Getting Real—the Five Practices

Sitting in a MVP (Mathematics Vision Project) Integrated Math 1 professional development (PD) class early this week, minding my own business, probably checking Twitter for any knowledge nuggets or notifications leading to that dopamine rush, when I hear a teacher proclaim her recommitment to popsicle sticks as a means to improve participation in her class come fall. I winced. I remember being praised by my principal for having a cup of popsicle sticks on my desk and the nod of approval he gave me when I used this revolutionary technique to call randomly on unsuspecting students.  About this time each summer I started eating popsicles with abandon hoping to have enough sticks saved by the end of August. Oh my goodness. How far we’ve come!

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Kari Vaughn, now FCAS; former princess popsicle eater

A dominant theme from PD a couple summers ago was the practice of acting intentionally in instruction and planning and assessment and in each and every teacher move except in calling on students. We were still rolling the roulette wheel hoping fate would carry us the rest of the way. We were upping participation, but not steering the learning ship in any particular direction.  At the close of many a class, we found ourselves on education’s version of Gilligan’s Island, floundering hopelessly for a solution to the wreck that just occurred in class. It never occurred to me there was a better way because fate served me well, much of the time. But not every time and my luck ran out.

How many times have you been burned by a student who boldly states the exact misconception you were saying to dispel; or a student who confidently states something totally and completely wrong? Having no idea what a student is going to say is a rookie mistake. What keeps sticking with me is a scene from L.A. Law  (1986-1994) where Corbin Bernsen, starring as divorce attorney Arnie Becker, has a woman, claiming abuse, on the witness stand. He pushes her to the breaking point about why she did not seek help from a neighbor on a particular occasion when she had been locked out of her house. She explains that she could not seek help from a neighbor because she was naked.  At that point, his whole case fell apart right before him. He was reminded that a divorce lawyer never asks a question to which he or she does not already know the answer. And so it is two decades into the 21stcentury in the mathematics classroom.

Now, at long last, the Five Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions by Smith and Stein, affectionately referred to as “the five practices’’ is gaining traction and getting real.  When we, as teachers, invite a student to share insights with the class, we already know what they are going to say. It’s still organic, it’s just that we are sorting and selecting student insights in a planned way. And when I say we, I assume every teacher is now doing this or at least striving to take steps toward orchestrating classroom discussions in such a way. Just when I think that, I over hear the popsicle stick comment and I know, the work here is just starting.  I know I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the training and experiences I have had using Open Up Resources 6-8 Math authored by Illustrative Mathematics.

At HIVE19 in Atlanta, Brooke Powers (@LBrookePowers) introduced us (Martin Joyce (@martinsean), Morgan Stipe (@mrsstipemath) and Jen Arberg (@JenArberg) to a video that we then showed during our Five Practices 6-8 breakout groups in session 3 in the Community Track. This video created by and starring Dr. K. Childs, set the stage nicely as we dug into a lesson specifically on the five practices. I am sharing it further by linking it here. I hope this makes an appearance in your back to school training sessions. I also hope this practice extends to other content areas because good practice is good practice.

Rising Out of #teacherfunk

I think quite a lot about professional development. Whether I’m preparing to give or receive, I want it to be worthwhile.

A while back I was deciding whether or not to give the PAEMST a third shot. Yes.  That’s right. My third shot. The first year I submitted, I was a finalist for the state of North Carolina. My lesson was terrible and my write up wasn’t much better. But there I was, a finalist. Two years later, I apply again. My score is double the score from the year I was a finalist, but it wasn’t in the cards. And oddly enough, I was totally ok with that. See, the growth I achieved during and after each of these processes has been the most growth I have ever made as a teacher. It is no less and no more than the personal growth I went through when I did my National Boards. (Note to the world—the most significant professional development a teacher can get is personal professional development through structured reflection. It should be recognized and recorded as such.)

