Saturday, December 28, 2013

Close Reading Part 4: Text Complexity

                                          Picture Source: wwwatanabe

While going through the close reading process, I heard about the idea of text complexity. This seemed to be pretty straight forward to me: get the appropriate leveled readers/books/excerpts for your kids. However, I as went through all of the information, I was shocked by how much that actually entails.

Text needs to be complex enough to be worthy of a close read. I will not be able to pull out many different themes, text-dependent questions etc. from something like Hop on Pop. I need it to be complex. (I swear I almost just typed complexer. I need a nap.)

We were told in our state-wide training that the complexity of our texts does not prepare students for college. They gave us a statistic that stated "the average length of sentences in  K-8 textbooks has declined from 20 to 14 words" and even worse "what was once a 5th grade level textbook is now being used in 8th grade. What is being used in 12th grade was once used in 7th grade." Wow. Really? That seems to be a huge shift in the complexity of the texts we are using in our classrooms. Not only has the vocabulary and content complexity decreased, but also the number of words on a page. Furthermore, college level textbooks have either stayed the same or increased in difficulty. That means our kiddos graduating from high school are not prepared for the complexity they will meet in college.

I found this picture from Achieve the Core that explains it really well.
It shows how the gap gets bigger and bigger as the grades get higher. This picture alone helped me decide to stop rolling my eyes and take this seriously.

Now if you are like me (and most of you are probably better than me), you don't understand the Lexile numbering system. I have exclusively used the Fontas and Pinnell guided reading A-Z system. I have seen Lexile numbers but they didn't mean a lot to me.

This video helped explain to me what a Lexile number is and what it's purpose is.

So since I had to research Lexile numbers I thought I better look into text complexity a little bit more. Hopefully what I have learned will help you as well!

Text Complexity:
                                       Picture source:

I have seen this graphic above about a million times by now but it helps to show you the three biggies of text complexity.

1. Quantitative Measures of Complexity:
        This covers the statistical aspects of the text: sentence length, sentence complexity, number of high frequency words used compared to higher vocabulary words etc. Usually this stuff is all done with a computer which makes me feel better about life.

2. Qualitative Measures of Complexity:
        This covers things such as levels of meaning, author's purpose, text structures, text features, knowledge demands etc.

3. Read and Task Considerations:
      This covers things such as background knowledge, motivation, interests etc. This is left up to us teachers to discern for our students.

Those are the three considerations for determining text complexity but I needed something that helped me see how that all came together in the real world. has a cool free feature called Find A Book. When you type in that link you will see a screen that looks like the one below.
If you know the Lexile number of a book you want to use in your class, you can type that in, or if you are like me and didn't really pay attention to those numbers you can select a grade and how difficult you want the book to be.

I typed in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever because my 3rd graders LOVED those. They always seemed a bit harder to me complexity wise. The Lexile score for that book is 1060L (the L stands for Lexile). Seeing as a third graders range 450-790, this would be high for most of them. The subject matter, however, puts the age range at 8-10. It really depends on your reader. This also showed me that Lexile is only ONE piece we should consider when picking books for our students.

I discovered that you have to look at more than just the quantitative Lexile number. For example, if you enter in the book Lord of the Flies by William Golding, the Lexile number is 770L. That means that technically a 3rd or 4th grader could read the text and comprehend it. Now I don't know about you but I really don't want any 4th graders I know to read a book that has phrases like : "sharpen a stick at both ends" and "Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart...". Okay, I'm freaking myself out, I better stop!

This is why the qualitative piece is so important! The themes in this book are very complex and somewhat disturbing so the age range is 12-19+. I still hope no one would read this with a 12 year old!

The structure and set-up of a book can really increase it's complexity. This is one area where I have a slight problem. I am too type A to have murky waters in picking books. However, I'm going to have to put on some waders and deal because considering all of these things are what's best for my students.

These are the steps I took:

1. Figure out the quantitative measures of the text by using something on the computer like

2. Look at the themes, structure, purpose etc. of the text.

3. Think about the reader and what knowledge they will bring to the table.

4. Fill out a text complexity rubric to determine best placement.

My state created a rubric for text complexity but there is also one on that is pretty helpful. Click on this link to get it: Text Complexity Rubric.

This is something that I will continue to look at and learn about as I go. It doesn't seem to be clear cut to me. However, what is clear cut is that not everything I was using in my room was complex enough! I will be better!

This video fits me perfectly after researching text complexity forever. Enjoy!

Monday, December 23, 2013

New Years Resolutions!

