Wait! I Have a Warning for the Class!

This year in my classroom we work hard to embrace our mistakes and learn from them every day. We work to recognize our mistakes and treat them not as a tragedy but as a moment to learn. In math mistakes seem to be especially taboo. Everyone grew up knowing that kids who weren’t good at math weren’t as smart as the other kids. We grew up thinking the fastest was the smartest. Even as an adult I realize that as I make mistakes in math I feel like that little girl in third grade who never passed a time test. Part of embracing mistakes is ensuring that students have a conceptual understanding of what they are doing. Math is often seen as a set of steps where you put in numbers and poof you get the right answer. Even worse, you don’t and you have no idea why it worked before but doesn’t work now.

This week the coolest thing happened in my room. We are working on multiplication and using a variety of strategies. As a class, we have taken time to learn about various misunderstandings that students have.  We were sitting in a circle at the carpet playing Convince Me when suddenly one of my students blurted out, “WAIT! I have a warning for the class!” I had no idea what this warning could be but we all focused our attention on this student and waited for him to begin.

“I notice some kids are making their arrays wrong and so I wanted to teach them about a mistake they’re making.” He calmly started. WHAT?!!! A student noticed a mistake? A common misconception students make and wanted to help the class understand!!! I sat there in awe realizing how closely he was paying attention to what the students around him were doing. He continued on,

“They see that they need to make an array with 3 rows and 4 dots in each row. First kids draw the three rows down. Then when they go to add the dots they add 4 dots in each row and they forget to count the dot they already put down. Then they have a 3 by 5 array! So make sure when you add how many dots in each row you count the dot you already put down.”

As he finished talking several students began glancing down at their mistake. Whispers started as students talked to their math partner. After a moment we came back together as a class. “Who realized they had made this mistake?” I asked the class. Several students acknowledged that they had. A large number of students thanked our friend for sharing his warning with our class. We now have a poster in the back of the room with these wise words, reminding each other of a tricky part in building an array.

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Empowering students to use their voice in the classroom can be one of the greatest tools we have as teachers. Students should be some of the greatest teachers in the room. The best part about this is that when one student chose to speak out, several students corrected a mistake and learned from a peer. We need to ensure that students have the voice to speak out. After all, the smartest person in the room, is the room.

Shhhh! Listen Up!

Here is something I truly and deeply believe: We cannot discredit the voices of children. We must give them a seat at the table and teach them that their words matter. They have ideas that are important and valuable and they will one day change the world.

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“My ideas are GOLD. My writing can change the world.” A phrase written on all of our Writer’s Notebooks and Folders

That being said, we do not shush people who have important ideas. We would never shush someone we respected when they were speaking. The same should hold true each and every day in our classrooms. I respect all of my students. I understand and acknowledge that their words matter and what they think counts. Shushing is a strange and rude behavior. Why are we shushing kids?  What does the child learn? How do they benefit? They don’t. They often do not understand why they are being silenced and just become upset that you don’t want to listen to them. At times I have even seen students speak louder after being shushed creating more disruption.

Instead of silencing them with a rude shush we can teach them how conversations work and how to communicate with others. This is a real world skill that they will need for their entire lives.

Here are a few tricks to stop the shushing! 