So why am I applying again? I had to. Early this calendar year, I found myself in a terrible funk as a teacher. I had no confidence and my students sensed that and seized on it. That just made each day worse. I had to shake what was happening to me and in my classroom. I thought about when I was at my best and what made me my best and it all came back to serious, structured, self-reflection. Reflection on my foibles as well as my fabulousness. I knew I had to resubmit for PAEMST, so, on March 1st, I self-nominated. I am doing this for my self and for my students. They deserve my best and I was not at my best before I made this decision. I was an over burdened teacher who felt compelled to beat herself up over data. Data points that truly represent neither me nor my students. Data points that are valid in hindsight, but at the moment made me feel like a failure. I am now on a natural high that is propelling me forward as well as my learners.

For me data is emotional before it is informative. That is something every administrator needs to know about me, and probably about most other teachers. I take my job very seriously. Data is merely one dimension that defines me as well as my learners. We are so much more than one stinking data point. I could go on a whole diatribe about grades and end of grade scores and whatnot, but I won’t. People that don’t understand will not suddenly change their position on my rant.

If you are like me and need a structure to help you reflect and give yourself a significant career boost, then do some structured, self-refection. Use the National Board prompts or the PAEMST dimension prompts. It is so worth it for you and your students. While you’re at it, you might as well apply, right?

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year two–take two

Happy Saturday all! I’m supposed to be getting ready for a couple PD sessions that I am presenting over the next two weekends, but I can’t get a comment from @SAMSDrSapsara at @mrsstipemath’s Thursday night 7th grade zoom (time stamp 00:27:14) collaboration out of my mind. Dr. Jessica Sapsara said, “I feel like when I’m making my anchor charts for the things, it’s really coming…way…after the unit has passed and I’m like, alright, let’s get something up so when we’re referencing it later as units come through…let’s look at that one again…so we have better working language…visuals…” And I thought to myself, “self, that’s where you were last year, if you made them at all!” That got me thinking about even more exciting differences between years 1 and 2 of implementing Open Up Resources 6-8 Math Curriculum. I know I reflected on this earlier,  but there’s more. Here’s my summary so far:

  • Anchor charts—Like I said, year 1 I was lucky to make them at all. In fact, I did not understand their usefulness until it was too late. Year two, I am deliberate in their creation as well as in pointing to them during lessons and even as students present, intentionally connecting student ideas to the charts.
  • Lesson preparation—I was so tired last year that I would fall asleep as I was reading the lessons. I’d get up in the morning and get about half-way through the teacher guide and then my room was filled with kids that needed support for the other course I teach, so there went my preparation time for Math 8. Year two, I am seeing so much exciting mathematics and even more brilliance in the authoring of this curriculum. I am excited about reading it and doing it and energized by it, so much so, that I read it before I even go home the day or even two days before the lesson. I am copying and cutting my cool downs and black line masters for an entire unit at one time rather than daily. I am importing my slides for an entire unit into one Google slides presentation. I just edit daily to remove what was covered that day in preparation for the next. (Note to self…hide the slides rather than deleting them, thereby making the file useful for next year! Yep, here I am, learning through reflection!)
  • Student copies/student workbooks—Year 1 saw me rushing around daily or all day Sunday editing and copying student pages for the week ahead. Year 2, my district purchased student workbooks. That in and of itself has given me back part of my life. I am so fortunate that my district cared enough about its teachers and time and copying costs to purchase student workbooks.IMG_3565
  • Attention on student learning—this was a luxury rarely afforded in year 1 because I was so intent on my own learning. In year 2, student learning is what fuels me. Seeing the lesson by lesson progress and retention is reassuring that I am actually helping students become mathematicians.
  • Student engagement—what an improvement!. In year one, I had three students per class I felt were really with the program. In year two, I have all but three students demonstrating understanding and actively owning their learning. I need to remember that when I am beating myself up about those three students, but still, that’s 3 students too many.
  • Student results—What a difference! They are truly remarkable. When I review cool-downs I can see student thinking and reasoning and catch misconceptions so they can be addressed timely. Year one, I was lucky to get a cool-down in the same day as the lesson. Now when I pass out the cool-downs, I hear students say, “we’re done already?” Students self-assess daily as they turn their cool-down into the basket based on their level of understanding, thanks to @mrsstipemath.understanding
  • Supplemental activities—Year 1 had virtually zero supplemental activities for students. Year 2, they are actually part of the game plan. They include Desmos activities to further student learning and assess student understanding; Quizziz games so students can self-assess and develop fluency with concepts; Desmos graphing calculator sessions to quickly and easily make math visible; practice problems from the curriculum; review sessions using practice problems for unit assessment preparation. I am still trying to get to Khan Academy  exercises, but haven’t managed to get them worked in—yet.
  • Pacing—This is a non-issue in year 2. I attribute this to not over-teaching as well as to keeping moving even without 100% buy-in from students. I know the material and concepts are coming around again and both the students and I will get another crack at nailing down the standards. I also understand the learning goals more clearly and know that keeping them bite-sized is essential to student success. That my students were successful at all last year was truly a miracle.sample matrix for blog
  • Community support—In year 1, I felt like my blog was my only companion as I learned this new curriculum and relearned how to teach—or perhaps, finally learned how to teach. This year, there is so much community support. There are the organized supports such as the face book groups and Monday night twitter chats (#OpenUpMath) as well as monthly zoom sessions by the Gurus of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math. My district is also providing monthly professional development specifically for users of the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum. I also have a network of users across the country as my personal Professional Learning Community. I find it hard to believe I made it through last year without these committed educators.Chat.png
  • School-life balance—This did not exist in year one. I worked very hard, but not very smart and it took a physical toll on me. This year, I am more rested even though I am doing more each day. I manage to eat healthier, sleep more, exercise regularly, read for pleasure, find time to support my learning community and even spend time with my husband. These activities have all improved my mood and attitude and help me recover from slumps and meltdowns more quickly.Selfcareisnotselfish

