson. Do not go beyond the Learning Goals set out in the lesson. Over-teaching, getting off on tangents and celebrating spoilers rather than quietly acknowledging and telling smarty pants students (I mean that in the best possible way) to keep it to themselves for now are the main reasons we get behind during lessons. Teachers are the problem. I am the problem. I need discipline and self-control and first of all self-awareness. Now, to get down to the nitty-gritty of how this unfolded throughout training—not exactly in order.

We talked about what it really means to reflect on our teaching and, in particular, a lesson we have taught. The take-away here was that we as educators must reflect on our planning processes and not just what went well or poorly during a particular lesson. In this refection of our planning process we must not only look at the short term planning of the lesson, but also the long-term planning, both forward and back. Reflect forward. Whoa! Failing to do this risks understanding the learning progressions that are so carefully written into the curriculum. In edu-speak, this is coherence. It matters what comes before as much as what comes after. Sequence matters. The big reveal is not going to be in the first lesson of a unit. Ever. Teaching for conceptual understanding necessitates learners progressing through the concepts and building understanding that each individual personally owns. Seeing far into the future in the planning stage will help us as educators honor the conceptual learning progression. We are learning to teach differently so our students can learn differently. We keep hearing, “trust the curriculum” and this deep dive and reflection into long term planning reveals why the curriculum can be trusted. It’s all there.

We were reminded once again of the Five Practices, and looked at them from the perspective of planning.

  •  Anticipating students’ solutions to a mathematics task
  • Monitoring students’ in-class, “real-time” work on the task
  • Selecting approaches and students to share them
  • Sequencing students’ presentations purposefully
  • Connecting students’ approaches and the underlying mathematics

NCTM , 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions

Kevin said these practices are the ingredients that create magical conversations among learners. For our training session, we focused on anticipatingand sequencing. When planning anticipating and sequencing it is always better to do that with our peers rather than in isolation on a Sunday afternoon. To that end, establishing group norms for PLCs at our schools is necessary. Day 2, we spent quality time broken into our school groups discussing, developing and revising PLC norms. This is where we got something tangible to take back to our schools to put into motion. Having a group protocol is the difference between a productive PLC and a non-productive PLC. Highlights of the group norms for planning developed by the wonderful teachers at Northwest Guilford Middle School in Greensboro NC follow. Please know, this is NOT a final, polished, static list, but rather a summary of the norms we discussed as a group. They will change as we change as educators.

  • Doing Math Together (like actually work problems)
    • Respect think time
    • Do not interrupt others
    • Be “all in”
    • Drop your pencil and listen
    • This is not a race
    • Pick a topic with a longer term focus so the PLC can go deeper with exploration and problem solving
  • Sharing Our Understandings
    • Focus on teaching goals as they relate to learning goals, meaning goals for my actions as a teacher, for the future
    • Use a timer to move things along
    • Listen more than you speak (a rather BIG deal)
    • Be fully present
  • Discussing Students and Their Understandings
    • Strive for more than antidotal evidence
    • Speak of learner understandings and common errors
    • Focus on the product, i.e., what students are producing as evidence of their understandings
    • Confidentiality is critical
  • Connecting and Reflecting on Our Own Practice
    • Just as assessment informs instruction, so must past experiences inform planning and teacher-moves
    • Help is on the other side of vulnerability. Open up and be vulnerable in your PLC as you plan and reflect and get feedback
    • Leave with a plan of action for the future
    • As peers, we must hold one another accountable

With norms also comes the issue of what to do with breakers of the norms. Some suggestions were a yellow card or a light bell ring. A taskmaster, timer, rule enforcer, norm police position needs to be assigned on a rotating basis. Not it! Please don’t pick me!

Photo on 8-23-18 at 7.43 PM #2

So what is missing from here from the past? Notably, negativity, comments about what students can’t or won’t do and war stories. As teachers, we must have an outlet for frustrations, but such actions can run the productive PLC train off the rails. Take these frustrations to the gym or to the track or the bar. Work them out and get over them, but please don’t derail your PLC.