  1. Stop hand raising during conversations. I don’t know about you but when I am out to dinner with my friends no one raises hands. No one calls on people and allows them to speak. Why should we constantly call on children to speak in class? Before people get all worked up, I am not saying that hand raising should never exist in a classroom. Let’s be real, when you have 18 or more students in a class sometimes hand raising is a must. During a conversation though it should not be allowed. Students need to learn to speak on one topic without the teacher always being the leader. 
  2. Teach them how to enter a conversation. Kids don’t know how they enter into a conversation and sometimes they learn that the loudest person gets to talk. I teach my students that when they hear a break or pause in the conversation it is their turn to jump in. I also make sure to teach them that when two people chime in at the same time you allow the other person to speak first. These are real skills that children can begin to learn at a very young age.
  3. Teach them how to interrupt a conversation. I will never forget in my first year teaching when a teacher and I were talking and a student interrupted us. The teacher turned toward the student and said with a very sassy tone, “Excuse me! Do you see I am speaking to an adult here?” After that incident I thought long and hard about her response. It was harsh but it made me realize that we must teach students what to do when any two people are talking. I teach students that when they see two people (anyone not just teachers!) speaking and they have to interrupt they need to say, “excuse me…” and wait before blurting out what they need to say. Sometimes they learn that the people talking say just a second and sometimes they stop and listen. Students need to interrupt each other and respond appropriately and they need to interrupt adults appropriately as well.
  4. Stop interrupting the children. Let them have their thought! As a teacher you need to stop interrupting the conversation. Teachers often like to jump into the conversation and share their opinion. The problem is that then the teacher gets to talk the most. Students need to talk. Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning. There are times I just want to bust into a conversation in my class and share my ideas; the problem is that it’s not my turn to speak. We aren’t having a class conversation so that I can share my ideas. We are having a class conversations for students to share their ideas, practice communicating with each other, and grow new ideas and understandings. 
  5. Don’t summarize what the child has said. When I was a kid, I noticed teachers always repeated everything someone said. When this happens students don’t need to pay attention to what their peers say because they know the teacher will say it again. Oftentimes they also know that their messages will be edited by the teacher and stated in a different way. Teachers change words to better match the conversation agenda in their head. We mean well but we end up taking control. Just let the kids speak and keep quiet. Students can ask each other if they need something to be repeated or if they need something clarified. I emphasize that during class conversations I am a ghost. I am not there. Look at your peers while talking, listen to each other. I’m not even here. 
  6. Try and try again. This is not easy work. At the beginning of this school year I gave up for a week because it was so frustrating to teach conversational skills to my students. I dreaded having conversations because it was so painful. However, after our week break we went at it again and I can honestly say that the conversations my students are having today are blowing me away. They are equally participating and calling each other out for not participating. They are sharing wonderful ideas and growing as people because of it.

Children need a voice in this world. Make sure that you are not the one silencing them.

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An anchor chart from last year on class conversations.

Could We Do That Too? Planting the Idea and Waiting for it to Blossom

*Alternative title for this blog post: How I am Tricking My Class Into Doing Exactly What I Want*

One of the things I learned my first year teaching is that ideas are always better when they are from the students. Each year my goal is to plant the idea and have students suggest what we are actually going to do. I’ve learned a few lessons about it over the years. This year I have been ridiculously successful (seriously!) with this. I started to think, what am I doing differently this year? I don’t have definite answers right now but I have some theories that I am working on.

Maybe it is the kids. Let’s be real. Sometimes when you are successful as a teacher it isn’t about you at all. I would love to pretend that I plan out every amazing moment in my classroom but the reality is that I don’t. Maybe this year I have highly inquisitive, independent and motivated learners. Maybe they take initiative and are just owning their education… maybe.

But for just a minute let’s pretend that I am the mastermind of this situation. Here’s what I’m doing to plant ideas in my student’s minds.

I present them with research. Let’s talk about how I convinced all my students to read for 15 minutes each night, and some even wanted to read for 20! First, I had my own bookbag out in plain sight. My students would stop and look at the log. Some noticed that I have been reading at home a lot but not at school. I shared my reading life with them- my authentic reading life. It isn’t forced or fake.

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First Day of School:  “Maybe some kids might want to read at home. I have plastic bags with everyone’s names on them. (Hmm… I wonder what those would be for?)  If you want to take books home come and grab your bag.”
7 kids take bags home.
Second Day of School: “I noticed so many friends brought home bookbags and read last night. Did you enjoy reading at home? Maybe some more friends might want to take their bookbags home.”
11 kids take bookbags home.
Third Day of School: “I was on the computer and saw this research that I thought I should share with all of you.

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Wow! What I’m noticing is that kids who read at home each night do better in school. What do you think about this?”
Student: I feel like maybe we should read at night.
Class: YEAH!!
16 kids take home bookbags. (That is my whole class!!)

I presented them with real reasons that made sense to them. So now my whole class was reading at home each night BUT I needed them to log their reading. I know there is a lot out there about reading logs and I go back and forth on them all the time. Is it worth it? Does it kill a love of reading? That’s another blog post in itself. I have come to the conclusion that if you use the log in meaningful ways then it is worthwhile. At the start of the year we started logging our read alouds on a class reading log (the same reading log students would be taking home… if they decided it was important). I made a dramatic big deal about logging in and out each time we read.
Finally a student asked me, “why the heck are you doing all that work for a piece of paper?” Wonderful, they noticed and were wondering why! I posed the question back, “I don’t know. What could I use this information for?”
Another student got excited, “You can see that one day we didn’t read very many pages because we had problems sitting at the carpet!” True. We had major issues that day. The same student continued, “Also we missed read aloud on Thursday because we had problems during snack.” Also true! Snack is a major issue in my classroom at the moment. Another student asked, “Well if we learn this much from it, should we log our reading?” I was so excited, “Wow! I like that idea. Let’s find out where reading logs are kept in the classroom and how they work.” BAM! All my kids started logging their reading because they saw a purpose to it. Now did those reading logs all come back? No. But sometimes you have to appreciate what you have and work towards what you want.

