Writing in Math

How often do you have students write in math? How often do you have them explain in writing how they solved a problem?

If you had asked me 15 years ago when I was in my 5th/6th classroom, my answer would have been…uh, not very often. But I’ve grown older and wiser over the years and I now see the importance and necessity of having your students write in math! While working with GT students recently, I had them explain in writing how they solved their math challenges, and I have carried on doing this with my tutoring students.  So buckle up and get ready to learn or review several ways you can use writing in math!

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 2.55.39 PMMath Exemplars

I love these, and have used them in my classroom, with GT students, and with tutoring students!  It is the perfect combination of math problem solving, critical thinking, reading, and writing!  The website has them for grades K-8, but you can use them for RtI or GT work, just go down or up a level.

When using these, I modeled and discussed HOW to read them. I basically wanted them to use Close Reading and really interact with the text.  I had them highlight what they felt was important for solving, and what they were being asked to figure out. This is important because often in the solving of word problems, students just look at the numbers and start using algorithms. I had to constantly take them back to what they had to find out and solve, and make sure they understood this. After they had solved the problem (or even not solved it!), they had to explain in writing (they could add pictures too) the process they used to solve it. Even my GT students had trouble with this so I could tell it this was something they had not been asked to do very often.  In fact, every student has such struggles with this, that I finally created templates for them to use, one for primary students, and one for intermediate students.  The next year, before I even had my students attempt to explain in writing, I used Educreations to record their explanation verbally, as well as their pictures on how they solved it. That proved to be a perfect stepping stone before moving them into the writing. Check out one of the 2nd-grade students’ videos explaining how they solved a problem from a past Noetic Math Contest.

 

Check out the progression of one of my tutoring student’s mah problem-solving explanations over a year’s time.  The first one was when he was in early third grade.

 

The next is from a recent Exemplar’s work: He is much more clear explaining and using his algorithms to explain how he solved this. Also, notice the close reading marks in the Exemplar text.

 

Math Roll-a-Word Problem Stories

TPT Brayden's Roll-a-Math-Word Problem

I had briefly mentioned these in a previous blog but would like to expand on them more as I think they are the perfect way to get kids not only doing some fun creative writing but using their math skills to solve problems, then explain in writing how they solved them.  The idea came from the popular roll-a-stories I had seen on Pinterest; I had tried them a few times with another tutoring student. Then during a tutoring session right before Christmas, I used a holiday-themed roll-a-story with the same student whose work is pictured above (A New Paint Set). We had been working on word problems for several weeks as he had shown that he was competent at math computation, but give him a word problem, he would not read it carefully and just go straight for the numbers, assuming he knew what to do. So after we had done our fun holiday roll-a-story, he said, “Why don’t we use a roll-a-word problem?  Voila…the idea was off and running, and I created one sheet to offer as a free product on Teachers Pay Teachers; has become my most popular product! (I’m a TpT newbie so don’t have many products yet!) Over the next several months he did several of these, and not only did his math skills at solving word problems improve, so did his writing skills!  Below are samples of the stories and word problems he created and the explanation on how he solved the math problem (the F-  on one of them did NOT come from me, it was part of his story 🙂

 

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Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 8.09.19 PMAfter we created a summer themed roll-a-word problem sheet, I came up with the idea of creating some for every seasons and holiday during the year! The result is my new  Teachers Pay Teachers product…Year-Round Math Roll-a-Problem Story sheets!

Included in the product are sheets for New Year’s, Winter, Spring, St. Patrick’s Day, End of School Year, Summer, 4th of July, Back to School, Autumn, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Within many of the sheets are links to people and places for your students to learn more about before writing their story.  In addition, there is a blank sheet for you and your students to customize however you want. You will also receive a link to all of the sheets in Google Drive so you can make copies of them all and then revise and personalize as you wish!

Click here for the Year-Round Math Roll-a-Word Problem Story product!

If you use the roll-a-word story problem idea, send me samples of what your students create!

Word Walls? Word Up!

I love words. Words in books, words online, words in games, words out in the world. This quote could have been written about me: “She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

And another favorite quote…funny but also sadly, true…“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.”
― Steve Martin

How can we ensure that our students have “a way with words”?  In my previous blog post, I gave an overview of the elements of a literacy-rich environment:  classroom materials, classroom design and layout, and reading and writing using authentic activities. I promised that I would go into more detail about each one, so the first topic will be WORD WALLS!

In this article from Questia.com, a word wall is defined as: “An ongoing, organized display of keywords that provides a visual reference for students throughout a unit of study.  The words are used continually by teachers and students during a variety of activities.”  However, when I first started presenting on word walls during my literacy training sessions, I discovered that many teachers had a narrow definition of which teachers and students should use word walls…namely primary teachers and students. But word walls are important for ALL students in ALL classrooms…pre-school to university! And (shocker!) they don’t have to be on a WALL!  