It's that time of year again! When I pledge to work out more and eat less and then struggle to do either for the next 12 months! However, this year, a group of fabulous ladies and myself have decided to make a few different types of resolutions! Hope you enjoy reading it!


I'm always looking for activities to do with my kids when we get back from Christmas break. I created this FREE New Years Resolutions and Goal set. Click on the link to download!

Don't forget to stop by Brandi's blog A Peach for the Teach to see more resolutions! You can also download the freebie from Google Docs here.
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Close Reading Part 3: Text-Dependent Questions

Alrighty, we have talked about using evidence based terms and reading with a pencil. Next up is text-dependent questions.

Text-dependent questions are great because they bring students directly back into the text (hence the name). I've noticed in my experience, that it is easier to talk about our experiences with a topic or subject in a text than it is to actually talk about the text. The problem with that is that only those who already have experience or background knowledge about that topic will be able to engage in the discussion. We want our kiddos to spend as much time as possible analyzing and synthesizing the text before them.

When I first heard about text-dependent questions I made a "text-to-self" connection (A+ student right here!) and assumed that they were all similar to the "right there" questions found in the QAR's we are all familiar with. (If you don't know what they are the Reading Rockets website has a pretty clear explanation.) (If you think I overuse parentheses please feel free to send me one of these photos to show your frustration.)

Text-dependent questions are so much more than a right there question. They can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be. There are three main types of text-dependent questions. They are:

1. questions that address themes and centrals ideas
2. questions that assess knowledge of vocabulary, meaning, and structure
3. questions that assess the understanding of the author's claims/arguments or connections with another text.

The fabulous people at my state office of education created a chart that shows the three different types of questions and how they fit into the reading anchor standards and the three repeated readings of a close read. For more information on that see my Close Reading Part 2: Reading With a Pencil post.

This is a free download that can be found here if you are interested.

So how do you create text-dependent questions? I have several ideas. ( has several documents that can help you write questions. They have a shorter version and a longer version.)

The first step is to make sure that you are asking a question that brings students back into the text. If you are reading James and the Giant Peach, asking your students if they have ever eaten a peach is not text dependent. Make sure the question is something that can only be answered by going back into the text.

Text-dependent questions begin by focusing on parts of a text like the words and details and then move on to the piece as a whole with things such as themes, inferences etc.  This short video shows Fisher and Frey's model of creating text-dependent questions.

Quick steps to writing text-dependent questions:
1. Identify the core understandings you want your students to understand about a text.
2. Start with level 1 (Key Ideas and Details in the Reading Anchor Standards) questions that talk about specific details and content. This is where I really think of right there questions.
3. Begin moving into level 2 (Craft and Structure) questions. Talk about the word choice, the set-up of the story: is it a poem, whose point-of-view is the text from, what are the arguments made in the text, how do the words that the author uses show their perspective etc.
4. Move on the level 3 (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas). What is the author trying to tell you? Is there enough evidence to support the author's claim? How does this compare to other texts/media on the same topic?

An easy place to start is with your basal or reading program if you have one. They already have many questions prepared for you. Some of them are text-dependent and some of them are not. Usually, most questions just need small tweaks. The main question to ask yourself is "Does this force my students back into the text to answer the question?". If the answer to that is yes then you are on the right track.

I just finished my Text-Dependent Question Stems product that can be found in its entirety by clicking on the link. I have created a FREEBIE for my awesome blog followers that you can download by clicking on the link below the picture. Now yes I know it gives you 14 examples and only 12 cards. I've been stuck in PDF purgatory all day and that's the best I could do after cussing in my head all morning!

Text Dependent Questions FREE Preview

Well that was more long winded than I intended but I hope it was helpful! How have you used text-dependent questions in your classroom?

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Close Reading Part 2: Three Readings and Reading with a Pencil

Okay I know I'm supposed to do it, but what is it?

                                 Photo credit: Belle's Bookshelf

Alrighty, I'm going to try and explain the steps in a close read. It will be thrilling, exciting and daring I promise! :)

The first thing I need to point out is that close reading is NOT in the common core standards. It is a practice through which the standards are met. It's a process of "thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep understanding of the text's form, craft, meanings etc." ( 2013)

Now all of that technical jargon sounds all well and good but what does that mean for the real teacher in the classroom right now? I can tell you that my last class had five special education students and nine different languages. How could I get them to do a "thoughtful, critical analysis of a text" when I couldn't even get them to write simple sentences? I had to start small. I had to scaffold. I had to keep trying.