I made them wait for it. This year after attending a conference where I heard Lester Laminack talk. He spoke of the importance of building anticipation and making students wait for things. Typically I handed out writer’s notebooks the first day of school. We started writing in them right away. This year I decided not to hand them out right away but to just model with mine in an exaggerated fashion. My writer’s notebook is tabbed with many things. The most important is the tiny topics section where we save ideas for stories. Each time I was reminded of a story, seriously whenever I thought of a story, I loudly commented about turning to the orange tab and writing down a quick jot. Today my class was begging for notebooks. “I just want to write down all of my story ideas!” one of my friends screamed out while we were sitting at the carpet. So we finally got our writers notebooks . The whole class was so excited and had so many tiny topics to jot down right away!

I strongly believe that when students come up with ideas on their own, even when the teacher has planted the seed, they feel empowered as learners. We’ll see how the rest of this year turns out and if we can keep our momentum going. How do you foster independence and ownership in your classrooms?

Simple Start to Developing Self-Sufficient Learners

The time has come to break students away from being the receivers of information and teachers being the all-knowing givers of the information. If we think back to how school worked when we were kids, and how it still works in many classrooms today, we know that the teacher has the information and the students quietly listen to the information and learn it. This is a formula we have to break out of for the sake of our learners.

When we treat teachers as all-knowing figures we put a lot of pressure on teachers to know everything and we give them a lot of power. Some teachers are reluctant to give up that power because it places them into a vulnerable state and let’s face it, sometimes it is hard to be vulnerable in front of students. The first time I admitted I didn’t know something in my classroom students laughed at me because the teacher always knows everything. Just because something is difficult does not mean that it is not worthwhile. The things that challenge us usually teach us the greatest lessons. When teachers have all the knowledge the students don’t have the opportunity to take ownership from their learning. Learning becomes an activity where I listen to someone else tell me what I need to know; instead of an activity where I discover what I want to learn using resources I have available to me.

Think back to a time in school where someone questioned the teacher and I’m sure it didn’t end well. If I think back to the kinds of students who questioned the teacher they typically fall into two categories: kids that were really smart and knew they were correct and the teacher was wrong, and kids who were trying to get the teacher upset. Both of these students caused upset reactions from teachers because they had been undermined. They had been challenged and for a split second they were not the all-knowing figure they should have been. Today if a student questions me in class I value it and reflect upon what I was asked.

Admitting that you don’t know everything can be a trying process but students will benefit from it and if it benefits the students then it is something that we have to do. An easy way to begin is to start asking questions back to students. When students come up to me and ask questions that they should be able to figure out the answer to I ask it right back.
S: “Ms. Rice! What time is lunch?”
Me: “Hmm what time is lunch? I wonder if there is a tool in our classroom to help you figure that out?”
S: “The schedule?”

S:”How do you spell didn’t?”
Me: “What a great question, I wonder what tools you have as a writer to help you spell words you don’t know.”
S: Checks word wall

As simple as it may be, asking questions back to students and teaching them that they have the tools they need is empowering for them. It lets them know that they have the power to take on new knowledge. They can solve problems on their own. After asking questions back to kids they will stop asking questions they know they can answer and start asking other things like, “I just read a biography about Gloria Steinem and I want to take a poll about women’s rights. Can I do that now or should I wait until the end of reader’s workshop?” or “Ms. Rice I just wrote this poem I want to tweet. Can you log us in so I can tweet a picture of it?” Gone are the days of having to answer questions about spelling of words, bathroom breaks, and how much longer until lunch. When students do fall back into old habits they laugh as soon as they realize they have the answer to the question they have asked. This creates a simple start to empowering learners to be self-sufficient.

Simple Step to Start Today: Don’t answer questions that students can answer on their own. Ask the question back to them with a reminder that they have the tools to figure it out.

We Are Killing Our Young Mathematicians!!!