Here are the purposes of word “walls” (whatever format they are in!):

  • To focus students’ attention on important subject area words
  • To allow Students to have multiple exposures to new vocabulary and anchor the words in their long-term memory
  • To foster connections between words
  • To enable the use of content/academic words in discussions, writing, and activities in your classroom

The purposes listed above are necessary for whatever grade, content, subject or topic you are teaching! Here are some different types of “word walls”:

“Those who do the work, do the learning!” – Anonymous
I think it’s great that there are so many Word Wall card products on Teachers Pay Teachers…teachers don’t have the time to be making all those cards! But…there is no need for YOU to be creating the words for the wall…students should! It is far more powerful for the students to write the words that will go on the wall!  Teachers just need to guide them in which/what words to include on the wall and make sure the handwriting is legible and the word spelled correctly.  Student created word walls elicit far more excitement and ownership than a professionally created wall!

Okay, this is all great, but perhaps you don’t have a wall…or time to put stuff up…or your classroom changes all the time. No problem!  You can still have your students use word walls in these ways:

One of my favorite memories from my literacy training years was presenting our district’s balanced literacy program to our Specials teachers (art, music, PE, band, orchestra, etc.) and having some of them create word walls for their content areas! Check out the P.E. wall, and what a middle school teacher has done in her classroom!

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Photo taken by me many years ago; can’t remember what amazing teacher did this!
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Used with permission from Marsha Anema, Music – Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
Yellow Kid Print
All words are written by students! Photo by me
Laminated Word Chart
Laminated word wall for easily changing out new unit words. Photo by me
Felt Word Wall
Word Wall using a felt backdrop; perfect for teachers who track in & out of classrooms! – Photo by me
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More student written words – Photo by me
I love how eye-catching and colorful this wall is! – Used with permission from Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade at Ruth Hill Elementary in Lincoln NE
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I love this student-created science word wall with illustrations! Source: Middle Web Blog by Valentina Gonzalez
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I love how this Sped Classroom is so print-rich and has a writing word wall! Used with permission from Melissa Finch of  Autism Adventures Blog and TpT Store!

Okay, okay, so you now understand the importance and power of word walls…whether they are on a wall or not. Now…how do we get students to use them? Here are some ideas and resources for you!

Favorite Primary Grades Word Wall Activities:  This book has SO many great activities for primary students! Some of my faves are:Big Book of Word Walls

  • Word Wall Storytelling: A “traveling” story where one person begins with a word and then others continue with their own words…no repeating! The teacher needs to keep track of which words are used.
  • Morning Mystery Message: Write your morning message to kids as usual, but leave some blanks where word wall words should go! Have kids guess which words they are!
  • Dictionary Word Wall: This is similar to Balderdash…make sure to have the real definition AND fake ones ready!
  • Double Trouble:  Students guess the word using phonemic elements.
  • And not from the book…but check out this FREEBIE of word wall center activities from Mr. Giso’s Born to Read blog!
  • And here’s another FREEBIE from The Colorful Apple on TpT!

Favorite Intermediate/Secondary Word Wall Activities:

  • Word Sneak – this is a game based on Jimmy Fallon’s Word Sneak game on his show! I can’t wait to play this with one of my tutoring students!
  • So many GREAT ideas in THIS resource too…my faves are “Unfolding Five Words in a Story”, and also the drama and musical groups activities!
  • “Guess My Word”.  I found the “Guess My Word!” idea on Pinterest, but the website it links to has been discontinued, so I created my own version using Wheel Decide!

Check out my Pinterest board on a Literacy-Rich Environment for more information on types of word walls and activities!

So what do you DO for word walls in your classroom? Do you have other ideas for how to do word walls and activities to use with them? Let’s hear it in the comments! SHARE the great things you are doing with other teachers….and until next time, “WORD UP”!

“Word up everybody says
When you hear the call you’ve got to get it underway
Word up it’s the code word
No matter where you say it you know that you’ll be heard!”

Songwriters: Larry Blackmon / Tomi Jenkins
Word Up! lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

The A-Z of Back to School for Teachers! (Part 1)

Hey…just me jumping on the Back to School Bandwagon…because suddenly in mid-July, BTS was ALL over the place…social media, store ads, TpT…everywhere! So I am entering the fray of the BTS Frenzy!

First off, I have a NEW PRODUCT ON TPT – Back to School Bingo! This is a fun activity I used with my students on the first day of school (I revised this for the first day after Fall Break, Christmas Break and Spring Break…those are coming soon!