Year two just keeps getting better too. I actually feel valued and appreciated by my colleagues across the country. I feel confident in my classroom and I am excited about the future. My community members experiencing year one now who are taking advantage of the support of the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math community are doing so many wonderful things for their students. I am grateful for them and want to support them as we move forward together, as a community of learners.

Here I Stand

I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. I’ve lived it. The equations section of Unit 4 of 8thgrade Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum is a beast. It ramps up so quickly with little to no practice and students are lost. They are frustrated and giving up. So are teachers. So was I, until I got my head around it. Sheer conjecture, but this is my take on the whole thing.

This curriculum is designed for 8thgraders. All 8thgraders. We have three distinct levels of math classes in 8thgrade at my school. The Open Up curriculum is only being used for students who are currently at, barely at or below grade level. There is a narrow group of learners using this wide-ranging 8thgrade curriculum. Most of these learners have never truly been asked to perform work that is on-grade-level. This is the first time. They are lost and struggling and giving up.

We are taking a curriculum intended for acceleration, remediation and everything in between and using it exclusively for corrective and remedial instruction with enough access for on grade-level students to make progress. We are working hard to deliver the curriculum with fidelity. Our students are being challenged with grade-level material for, perhaps, the first time. They, in all likelihood, will not get it all. That’s ok. For many, this is their first exposure to grade-level material. Maybe they’ll get it the next time. We need to focus on the fact that students finally have access to grade-level material. We, as teachers, need to be careful not to let our well-intentioned actions take that away from them. When we take the opportunity for students to solve equations containing distribution and fractions and negative numbers and variables on both side and exchange it for 6thgrade-level equations, we are cheating our students.

And there I am, taking work that is at grade-level and breaking it down into bits and pieces that my students can understand and taking it off grade-level. I’m reading to them rather than having them read the problems themselves. I’m giving in. I’m using a curriculum designed to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners with a group of learners who, for the most part, don’t want to be there. I have got to do better so my students have a chance to do better. I’ve started giving out Life Savers to students for getting a good start on activities. Hopefully, only I catch the connection there.

Students do not know how to put in the sustained work required to do the learning that needs to be done to get on grade-level. They do not know how to reach longer-term goals on their own.  Rather than getting frustrated with the students and the curriculum, we as teachers, need to rise to the challenge and be the bridge that finally gets these students access to grade level work. Yes. It will take multiple years, but I would rather be the start of their access to grade-level work rather than the continuation of subpar standards.