Ok the title of this post might seem a little overdramatic but seriously I have just about had it with the way we teach kids math. We need to change our methods and our students don’t have time for us to wait. FYI I keep trying to calm myself down so this isn’t a rant but I care too much and am too upset so this might be more of a rant than a helpful blog post. You have been warned.

On Monday I started teaching summer school. I am teaching 3rd grade math review so I will be teaching students who are not the best mathematicians. We started by talking about our favorite parts of math and no one knew anything. I realized quickly that we probably needed to talk about what math is before we talked about our favorite parts. When I asked I was not prepared for the answers I got. Many students said math is “doing the boxes,” time tests, and homelinks. All these students knew about math was the work they had to do in class. After further prompting, “what do you do inside the math boxes?” students could not come up with anything. We are failing our students greatly and it has to be fixed.

When we take the thinking out of math we do a great disservice to our students (and to the future). Math is thinking! Math is sitting with challenging problems and trying to solve them. Math is failing and trying again. Math is working hard on a problem and still not being able to solve it. Math is not plugging in numbers and getting an answer. Math is not filling in plug and chug worksheets that your teacher gives you.

Let’s put the thinking back in math education! I teach my students a golden rule of math and it is this: Math always makes sense. If it stops making sense to me, I need to ask a question. Math works because we follow a series of logical steps to arrive at an answer. Students don’t see math as logical and they can’t pick out the steps because we teach math as if it is magic.

Let’s think through this math problem together. There are 23 students in my class and 7 are absent today. The question we naturally want to know is how many are present. To solve this I would use the equation 23-7=? In my head I would break the 7 into 3 and 4. Then I would do 23-3= 20, 20-4=16. There are 16 kids present.

Instead of teaching what appears to be logical steps we teach them that 3 is smaller than seven (correct). You cant take away a bigger number from a smaller number (WRONG) so I have to go to my neighbor’s house the 2 and take 1 away and then I end up with 13. 13 minus 7 is … is … 6 and then 1 minus nothing is 1 so the answer is 16. WHAT?!? Did that make any sense mathematically? No. We need to stop teaching stories and tricks and teach math.

Two years ago my entire staff was trained in Add+Vantage Math Recovery courses 1 and 2.2. I completely switched around the way I was teaching math and I was shocked by the deeper understanding my students gained. By learning that numbers are flexible and can be composed and decomposed in different ways students can use strategies that work best for them. Students begin to see the logic behind the math that they are doing and can understand more mathematical concepts.

Currently teachers don’t know how students build number sense and learn various mathematical concepts. Too much of math education follows the philosophy: I was taught that way and it worked for me so I should continue to teach the way I was taught. NO! NO! NO! Districts need to set out on a path to educate teachers how a student learns mathematical concepts. I’ll tell you right now it isn’t you learn to add then subtract, then multiply then divide. I feel like we might be on the edge of a breakthrough in the way we teach math. If you are interested in rethinking how math is taught in your classroom I highly recommend checking out any work from Jo Boaler including the website youcubed.

My Students are Running My Classroom!

Whoops! Meant to post this one before the end of the school year but time just got away from me!

A few weeks ago I noticed something very interesting during a class conversation. I was off to the side listening in while my students were having a conversation about diverse books. Suddenly I hear a student say, “Wait! I’m noticing that some people at the carpet aren’t paying attention to our conversation and now they are missing out on learning.” After that she prompted the class to return to conversation by saying, “sorry I interrupted, I think that ____ was talking.” I was in shock! Those were my exact words. I was always the one to call the students out for not paying attention and suddenly the students were calling each other out. A little while later in the same conversation a different student redirected the class for starting to get off topic. My students are finally running the classroom!

This proved true again when yesterday during Morning Meeting. I received two phone calls during morning meeting yesterday and both times a student hopped up and led the rest of the meeting. During the greeting a student (different than the two previous) got up and had the students do our Thursday Twist. Then right as share was starting another student stepped into my role and led our class share! I am so proud of how far my class has come this year! It is also bittersweet that the end is near and we are finishing our time as a learning community together.

Each year my goal is to have my students take on as much of the leadership in my classroom as possible. Throughout the year I slowly put more and more responsibility on my students and they step up and take it on. This year has been full of different challenges and new obstacles and I wasn’t sure if my class would ever get to this point. As I think back on what I did to create this classroom environment I have a few ideas to pass on.