CLICK HERE FOR BACK TO SCHOOL BINGO!

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 7.55.30 PMFirst BTS idea; a few weeks ago I uploaded my FIRST for-sale product to Teachers Pay Teachers!  I can’t think of a better way to start the school year than with PASSION PROJECTS!  What better way to start the year than engaging your students in working on a long-term project on something they love? Also, you can find out SO much about your new students by surveying or interviewing them on what their hobbies, interests, and passions are! I did not create this until I was out of the classroom and working with small groups of gifted students, but I would SO implement this in the first month of the school year! It could be your 80/20 project for the first half of the school year, or even the entire school year!

Hop on over to this product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store! And PLEASE, if you do purchase, I would appreciate some reviews on this in TpT.  If you don’t end up purchasing, please share the product on social media and with other teachers!

I had 25 back to school seasons in my career…and like many other teachers, got smarter each year and changed up how I started my school year to make it better, smoother, and less stressful for the students, their parents and ME!  So I now have an A-Z guide to help you, the amazing hard-working teacher, have a less stressful Back to School season!

First, and foremost, the amount of time you spend on routines and procedures should never be underestimated! Take it from me…during my first few years of teaching, I just barreled right into the curriculum and then paid for it later when I couldn’t understand why my students could not seem to know what to do to turn in assignments, find materials, sign-out for the bathroom, etc. By my final years in the classroom, I was spending a good WEEK on these routines and longer if necessary! I made sure to give them lots of reminders and visuals hanging in the classroom.

Second, the amount of time you spend on making your rules and expectations clear can also never be underestimated!  Those darn mistakes the first few years were not repeated again! I made sure the students understood my recognition system for doing the right thing and the consequences for not doing the right thing. More importantly, I made sure parents understood these expectations as well!

And…speaking of parents, there is no such thing as too much communication to parents!  Well, I guess there is common sense; parents don’t like being inundated every hour or day with texts and emails…but always err on the side of too much!

So…along about my third year, I finally got around to creating a beginning of the year packet for my students and parents. This packet had all the procedures, expectations, and information that I could think of…and I’m sure it was overwhelming to some students and parents, but it was my way of making sure I covered everything! I spent the first few weeks going over this packet and reiterating things…and made up daily review games that allowed students to win homework passes (these passes could be used to get out of homework on certain evenings! I also sent home the packet and had both students and parents initial each section. Here are the items I included in my packet…did it in A-Z style!

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 Afternoon Clubs: My teammates and I used to set aside one after-school day a week where students could stay and get extra help on ANYTHING they needed…homework, projects, math and reading skills, etc. We made sure parents knew they were staying and had a way to get home after the club.

 Bonus Points: These were my “digital badges” before I knew what digital badges were.  I gave bonus points for various things…keeping up with their planner, typing assignments (which was still a novel/optional thing back in the 90’s), prizes in games, etc. These would go into the grade book and could jump their grade up slightly!

Current Events: This was an activity I did all year…and I think one of the best things I ever did as a teacher! I created a schedule of when each student would present a current event they found in the newspaper or a magazine (now I would be using Newsela for this!) and do a recap of the article for the class. I gave them guidelines for what was needed to be included in the presentation; I can’t remember them right now but will try to find the handout. Some days, the article was so interesting or debatable that we ended up discussing it for over an hour and I had to adjust my schedule! 

 

Daytimers: These were the planners students were required to have. Our school sold them, but students could purchase their own as well. At the end of the school day, I would take 5-10 minutes to talk about the homework expected of the class. I wrote it out on a template on the overhead (ugh – the 90’s!) and they were expected to show the daytimer daily to their parents and get initials each day.

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Expectations: Here was my list ( I realize these are from 20 years ago and many things have changed in schools!)

  1. Respect all people and property in the classroom.
  2. Use quiet voices during work time.
  3. Raise your hand to speak during class discussions (this didn’t always happen during our heated currents events debates!)
  4. Wait for a speaker to finish speaking before raising your hand to comment.
  5. Use a polite listening position when someone else is speaking.
  6. The class will walk quietly in a straight line through the halls when going to Specials and other events (this was a school-wide expectation).
  7. School supplies will be used only for the purpose they were intended (this came about after a student bored a hole in his desk with the sharp point in his compass!)
  8. Use the Sign Out Sheet if you need to leave the classroom for any reason.
  9. 9. Try to use the restroom as little as possible during the school day and not during a lesson or presentation (this was because I had sometimes had serial bathroom goers!).
  10. Please chew your gum in places other than this classroom and school.