There is so much immediate gratification in the lives of students that gets in the way of the time it takes to do the work required to reach longer-term goals.  None of these students fell behind in the last year or two. Fact is they were never caught up to start with. This is just the first time they have ever even had the chance to see and do work that is on grade-level. They are 13 and 14. Yes, they are going to struggle. Yes, we are going to struggle right along with them.  We owe it to them to finally challenge them with what they deserve. All students deserve access to grade level content. Period. Taking Martin Luther out of context, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

martin luther at luther college

Tracking is the start of all this below grade-level activity. We say we want all students to succeed, but how can they? There is no way to “jump the track” they are assigned to if they do not have a crack at the actual expectations of the grade. At-grade-level progress needs to be accessed and assessed for all learners. Watering down standards and short-changing learners who have historically struggled will never get them where they should be. Please honor our students by honoring their access to grade-level material. It is probable that many may not get it, but some will. Chances are, the ones that don’t get it weren’t going to get the watered-down version either. At grade level material gives all students a chance to meet and exceed expectations. Expect great things from yourself and your students.

A Tale of Two Years

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Thanks to Charles Dickens for igniting my thought process.

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This is year two for me teaching 8thgrade math using Illustrative Mathematics’ curriculum published and distributed by Open Up Resources 6-8 Math. Year two is everything I had hoped it would be. I marked my Unit 3 assessments Wednesday and was pretty pleased with the understandings my learners demonstrated. I tallied the individual scores just to get a macro feeling of how the classes were doing this year on the Unit 3 formal assessment. I felt pretty good about student work, but mildly disappointed in myself. As I was marking, I wish I had some student copies from last year’s assessment to compare similarly situated learners’ progressions. (Year one people—make and save a couple student copies to look at next year for each assessment. I thought I was going to remember, but I didn’t.) I did find my teacher copy with the tally marks of last years’ results. Drum roll please…the scores are better. And more students are able to put their understandings on display on the assessment. And, dig this, I am a month ahead of last years’ pace. And the results are significant. [Timeline correction…Last year, I started Unit 4 on February 2nd. February 2nd!!!! This year, I started Unit 4 December 7th. That’s almost 2 months ahead and we have already had 7 or 8 days out of school due to weather issues. And my learners understand more and perform better.] This is all because it is year two. My class sizes are a bit larger than last year, but the mix of historical performance measures (skills, abilities, levels—all horrible words to describe children’s current placement) is about the same. This year-two teaching experience with this curriculum is a wonderful feeling. I attribute improvements to the following changes, in no particular order.

  • Focusing on not over-teaching is a giant change affecting pace issues of the past. This revelation came during summer PD sessions with the good people of Illustrative Mathematics fame.
  • I am also better at formative assessment on the spot so I am not waiting until I can look at a stack of cool-downs to know if students got the intended learning or not. I have better interventions, earlier.
  • This year I made a commitment to move along regardless of stragglers. If I have learned one thing comparing last year to this year it is that you are going to have stragglers no matter how slow and thoroughly you go. Slowing down only harms the learners who are ready to move. It’s like walking in a line with a class of students. No matter how slowly you walk, the end of the line gets further and further from the front. Continually stopping so they can catch up is necessary, but holds everyone back. I need to work at incentivizing the back of the line, aka the stragglers, so they want to keep up and be part of the learning group.
  • This year I am using the practice problems whenever I can. This may be as filler at the end of class or as a pre-class activity to review the prior day’s concepts. I also assign targeted practice problems as Unit reviews before a Unit test. I’ve also put in a Quizizz activity once in a while. I’m going to give the Kahn Academy practice problems a shot next. That retrieval/practice routine must be played out regularly.
  • The launch for each activity is better year 2 because I know where I am going. I know what the focus of the activity truly is and I know where the stumbling blocks are. I am not removing the productive struggle, but I am better with my instructions and communication to learners of the expected outcomes.
  • Both activity and lesson syntheses are better than last year in that they exist, usually. They are focused and tight. They tie to the lesson summary or they come with a note or a highlight on the activity page in the workbook to seal the deal. I am still working to improve all of this and it’s not nearly as good and tight as it reads here.
  • The professional development, I am receiving on the unit materials and elements, is better this year since I can actually attend the sessions. Last year they were not held at a time when I could make it without missing one class of each of my two courses during the day, plus I was sooooo far behind I was afraid to be gone.
  • This year I have the support of my nationwide PLC. I am also supporting other users of the curriculum so I get better and think more carefully as I respond to inquiries and participate in twitter chats. I also feel a sense of accountability to my nationwide PLC and this makes me prepare and research at a much higher level than I otherwise would.
  • I spend more quality time reflecting as I prepare Guru Zoom chats and draft the weekly #OpenUpMath Twitter chat questions. Nothing sharpens skills like leadership.
  • Taking some of the preparation off of me and putting it on students, by having student workbooks, is a positive change for which I am grateful. I am not certain learners took the copied version of the activities last year as serious as they do the official workbooks this year. I am also able to invest in better preparation because I am not making copies of the materials. Workbooks also save valuable class time not having to pass out papers.