1. Students are responsible for EVERYTHING. They are truly responsible for everything in the classroom. I don’t clean up after them, I give very limited reminders to follow class procedures, and I don’t hold their hand when they do things on their own. Students quickly realize that they are the ones who control our learning environment. Once they realize this, slowly more and more responsibility is put on them. Certain years classes have more responsibilities than others because of what they can and cannot handle. Knowing that we are all responsible for our classroom creates a team effort where every member is important.

2. Students are always held accountable… by each other. In the beginning of the year I often make announcements saying things like, “I’m noticing that there is paper all over the floor in the back of the classroom” or “I’m noticing someone used the sink and now water is everywhere.” When I make announcements like I simply notice something. Students catch on very quickly that I will not be cleaning up after them and it doesn’t matter who did it, we can all fix the problem. In late October students start coming up and asking if they can make an announcement. Of course they can! They call the class to attention and make an announcement themselves, “I just went to get a post-it from the drawer and someone had ripped apart an entire pad and now we can’t use those post-its” Once the students start making announcements and holding each other accountable the classroom community strengthens and starts to build. They even specifically call each other out on behavior and no one gets upset, “I’m noticing when you stand in line next to _____ you talk. Do you want to switch spots with me?” That was actually said in my class this year! Sometimes we are not directly involved in the problem but we are all a part of the solution.

3. Our classroom community is supportive, loving, and forgiving. When a classmate is feeling down we talk it through with them. Students often ask if they can have a moment to talk with a classmate who is upset. If the student wants to talk they can sit at the table and talk it out. We encourage each other when we struggle. Just this year a few kids formed a Crayfish Support Group for a friend who really wanted to move a crayfish but was too afraid. The group had her practice with rocks, cheered her on when she struggled and celebrated when she finally did it! The group met with her for over an hour during science one day. At one point I thought it had gone on for long enough and went to tell them someone else had to move the crayfish. They were upset! How dare I try to take a learning opportunity away from someone who was almost there! Another 25 minutes later and the crayfish was finally moved. We celebrated as a class and had a 5 min. dance party. Most importantly we forgive each other for mistakes. I make mistakes all the time, we all do. It is important for students to know that we move past their mistakes together and give them another chance.

4. Students are encouraged to take risks. Due to our community norms risk taking is ok and it is expected. Students make mistakes in front of each other ALL THE TIME and they don’t feel bad or stupid because of it. In January a student went to the board really excited to share his thinking on a math problem. It was one of our struggling mathematicians. As he wrote his work on the board we started to realize that he had made a mistake. As a teacher I got nervous that someone was going to call him out on it but everyone just sat quietly waiting for him to realize it. A few even started to jot down where he went wrong on a dry erase board. When he stepped away from the board saying, “Wait… something is wrong” we held our breath. He noticed his mistake and the class complimented him! We celebrated making a mistake and we celebrated fixing the mistake. This holds true for all risks that students try out in the classroom. We are here to support you, try it out!

5. As a teacher I model EVERYTHING I want students to do. I have realized that my biggest teaching failures are often due to the fact that I didn’t model what I wanted in a way students could understand. All the behaviors I expect from my students I also expect from myself. I am not a commanding authority figure in my classroom. I facilitate learning and I am a member of the community just like everyone else. That is why when I get a phone call, or have to talk to someone who just popped in the room students can pick up where I left off. Students have facilitated morning meeting, have continued a read aloud, and have even prompted conversations all on their own. We are equal members in our community and we can’t learn without the other.

Ending the Year as Strong as it Started

The end of the year is quickly approaching but that doesn’t mean that things in the classroom should be slowing down. We don’t need to fill our last few weeks with keeping kids occupied through meaningless activities. Keeping a classroom that is consistent and focused on learning to the very end will help create a calm in what can be a very hectic time in the year. At the end of the year I always feel like the days I have to make a difference in a student’s life are dwindling and there is no time to waste on busy work.

Top 5 Ways to End on a Strong Note 

1. Hold your expectations just as high as ever. In my classroom the same rules we followed so closely at the beginning of the year hold true to the very last second students are in my classroom. I expect my students to continue learning, they know my expectations and they rise to the occasion. Don’t start to bend the rules towards the end of the year. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.