FImage result for F gifriday Folders: The parent’s best friend and a school-wide expectation (at the most recent schools I worked at, it had been changed to Thursday folders and most of the info is on the school website). These folders came home every Friday and contained student work, school announcements, flyers from outside organizations, and a sheet with my comments about the students’ week and a place for parents to initial and make comments. I used to “love” when a folder came back on Monday with no initials and the entire contents still in it!

Image result for G gifGrades: This, of course, is where I would explain my grading police that our school district used.

 

 

Image result for H gifHow am I doing? Before the age of parent portals, where parents can log in and see grades for their student on a weekly basis, I would have the option for students to fill out a 1/2 sheet on what was their current grades in all subjects. If students took this home, filled it out and returned, they received Bonus Points. Some students did it all the time (many were expected by their parents to do so) and some never did. But the option was there!

Image result for I gifIllness:  In this section, I explained how student needed to take ownership of finding out about work missed while they were absent. I had a 1/2 sheet form called “We Missed You!” which let the student know what they missed that day.

So that’s it for Part 1 of my A-Z packet! Tune in next week for Part 2! In the meantime, BEST OF LUCK GETTING YOUR SCHOOL STARTED! REMEMBER, I AM HERE TO HELP YOU!

 

 

Finally…the end of the School Year!

 

For many of you teachers….just a few weeks to go!  Whoo Hoo!

Relief, happiness, joy….which emotion are you feeling now that the end of the year is in sight and summer is on the horizon?  I recently shared a photo I saw on the Facebook page of Create-abilities that pretty much sums up what all teachers feel like in May!

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Used with permission from Create-abilities

Before the year ends, though, you have to come up with something to celebrate, recognize and honor all the work your students have done throughout the year and find a way to say farewell to this year’s class.  I always struggled with this…I was exhausted, my daughters had all their May events going on, and the classroom budget was tight or non-existent.  So, let me share with you a few ideas that I did way back in my classroom days.

 

img006Being a huge fan of movies and the Academy Awards, I decided to create my own awards ceremony, the Anttila Awards.  Check out my flyer below; the writing you can see on the back is my list of what awards each student was getting, and yes, ALL students received an award!  Some of my categories include:

  • Best Performance in Math
  • Best Performance in a Science Fair Project
  • Best Performance in Writing
  • Best Performance in a Fractured Fairy Tale Skit
  • Most Likely to be Caught Reading
  • Best Performance in Public Speaking
  • Best Performance in a Research Speech
  • Best Performance in Making Up Work
  • Best Performance in the Oceanography Project

You get the idea!  We invited parents and asked them to provide refreshments, and we also invited administrators, specials teachers, the custodian and paraprofessionals to be “special guest presenters” at the awards.  SO, SO fun!

Another year, my students and I created a HUGE hallway display called “The Bitter and the Best”. There were two butcher paper columns, one for favorite classroom memories/activities, “The Best” and one for less memorable or bittersweet memories, “The Bitter”.  I hung up photos from our year, as well as project and homework assignments.  This really helped the students to reflect and provided a nice closure to our year!  img035

IMG_6292One thing I always struggled with was what to give my students at the end of the year…a gift…without breaking my bank account.  At the end of the year when I had the theme of Growth Mindset with my GT students, I had a local specialty cookie shop, Eileen’s Colossal Cookies (locations in many states!) and decorate cookies for all students (over 50 of them!) with our motto for the year: “Fail, Learn, Grow.” Needless to say, these were a huge hit! Check out this blog post from Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher for more end of the year student gift ideas!

Last year, since I was retiring and had worked with some of my gifted students for four years, I created a slideshow of our learning and fun together, complete with music. The students loved seeing photos of their younger self, as well as students who had moved away or gone on to middle school!  Here are some ideas for great songs for your end of the year slideshows! And even MORE ideas! IMG_6283

Over in the sidebar, you will find a link to my End of the Year Pinterest Board for teachers!  Hang in there for a few more weeks, and take time to enjoy the summer, family, and friends!  You are all my HEROS!

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Free printable from the Happy Go Lucky blog

 

Math Roll-a-Word-Problem

TEACHERS PAY TEACHERS FREEBIE COMING UP!  KEEP READING! (How’s that for a shameless plug?) Plus, there are photos of my cats coming up, so that is a reason to continue reading!

Math story problems…word problems…whatever you want to call them, they were the bane of my childhood school years.  I was never that confident with math and would just get a math skill mastered when suddenly there were words with the numbers, which in my young mind, just confused everything!  Consequently, while working with my gifted students for the last four years of my teaching career, I made it a point to focus on word problems to help them build both problem solving and reading comprehension skills. In one of my recent blogs on Math and Growth Mindset, I discussed using math challenges such as Math Olympiad, Continental Math League, Exemplars and the Noetic Learning Math Contest, all of which contain excellent math word problems.  I learned how important it is to teach problem-solving strategies, and also to honor unique and unusual methods that students will come up with!

