Sunday, July 20, 2014

Guided Math in Action Book Study, Chapters 3 & 4

Hi, Everyone!

This is the third entry in our Guided Math in Action Book Study. Today, I and my fellow bloggers (see below) will be reflecting on Chapters 3 and 4.  These chapters address two of the most critical elements of planning for guided math in the classroom.

Chapter 3: Managing the Math Workshop
This is the chapter I need the most!  In my journey with Guided Math, the routines and procedures have caused me the most headaches.  Dr. Newton recommends establishing clear guidelines and routines as well as a consistent schedule for math workshop time.  Here are some of the recommendations in this chapter:
  • Decide how you want your math workshop to go and establish explicit procedures and expectations.
  • Create three to four positively-stated rules and make sure that students agree to follow those rules. She listed three possible examples:
    • 1) We respect each other, so we are kind in our words and actions.
    • 2) We work hard all the time.
    • 3) We take care of our classroom materials.
  • Establish a system of fair consequences and rewards (intrinsic and/or extrinsic).
  • Establish routines through modeling, role play, and lots of practice. Make sure you introduce and practice centers whole group before expecting students to complete them independently.
  • Create and post anchor charts that highlight crucial math questions:
    • What do good mathematicians do?
    • How can students prove their thinking?
    • What can students say when they are talking about math?
  • Create and display a math workshop schedule.  
  • Establish a "home base" for teaching guided math groups. 
  • Make yourself a "teacher toolkit" and keep it stocked with everything you need to teach your small groups. See figure 3.7 on page 36 for specific items to include.

Question 1: Do you have a teacher toolkit? If so, what's in it?
I confess that I do not have a teacher toolkit. I did try to create one the second year I implemented math
workshop. I included things like snap cubes, base ten blocks and place value charts, counters, rulers, problem solving mats, hundred charts, pattern blocks, and some of our math games.  It was great...for the first couple of weeks.  My problem was putting everything back where it belonged after I used it so that the items would be easy to find for the next lesson.  I used a single file container to store my toolkit.  Now I wonder if I would do better with a storage cart with labeled drawers like the one pictured here from Office Depot. I use something similar to this to plan for my guided reading groups. I'm sure it would work with guided math materials as well.  Another item added to my summer to-do list!

Question 2: Do students have toolkits? If so, what's in them?
When I first began using Math Workshop and for the next few years, my students did have their own toolkits.  We used the Math Expressions program and the student kits were part of the program. They included base ten blocks, counters, pattern blocks, flash cards, snap cubes, and rulers. While some students had difficulty with keeping their materials in their kits, most were very responsible and this made distributing materials for lessons unnecessary. If an item was lost, students were able to access additional supplies in our math center.

This year, my students did not have their own toolkits.  I moved to a new school, and the math curriculum did not provide kits for student use. This was actually a source of frustration in the past year and I definitely plan to create individual kits for my students this year.  I plan to use heavy duty plastic bags with the slide closure and stock the kits with the basic tools that students will need.  The students can help with this.  I'll set up stations with each tool and directions for how many of each is needed.  The students can rotate around the classroom and add each item to their plastic bag.  This will introduce the kits and give students knowledge of and responsibility for what is in them.  I'm thinking that I will do this the first week of school and tie it to our discussion of respecting math tools.

Question 3: How do you establish routines and expectations?
I do many of the things that Dr. Newton suggests in her book. I work with students to establish expectations and have discussions that encourage student responsibility. I ask questions such as:

  • What do we want our classroom to look like during Math Workshop?
  • What helps us to learn?  What gets in the way of learning?
  • What do we need to do to help us do well in math?
  • What will it look like/sound like?
We make anchor charts to reflect our expectations. I refer to the charts when someone breaks a rule or does not follow our expectations. We role play to talk about solving problems in a respectful way.  