2. Keep consistent in all things. If there is anything that I have learned as a teacher it is to be consistent until the end. I keep everything the same from rules and procedures to the schedule to routines and behaviors. The second you start changing things up is the second that behavior issues are going to arise. Even though I am dying to take down my word wall, math anchor charts, reading and writing anchor charts, etc. to start fresh next year I have to resist or trouble will ensue

3. PRAISE! PRAISE! PRAISE! Use positive reenforcement to the extreme. Just today I found myself saying, “Oh my gosh! Look how nicely ____ is sitting at the carpet. He’s not rolling around. He’s just sitting. Great work!” In this moment many of my students took notice of the behavior recognized and adjusted their own behavior to match. Even though this is a behavior that is expected by now we need many reminders of praise just like at the beginning of the year. Students love to be praised for good things. Focus on the good behaviors and ignore the undesirable behaviors and you start to notice more students doing the right thing.

4. Read more books! If I know one way to attract and keep a child’s attention, it is through interactive read aloud. At the end of the year students are far more capable to have those deep and meaningful conversations. I always like to pull out old class favorites and reread them amazed by how far our conversational skills have come. Children love revisiting old stories and the end of the year is the perfect time to do so. The end of the year is also a perfect time for a reading marathon seeing just how long your class can read for. A couple years ago I had a class read for 3 hours and they still felt like they didn’t have enough time!

5. Acknowledge summer is coming and have a little fun! Alright, honestly, it is not all work in my classroom all the time. I take the time to acknowledge that the end is near and have a little fun but I do so in an academic way (most of the time). Tomorrow in math we will be having a banana split party in celebration of learning our multiplication facts. For the last two weeks we paired up with another class and became pen pals recommending various books. Next week we are planning on having a crayfish race with our crayfish. Even though the end is here and we will learn the whole way through we are doing so in a fun manner.

Just remember that our time with students is very precious and we can’t afford to waste any of it with things that aren’t important.

What I Learned From Logging My Reading

At the beginning of our new unit I made a choice to log my reading just like my students have to. We were having serious problems remembering to log our reading and I didn’t think my students understood why they were doing it. We hadn’t analyzed our reading logs for a while and the purpose wasn’t obvious to them. We needed a boost and we needed it fast.

One afternoon while sitting in my classroom thinking about the problem I had my “ah-ha moment.” The words of my old lit coach came into my head, “If you’re not modeling it, you’re not teaching it.” There was my problem! I had never kept a reading log. I had never logged in and out each day like they do. I wasn’t showing them how I log my reading all the time as a reader. This was the missing piece!

Model Model Model

As a reader in the “real world” I log my reading all the time. In fact, I have a book where I keep track of books I have read. I write down quotes I love. I rate the books I read and write why I liked or didn’t like them. I abandon books all the time only to come back to them later. I even keep track of how many pages I read. I log my reading all the time and my students had no idea.

The next morning I made myself a book bag and as my students logged in, so did I. A majority of them noticed and came to peer over my shoulder as I wrote. I didn’t say anything to them. I just let them make their own observations. After my minilesson I sent my students off to do the important work of biography readers and I sat down at my table and read for the first 5 minutes. When I finished reading I logged out, put my book and reading log in my book bag, placed it on a shelf and began conferring with readers. At night I brought my book bag home and read for 15 minutes.

Reading Log

Each morning my students would come in and check my reading log. They were making sure I was doing my homework! They also started to notice things about me as a reader. “Ms. Rice do you notice that you are reading too slow. I don’t think you are reading a just right book,” one of them pointed out one day after reading. They were right! I wasn’t reading fast enough. From this comment we were able to sit down and have a conversation about it. I admitted that I wasn’t reading very fast because I constantly had to reread. Biographies are a hard genre for me because I can’t stay focused. Some of them were a little confused that I was admitting a flaw of mine. It’s not every day that teachers willingly admit weaknesses to students. Some of them blurted out, “ME TOO!” They were starting to see that even adults struggle from time to time and it was ok.

From this point we have been able to have honest conversations about ourselves as readers. When students start to see that even their teacher isn’t the perfect reader all the time, they are more likely to admit their own faults and work to improve upon them. There were even days when I forgot my book bag at school. I learned that it really isn’t as easy as I thought it was bringing a bookbag back and forth. We had more honest conversations where I was told I needed to “work on being more responsible.”

Students need to see their teachers and adults around them doing the work of readers. Adults read all the time but children rarely get a glimpse into the world of adult readers. They need to see that adults face the same struggles as children and adults aren’t always perfect readers. I challenge you to log your reading with your students. Allow them to see you struggle and abandon books. Allow them to see you forget to do your reading and even forget your reading log. Children do as you do not as you say. Show them all readers have faults and they will be more willing to expose their own and improve upon them.