However, I had never thought of having my students WRITE word problems, but this idea dawned on me because of dice…yes, that is correct, DICE!  During this last year of tutoring, I had used something I found on Pinterest, a “Roll a Story” with my 6th-grade student who was working on writing.  A roll-a-story is a table that has different options for whatever the die lands on.  Here is an example of one on Teachers Pay Teachers, created by Ms.JordanReads – and check out her blog for more information on this resource and other fun dice activities!

original-286634-2So, I was working a quite a bit with my third-grade student, Brayden, on word problems.  He was great at math; he knew his computation skills and caught on quickly to new concepts. But something happened when he was given a word problem…he really just glanced at the numbers and then either added, multiplied, or whatever, to find the answer. He wasn’t reading the problem carefully to find out what the problem was asking him to find. So I had him using several strategies to help with this, including reading the problem at least two times (if not more) and highlighting and/or underlining important words, phrases, and numbers.  I always made him answer the question, “What is this problem asking you to do and find out?”

After using the roll-a-story for writing with the other student, I hit upon the idea of having Brayden help me create a MATH WORD PROBLEM Roll-a-Story as he actually loves to write (whoo hoo, we need more third grade boys who love to write!).  I first created a blank template, filled with a few ideas, and then had Brayden give me suggestions for the rest. (At the bottom of this blog you will find a link to these FREE resources on Teachers Pay Teachers!)

 

I then had Brayden roll his die, and he came up with: cowboy for the character, in a magic forest for the setting, getting the wrong homework for the problem in the story and multiplication for the math skill.  He launched right into his story, which turned out to be quite the fantasy!  I am waiting for Spielberg to option the film rights.  You can read his story HERE!

Brayden and I thought this was so much fun we wanted to share it with other teachers everywhere, and I decided this would be my very first product on Teachers Pay Teachers! I have even included a blank one, as well as a link to the editable versions in Google Drive (which I prefer!).  Teachers of intermediate and secondary students can use this by changing the operations to things like fractions, ratios, percent, algebraic equations, etc. If you try this with your students, please post some feedback for us!

Okay, click HERE for your TpT freebie of this Math Roll-a-Story Word Problem!

P.S. At another tutoring session, I used a word problem from THIS resource and modified it to be about Ms. Crazy Cat Lady (who may or may not be me). I included photos of my current and past cats. Brayden integrated this into another Roll-a-Story word problem and made it be the “homework” the dogs were not expecting. I had him work the problem and then explain in a short constructed response how he solved it! Check it out HERE!

fullsizeoutput_57abThat’s it for now…have fun dice rolling and creating math word problems!

 

 

Improving Reading Fluency

Improving reading fluency in young readers….that was the challenge for me when I was hired at an elementary school in Douglas County School District as a Literacy Specialist and was tasked with creating a school-wide reading intervention program with eight paras and 150 students on an Individualized Reading Plan (ILP) (now called a READ plan in Colorado).  Many of those 150 students had issues with reading fluency.  At this point in my career, I had never specifically worked with struggling readers.  I had taught high school English back in the early 80s with no training in my teacher prep program in how to help struggling readers.  Oh yes, I did teach a class called “Remedial English”, but all that meant is I was given a different set of books.  I don’t remember much of what I did in that class 24 years ago! Flash forward to 2009 and I had to do some quick study on how to help these readers.

The next eight years was an incredible growth opportunity for me as I learned new methods, techniques, and programs for helping struggling readers.  I took many classes, read books and journal articles and most importantly, learned from other teachers and the students in our reading intervention program. My passion became helping those struggling, non-fluent readers become not only proficient readers but also passionate readers.

MHE Reading Intervention program
Here’s our reading program in full swing! Photo by Jan

What I saw in working with many older struggling readers is that some had somehow not been able to master phonemic awareness and phonics skills successfully, and that was impeding both fluency and comprehension. Others had mastered those two elements but their struggles with fluency made them discouraged and not a fan of reading.  I tried many different methods, some successful, some not.  To save you, the hard-working teacher time, here are my favorite resources and methods for helping non-fluent readers.