So, many of the things that Dr. Newton suggests are already in place in my classroom.  However, in reflecting on what was not working, here are some things that could stand some improvement.  
  • I need to work on being consistent, immediate, and fair in my consequences and rewards. Students will do whatever they can get away with. Giving extra chances to some children sends the message that not everyone has to follow the rules and actually encourages off-task behavior.
  • I need to teach and practice my center games and activities in a whole group setting before putting them in a center.  Much of my frustration during math workshop time stemmed from students who did not know what to do or who did not follow directions. That's my fault.  I can't expect them to remember something they've only seen or had explained one time.
  • I need to spend more time practicing the routines at the beginning of the year.  I can't just jump right in and expect first or second graders to know what to do after only a week or two of practice.  I need to work on patience and plan accordingly.  The time I spend at the beginning will be well spent if it preserves instructional time throughout the year.
  • I need to use a timer to keep myself and my students on track!  I can't believe I don't already do this. I am always running out of time at the end of math, having to put off something until tomorrow or skip it altogether.  That really sends a bad message and it leads to "hurry up, we need to get to specials" chaos.  Aargh!

Chapter 4: Forming Guided Math Groups
This chapter gave practical suggestions for creating groups, meeting student needs, and organizing for instruction.  I was happy to see that many of the suggestions included things I was already doing.  I was even happier that I could see ways to improve by incorporating some of her suggestions.

My take-aways from this chapter.

  • Every student deserves teacher time and attention.  Sometimes we get caught up in the needs of our struggling learners.  In doing so, we neglect the needs of our high kids.  Even though they are doing well and show mastery of current content, they need our support to move to the next level in their learning continuum. 
  • Math groups should be flexible and assessment-based.
  • "Ongoing assessments are essential to the effective implementation of guided math groups." Assessments can include quizzes, questionnaires, and anecdotal observations.
  • Scheduling groups depends on the amount of time you have available and what works for you and your students. There is no one right way to schedule. Several sample schedules are included in the chapter.
  • Keeping records of student learning is essential.  You will never remember things that students did or said weeks ago. This information should be used to guide your instruction and to facilitate discussions about learning. 

Question 1: Do you meet with students in small math groups? If so, how fluid are those groups?
I think I do a pretty good job with this aspect of guided math.  I use assessment to create my groups for instruction.  Although a few students do consistently end up in either the low group or the high group, most of the groupings are not the same from one week to the next, especially in my two middle groups.  

I do see some changes I can make for next year.  In the past, I've grouped students as low, average, and high. I usually ended up with two "average" groups in order to keep the number of students in each group more consistent. I think I need to look a little more closely at my assessments and student needs as I form my groups. I like Dr. Newton's four categories of learners:
  1. novice learners - those who have no understanding of the concept
  2. apprentice learners - those with a basic understanding, but requiring additional work for deeper understanding
  3. practitioners - those who are working on grade level
  4. expert learners - those who are working above level and in need of extended learning opportunities
In the future, I'll look at my assessments with these four categories in mind.

Question 2: What kinds of records do you keep?
In addition to student performance on quizzes and classwork, I've used checklists with a simple rubric (+ , check, -) as I observed students. That helped me to know who demonstrated mastery, who showed some understanding, and who needed extra support.  I also keep anecdotal notes.  After failing to find any forms that met my needs, I created my Math Conference Notes to record my thoughts on individual students.  When the Common Core State Standards were adopted by North Carolina, I expanded the form to include the objectives for my grade level. I have them available for Kindergarten through Third Grade in my TpT store. 

I also created a small group form that I enjoy using that is included in my Conference Forms for Reading, Writing, and Math Workshops. I like forms that are easy to use, but allow me to quickly write notes about my observations as I'm teaching.  I don't want to have to transfer information later. I also don't want to try to remember who said what, when I'm trying to plan my next meeting with the group.

I found both of these chapters very useful as I reflected on my past use of Guided Math and the Math Workshop Model. I feel good about some of the things I'm doing and about my plans to improve next year.

Now, I hope you will add your thoughts and comments on the book study.  What are you already doing? What do you want to improve? Leave your comments below.

I'll be posting about Chapter 5 on Wednesday July 23rd. Until then,

Have a great week!

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