We spent a good deal of time learning about how to use Cool-downs more effectively. I thought I did Cool-downs great last year. I did them everyday. I reviewed them at the beginning of the next class. I thought I nailed it. I was wrong. Other teachers at the training stated they periodically used the Cool-downs as homework or just used them when and if they had time. Cool-downs were rushed through and never truly sorted and analyzed by teachers. We went through a lot of motions last year, but none of those motions were great. Kevin helped us see a productive, more intentional way to use Cool-downs.

The biggest shocker was that we do not have to use Cool-downs each and every lesson. As we plan, we decide if we are going to use the Cool-down and budget the time for it. Maybe even do two in one day. When we do Cool-downs, we will look at them with a focus on student understandings, not merely, did the kid get it or not. A student can get a correct answer and still not truly know what they are doing just as a student can get an incorrect answer and make a computational error while the conceptual understanding is solid. What is understood is quite different from what we see in a mere answer. You want kids to show their work? You better really LOOK at their work. The information gleaned from the Cool-downs will then be used to actually plan subsequent teacher-moves.

So here is this great concept of teacher-moves. Not teacher reactions. Not teacher assumptions. Not teacher experience. Not teacher instincts. Actual planned out teacher moves designed specifically to intentionally address student understandings. These get noted on the daily clipboard roster so they are addressed and not forgotten by the frazzled teacher.

Photo on 8-23-18 at 7.53 PM

Another shocker—not every lesson/activity is a five-practices activity. Wait. What? I still don’t quite have my arms around this one. Note to self: pay more attention during PD. More on this when I figure out why I’m confused here. Truth.

How to differentiate daily and live through it has never truly been taught to teachers in a way that is actually possible to successfully pull off. Asking administration for help and advice on differentiation will keep them out of your room because they don’t know how to do it either. (This is obviously, just one snarky gal’s opinion.) What we can do in our teaching, however, is make small tweaks that get the actual support to the learners in need. Planning multiple lessons at multiple levels to be monitored and evaluated and assessed all at the same time day in and day out by one teacher in a class of 35 students is pure folly. Small tweaks. We can do that.

We spent time looking at multiple representations of mathematical concepts and limitations of each. The point is, buildings of conceptual understandings have varying entry points that may expire when the situations get more complicated. This necessitates higher-level thinking and abstraction. We start with accessibility by honoring coherence in concepts layered throughout progressive courses. Colloquially, the punch line may be the algorithm, but you must lead up to it—lay foundation on which to build. For the record, my English teacher, bestest buddy, has told me on many occasions that my analogies, while useful at times, take a bit to get used to. My apologies, but I must be me.

Now, how to plan a lesson as a PLC:

  •             Do cool-downs together for upcoming lessons
  •             Read learning goals and learning targets
  •             As you go through the steps above: Do, Share, Discuss, Connect
  •             Read the synthesizes–ALL of them
  •             Read each activity and complete and then Do, Share, Discuss, Connect

The focus must be on WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!!! for each lesson.

Every piece of feedback to a member of the PLC has an action associated with it:

  •             I like the way you did…I’m going to do that too!
  •             Oh, I didn’t see that part. Can you re-explain that form to me?

Teachers are to a PLC as students are to a classroom. Self-discipline and focus as individuals are essential. Just as we want our students focused on the learnings of the day, so too must be focused on the learnings of the PLC. Teacher-management is like classroom management for PLCs. It is essential for successful group planning.

I have been working on this post for two weeks off and on—mostly off. I apologize if it seems disjointed, but I wanted to share and may not have polished like I should. I’m sorry.

So fearing that TLDR has set in for most readers, (I would have bailed long ago) if you made it this far, you have earned a merit badge. Enjoy.

smiley merit badge