  1. Assess the student using a benchmark (or interim) assessment…and one that preferably has national percentiles.
    You will not be able to show progress unless you get this first benchmark. I used either the AIMSWeb curriculum-based measurement (CBM) for oral reading and recorded how many words were correct in on minute.  You can also use the Reading a-z fluency passages.   With an AIMS account, you can access their oral reading norms to find where in relation your student is compared to other students at the same age.  Many teachers at my schools relied on these norms to help us make many decisions, including possible Sped testing, or removal from the intervention program.
  2. Once benchmarking is done, you can determine if intervention and progress monitoring is needed.  For students not entering intervention or receiving progress monitoring, more data will be gathered at the next interim assessing period.  For students who need intervention, you need to set up progress monitoring.  We used the AIMSWeb progress monitoring passages and used either their browser-based scoring system to keep track of scores/percentiles, or created a spreadsheet to keep track.  If you are doing this as an interventionist, it is important to keep classroom teachers in the loop with this data so they can share with parents.

    With my tutoring students, I use a Google Drive Spreadsheet to keep track of results and share with parents and their classroom teachers.  Here’s a blank template for you! (If you’ve never created graphs from the data entered, here is a screencast to help you!)Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 1.33.01 PM

  3. The Reading a-z passages can be used in different ways too!  First, I will print out three copies (or you can use these handy dandy dry erase pocket holders, bought from a Groupon deal, to save paper!)  I will have the student do a cold read and record the time and number of miscues (although sometimes I don’t time it if my focus is on word attack skills). Next, we go over the errors with the student so she can see what she missed, substituted or mispronounced (This is SO important to do!) Then, she reads a second time, again recording the miscues and time and going over the miscues. If the time and/or miscues are lower….a Class Dojo or Edmodo badge for her!  Next, you guessed it…we repeat this all over again.  These repeated readings are SO important for increasing fluency!  By practicing using the passages this way, chances are much better that she will perform better on progress monitoring and/or benchmark assessments. Below, you can see that my 4th-grade student, on the left, went from 5 to 0 errors after the 3rd reading. My 2nd-grade student went from 11 to 0 errors! I used the dry erase pocket holders and had the student underline the words they miscued on to draw their attention back to the word on the next reading.  (Sorry about the glare from the overhead lights!)
  4. Stopping at every miscue? Analyzing miscues? Okay, you may think I am heartless…but with kids who consistently miscue in a reading passage, I will sometimes wait until the end of a sentence or paragraph to stop them, but most often I will stop them immediately after they make a miscue.  Why?  Because there are many reasons a reader will miscue. Many are just word calling and not making meaning out of the words they are reading. Their brains start going faster than their mouth and the brain will quickly substitute a similar word.  If you wait too long, the moment is lost…the brain and mouth have moved on. Next comes the miscue analysis…also so important!  Below is a sample running record form from Reading a-z. 1520706540Check out this video for some guidelines and click HERE for a blank running record form (Reading a-z also has blank ones available.  Cathy Collier, in her blog: The W.I.S.E Owl has some great information on TYPES of miscues.
  5. When they are still struggling….it’s time to check into vision issues. I wonder how many students have struggled in school because of vision issues?  I’m not talking about the eyesight issues diagnosed by optometrists, but ones that may go undetected for years, such as visual tracking or eye teaming problems.  In the last ten years, many optometrists and ophthalmologists have partnered with vision therapy experts to offer service to children (usually at some high fees, but check with your vision insurance).  However, one benefit of seeking professional help is possible assessment with a Visagraph that tracks and records the movement of both eyes. It’s really similar to a benchmark or interim assessment; it provides the data needed to set up a plan of interventions and progress monitoring. I invited someone to come in on a professional development day and demonstrate this amazing machine, and I can safely say it “wowed” my audience of veteran teachers. In addition, the student (in the photo below we used a teacher as a student) gets to wear those really cool sci-fi type goggles!IMG_1148
    I worked with several students over the years who had visual tracking issues, and it was beneficial to team with the occupational therapist at my school for some ideas that I could easily do during my small group time.  Most OTs are willing to teach you and your class some simple eye warm-ups to get the eyes to team together better. In addition, Reading Plus offers online intervention and instruction where students read text using a guided window that moves across the text, graying out most of it and focusing on just the words being currently read. The speed decreases or increases depending on assessment results. In addition, the iBalance component helps increase reading speed, stamina, and visual tracking skills. I’ve also found that giving students some color overlay strips, or even just a white index card with a solid black line at the top can help kids track text better.  In my tutoring “super backpack”, I always carry a few visual tracking aids for students who need this! Finally, here are a few more accommodation ideas from Understood.org.