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Just look at the understanding that is demonstrated here. This learner is testing algebraically as well as graphically to determine if the ordered pairs are indeed solutions to the given equation. And look! Going beyond what was given, she tests a point not provided (4, 3) that works in the equation to see that it is on the line. I cried–in the best possible way.

Not everything is rosy, however. Horizontal and vertical lines as well at the shifting of proportional lines (y=kx from 7thgrade) was horrible last year and no better this year for the most part. Why??? I know I did a better, more explicit job connecting points and coordinates and lines. I did better, but the students weren’t doing enough. I need to beef that up and I am going to go back through those lessons again and see what it is I am NOT doing. The lessons are good in the moment, but they are not sticking with learners. I have got to make them stick. There needs to be struggling retrieval and spaced practice. All those sticky things must happen more and better than I have been doing. I will also check with my Tweople and see what their experiences and remedies are This is one area that did not improve from last year, yet.

I am going to continue to tweak and ponder, reflect and revise. I pledge that to my self and to my PLC.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Open letter to middle school administrators allocating fewer than 60 minutes a day and/or five days a week for mathematics classes…

Dear Middle School Leaders:

Learning takes time. That is fact without regard to subject matter or grade level. You are a professional in the field of education. You know that truth.

I hear from some users of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math from around the country about the amount of time allocated for math instruction daily. The lowest report is 39 minutes of math class daily. Another low mark is math class every-other-day for 45 to 60 minutes. Please carefully consider these questions. What is at the center of your master planning? Is it the students and their learning? Is the scheduled time currently allocated for academics in the best interest of students or can it be improved? Is your decision to allot minimal learning time grounded in research or is it merely convenient? Is it, as I have heard, the way it’s always been? That is not defensible. What is more important than your students’ learning? There appear to be institutions out there playing school rather than creating environments where students can authentically learn. Please make your business about educating learners and not about playing school.

I am being bold asking these sincere questions because your teachers cannot be. Your teachers love their students and they love what they do and they want to keep doing it. The schedule, however, is making the challenging job of teaching impossible. In the 13 years I have been in the classroom, I have had 60, 70 and 90-minute math classes. 90 minutes is way too long. 60 or 70 minutes work. That provides enough time for students to grapple with concepts and come to resolutions. Fewer than 60 minutes requires teachers to shortcut student learning experiences in favor of algorithms. Students are required to drink from the fire hose of math and they are ill equipped to do so. Surely, you, as the leader of an educational institution know better and are in a position to rectify the scheduling situation. Surely.

Please recognize that learning is a process and give your students time to go through that process. Please honor your teachers by giving them time to promote and support student learning the way they know, as professionals, is best. Days and minutes matter when it comes to developing conceptual understandings. Learning takes time.

Truly yours,

Sara B. Vaughn, M.Ed., NBCT

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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

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