“8 and 8 fell on the floor and they turned into 64” Why We Have to Stop Teaching Kids Math Tricks

Living in a world where Common Core aligned standardized testing is just on the horizon we have to reflect upon our teaching practices in math. While we shouldn’t teach to the test we must teach to the standards. When looking at the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics you will notice the deep understanding of numeracy and mathematical concepts required from all our students. They need to be able to explain their thinking and to be able to think about math problems in many different ways. This is why it is imperative that we stop teaching cute tricks and teach how math really works. 

When I was in elementary school I learned lots of catchy songs and rhymes to remember math concepts. I “borrowed” ten more from a neighbor. I put zeros where my teacher said when multiplying double digits because she said to trust her and put one there. Don’t ask why. I memorized my “magic” nines. I learned tons of tricks to be able solve math problems. Math wasn’t always a logical sequence of events; oftentimes it was trying to remember that 8 and what fell on the floor and they turned into 64? 7? 9? No, I think it’s eight. Yes, 8 and 8 fell on the floor and they turned into 64. If you would have asked me why or how do I know, I never would have been able to answer. Granted I was a lower achieving math student but part of that was because math didn’t make any sense to me. The only time math made sense was when it was in story problems.

It wasn’t until I was taking a college education class about math (after I had already taken and passed calculus) that I began to understand why things work in math. Guess what… it is not because of magic or because your teacher said so. There is a rational explanation for everything in math. There is always a reason why it works and mathematicians can logically explain their thinking without rhymes and asking the neighbor to borrow. Finally at the age of 20 I understood that 23 + 34 is the same as 20 + 30 and 3 + 4. Why didn’t they teach this to me when I was a kid? How in the world had I gotten through years of math without understanding the basic math concepts? Why could I tell you that the 2 was in the tens place and not recognize that it meant 20? Maybe it was because I struggled in math. The bigger question today is why are we still teaching math the same way?

Get rid of the tricks and just teach the math; the kids will understand it just fine. In my 2nd grade classroom last year we had a no tricks rule. We had many lengthly and deep discussions about why we don’t need tricks in math and how math fits together and makes sense. We used “grown-up” math words– words real mathematicians use. We didn’t call it a number model, or a number sentence we called it an expression or an equation because that is what it is. We didn’t learn that the alligator eats the bigger number we learned the terms greater than and less than paired with their symbols. The toughest one was adding and subtracting double digits. Through consistent work with math manipulatives we understood enough about how numbers work together that the idea of borrowing anything didn’t occur. We knew how to manipulate numbers. We knew how they went together and came apart and we could solve problems without any tricks. Even my struggling math students could always explain their thinking, how they arrived at an answer.

Right now I am working with my 3rd graders to eliminate the tricks and learn the math. We know mathematicians use a certain language and we use the same language. We know how to solve problems efficiently. We make sure we can prove all of our answers. We are beginning to understand that mathematicians can back up their answer using math and solve things another way. At first there was a lot of anxiety stepping away from tricks but once students haven’t used those tricks for a while math makes sense.  They don’t need the tricks, they don’t need the number grid, they don’t even need their fingers. (Although I am a big advocate for letting them use fingers if they need it… maybe I’ll have to write about that next.) Students begin to recognize patterns in math problems. They begin to question each others thinking about math. We have great discussions about what way is more efficient. What do these problems mean? How can I use math to solve problems?

Students can understand mathematical reasoning and mathematical terms at a young age. If they never learn tricks they won’t have to rely on them; they can actually rely on mathematical reasoning and processes. Each time we teach kids a song and dance about how numbers work we are taking away an opportunity to actually teach them how numbers really work. What’s a small step you could take tomorrow to help your students? How can we stop the tricks and start teaching them math? We don’t learn tricks in reading and writing, we learn skills that can be built upon and help us grow. We need to start doing the same in math.

Top 5 Back to School Moments

Really quickly here are my top 5 back to school moments.

 

  1. Seeing students walk into the door of our classroom for the first time. They’re always a little nervous and a little excited.
  2. Connecting with parents and families.
  3. All those new school supplies being brought into my classroom.
  4. The moment when students feel comfortable in our classroom and start to explore.
  5. Seeing old students return ready for the next grade.*

*This is one of the things that I miss most this year. I keep thinking of all of my old students returning and finding out that I’m not there. I hope that they have great school years but I miss them.