    6. Reader’s Theater…need I say more?  Hmmm….let’s see, students practicing reading text over and over – of course, that will practice not only oral reading fluency but also reading expression! You can find plenty of scripts available online, such as this site, which not only has scripts but many lesson resources on using RT in your classroom.  My favorite place to find RT scripts is Reading a-z; high-quality scripts and many are multi-leveled so your students are not always in the same group with same level readers. (Note: There is a yearly fee to join Reading a-z).  Don’t forget poetry! Reading poetry, especially ones with a rhythm and rhyme helps to increase fluency. Get kids to learn and memorize favorite poems and then host “Open Mic Night” at a Poetry Cafe in your classroom!

    7. Reading aloud…not just you, the teacher, reading aloud (but you do serve as that model for good fluency), but your kids reading aloud to each other and kids in younger grades! Again…REPEATED READING! Students can choose their favorite read aloud to share with the class in a “Reader’s Chair”.  You could film or audio record kids reading their favorite read-aloud books, and post on the school’s website to serve as bedtime stories for other kids! Some of the best books for reading aloud AND improving fluency can be found at THIS site.  Dr. Seuss books are perfect for developing fluency skills; in fact, I think my daughter perfected her fluency by memorizing The Foot Book.  Silly Sally is another good choice; so are nursery rhymes. Please add your ideas for fun/fluency practicing read-aloud books in the comments below!

    By the way, becoming a fluent reader often takes a strong growth mindset attitude from students. I will be posting more information in the future on this topic in your classroom, but be sure to check out my last blog on math activities you can do to develop growth mindset!  Also, check out a past blog on literacy tools for your classroom! Looking for some consulting or PD for your teachers on any of the topics I write about? Check out more information HERE!

Growth Mindset Part 1: Math

We have all failed at something, and my personal list could take up this entire blog.  Here are just a few from the list: getting a job I wanted, receiving an “A” in a class, catching a plane on time (that only happened once in my life), weaning myself from Pepsi 0 (but still trying), driving a stick shift car, driving in the snow, etc.  How about you?  What have been your failures?  And…..what have you learned from these failures?  THAT’S THE IMPORTANT QUESTION!  When we fail, we need to learn the lesson that the failure taught us!

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Photo courtesy of Laura Gibbs on Flickr; check out her blog at http://growthmindsetmemes.blogspot.com/

“Raise your hand if you’ve failed at something.”  That was how I began my work with my 2nd through 6th-grade gifted students at the beginning of the school year.  I ended up getting a response from everyone, and also shared my own story.  I used this discussion to launch my theme for the school year, Growth Mindset, a term coined by Carol Dweck.  I had been introduced to this concept the previous year when my GT Facilitator job at an elementary school (we will call it School #1) was cut to two days (funding, funding, funding) and found a second part-time job, also as a GT Facilitator at another elementary school (School #2) in the same district.  This school had Growth Mindset as their theme for the year…with both students and staff.  At every staff meeting, we saw a video based on this theme or did an activity, and we all received cool staff shirts that said “Fail.Learn.Grow”.

I quickly realized how important this concept was in working with gifted students.  Some, not all, are perfectionists and tend to not try new things if they might fail.  Check out this excellent blog post by Gail Post with more about this fear of failure in gifted kids. I decided immediately that my job as their teacher was to invite them to failure…to ensure that they would fail!  My almost daily question to the students that year became, “What my job at this school?”  And the response:  “To frustrate us and make us fail!”.  In other words, told them they would be failing at several things this coming school year!  In order to prevent concerned emails from parents, I had already emailed all parents with information on this concept and links to resources.

Next, I had to come up with activities to ensure their failure, learning, and growth.  I decided to focus on math, as that has always been my “fear of failure” area. In addition, I had students who really needed some advanced math challenges! Below are some of the activities we did, along with photos taken during our learning and growth!

Noetic Math Contest
I was pulling my 2nd and 3rd GT/Highly Able students from their math block a few days a week, so I wanted something incredibly challenging for them…and this fit the bill.  This contest is THE BEST!  They offer practice questions, Problem of the Week (sent right to your email) and many other resources.  I already had some past contest problems from other teachers, so we used our sessions to work on these, and believe me, there were a few failures, lots of frustration, some tears, but a great deal of growth!  I varied between letting them work with a partner or alone.  I think the most important thing I did was never confirm or deny if they had the correct answer to a problem.  Instead, I had them check with other partner sets or individuals to see what answer they had.  If the answers were the same, they could be fairly confident they had the correct one (although a few times there were partners/individuals that both got the same wrong answer), and if they were different, both had to rework the problem.  For those students that were successful first, I sent them out to offer help and support to others.

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They provide an answer and explanation for confused teachers! Source: Noetic Learning Problem of the Week

Below are examples of the problem solving of these 2nd and 3rd-grade students!

One of the Noetic problems was SO difficult; the student and I were working on it for days…even though I had access to the answers, I could not understand WHY it was the answer (it wasn’t only the students who were frustrated!).  I finally emailed Noetic for an explanation!  Below are the problem and the students’ work (I’m sure many of you reading this can instantly come up with the answer…I was a victim of New Math in the 1960s, so be kind!)Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 7.54.04 PM

Before they took their first contest, I had to have a serious talk with them about possible results.  I told them that these contests were difficult and they should be very proud of even trying it out!  When the results came back, with the first contest results ranging from 1/20 to 10/20 correct, I did the pep talk thing again. I handed back the contest papers and challenged the students to try incorrect ones again, and then explain to us where they went wrong the first time around.  What an incredible growth experience this was!

Math Olympiad
While I had heard of this contest for students in grades 4-8, I finally had a chance to be involved during that year at the Growth Mindset-themed school.  As part of my job, I was one of the coordinators of the practice sessions and contests.  And wow…those practice and contest problems were challenging!  I tried working them before each practice session and was often flummoxed myself (fortunately the practice book provides strategies and answers, and so do the actual contest problems.  During practice sessions, we had students choose between working in pairs or individually, and I did the same thing as in Noetic when students came up for answers, I had them go verify and check with others. When the contests were returned, once again a motivation talk was needed as even the most gifted of students often ended up with on 1/5 or 0/5!  I highly recommend either participating in the contest or just using past/practice problems with your students as challenges.  You could even have your own classroom “unofficial” contests!  Here are some sample problems and information.  You can find other sample problems via Google searches.  I was proud that this math-phobic teacher (more on that in future blog posts) then began the contest for the first time ever back at School #1 and I encouraged my GT students to join.  I was especially pleased that two of my 4th-grade girls joined up.  It was extremely challenging for them, but their growth that year was incredible!

Continental Math League
I had used sample CML problems with my GT students at School #1 for a few years, but when I began working at School #2, I was able to be part of the official contest that was offered for primary students (although CML has contests for grades 2-9).  Just as in Math Olympiad, we held practice sessions, working on strategies and building up problem-solving stamina. Once again, these incredibly challenging problems caused, yes, frustration, but also an incredible amount of learning, growth, and pride when an answer was finally correct!  Here’s some work my 1st & 2nd graders were doing on CML problems; that chicken one was a tough one…two of my girls worked on it for weeks; we even had a folder to store all of their work!

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How classroom teachers can use Noetic/Math Olympiad/CML: Have your whole class, or just interested students do the official contest; use as enrichment for advanced math students; send the Problem of the Week home as an optional challenge assignment; post in Google Classroom or Edmodo and award badges for those students who try to solve and explain their thinking! 

Algebra Tiles
So my 6th-grade students at School #2 had an incredible math teacher; she was wonderful at giving those GT kids advanced math work and challenges.  One particular day in her classroom, I noticed the students using some colored tiles…and had them explain them to me.  They were algebra tiles, and the students were using them to solve equations.  I was blown away…I had only ever solved equations in the traditional way and this added an incredible visual dimension!  The students demonstrated solving several equations using the tiles; I was beginning to understand but my traditional methods kept interfering with understanding the visual, hands-on method.  Upon arriving home, I immediately ordered a set as I was already planning to use them with my 6th grade GT kids at School #1.  So at both schools, as I worked with these students, I would have 1/2 the group solve equations with the tiles, and half solve using the traditional method and then compare answers; they would then switch.  Wow!  Incredible growth mindset going on for myself AND for the students!  Take a look at our work below using some paper-made tiles before I bought the real tiles! There are lots of videos on YouTube to help you and your students learn how to use these, and IXL has a great practice activity on using the tiles!  Intermediate teachers can use these as enrichment for advanced math students and/or set up as a math center!

Polynomials - Photo by Jan

The Fibonacci Sequence
Here is a perfect growth mindset opportunity to challenge your intermediate and middle school students, as well as younger gifted students. That same teacher who had her 6th graders using algebra tiles introduced them to the classic rabbit problem and then partnered the students up to try to solve it using any method they wanted to try.  It’s a tribute to her teacher, as well as their previous math teachers that I saw every kind of method being used to solve this, and there were a few students (yes, the amazing ones I was lucky enough to work with) who were able to come up with the answer.  The teacher had students come up and show their methods and work with the document camera.  Check it out!

Please stay tuned for future posts on how I embedded and used this theme of Growth Mindset all year long, down to and even including some fun at our holiday party!  In the meantime, keep on growing your mind!

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Photo courtesy of Laura Gibbs on Flickr; check out her blog at http://growthmindsetmemes.blogspot.com/