The goal is to get students reading complex text on their own. Until our kiddos can get there, we need to scaffold them. We as teachers already do this all the time. We do things such as guided reading, literature circles, shared readings, interactive read alouds and more. I wanted to make a printable that I could give all of my students to help scaffold as we began the close reading process. I wanted us to have universal symbols that we could use when talking or writing about close reading.

I made something simple that we could all refer to. I posted one on my whiteboard by my guided reading area and then shrunk them down and copies 4 to a page so each kid could have one in their reading notebook. (This is a free download if you are interested. Link: Close Reading Toolbox or this link for Google docs).


Using this poster really helped my kiddos to "read with a pencil". It helped to bring them back into the text. I gave my kids the small size sticky notes so they could make their marks on those and didn't have to write in the actual book. It worked wonderfully.

Besides reading with a pencil, close reading also includes:
- using SHORT passages or excerpts (this could be a couple paragraphs to several pages to a chapter in a longer book depending on grade level).
-limited pre-reading activities
- rereading deliberately
-discussing the text with others
-responding to text dependent questions

Okay now you are probably thinking that sounds nice but how do I do all of that? Well let me begin by telling you that there are no specific steps to conducting a close read. That's part of the beauty of it. Once you try it out a few times you can do it in the order/way that works best for your style. This is NOT a scripted program that you have to follow to perfection. It is a series of guidelines to help you bring your students back into the text.

My state decided to set up organizational structure that had our students read each text 3 times. They were brilliant in doing this because it follows the organizational setup of the anchor standards for reading: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. This does not mean read the entire book three times! Let me explain:

1st Read: Key Ideas and Details:
- After setting a purpose for reading, have students read the text as independently as possible. (For me that meant some of my SpEd's and ELL's had to read with a partner or para. This could also be done as a read aloud or think aloud if the text is very complex.)
- Do not build up background knowledge, instead focus more on the key ideas and details of the text. (Think Right There type questions).

2nd Read: Craft and Structure:
-Choose a piece of the text- paragraph, pages, chapter- that is complex enough to do a close read on.
-Have students reread that section only.
-After rereading that sections, students discuss the text focusing on the author's craft, structure, and organization. These can include vocabulary, word choice, text structures, text features and answering text-dependent questions (more on that next time!) etc.

3rd Read: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
-Students go even deeper into the piece. They synthesize and analyze the information in the text. They compare this text to other texts or forms of media (see anchor standards for reading). They also begin to record their ideas on graphic organizers, journals, sticky notes etc.

What's nice about this setup is that I can do a close reading on a variety of leveled books. My students that are on an L can do a close read on Horrible Harry or Junie B. Jones books. My next group that's on an Q can do a close read on Dear Mr. Henshaw. I can take each group through this process using appropriate books for each student.

This is a good place to stop for now. I know this is a general overview but close reading is a BIG hunk of nebulous materials, ideas, procedures etc. I promise I will keep writing more on it as I go and answer any questions that you have.

Have you had any trainings on close reading? What is the most important thing you learned?
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Close Reading Part 1: Evidence Based Terms

When our district first started implementing the common core about two-ish years ago I started hearing the words "close reading". I won't lie, at first I thought everyone was saying "cloze reading". I honestly kept thinking "Cloze reading is supposed to be the next big thing? This is the next thing that will save us all? This has been around forever!" Then we had a professional development on it and I was too embarrassed (until now obviously) to tell anyone what I had thought.

After the first professional development we had I was still confused. It seemed to me like this was something we were already having our students do in guided reading groups. We were asking higher level questions and trying to bring our students back into the text. I didn't really see how this was different.

That all changed when I got hired to train other teachers over the summer. Guess what the topic of the four-day long training was? You guessed it! Close reading. My first thought: "Yay." But I figured since I was going to be training other teachers, I better look into it. I was pretty amazed by what I found.

The fantastic and wonderful reading specialist at my school was my go-to person for this task. She had shown our faculty this video on close reading that really stated in simple terms what it was.

I really think my favorite part of the video is that you can tell that Dr. Fisher and the interviewer are not even in the same room! But I digress.

A close read is getting the students back into the text. We want our students to be able to justify their thinking or answers by using evidence from the text. We have had a big swing to building background knowledge and making connections. While those things are important and there is definitely a place for those in reading instruction, we have focused too much on them. I know it was very easy for me to ask my students what they thought or felt about a character or topic but I had a harder time asking them what the author thought or felt and how they could prove it.

So I decided that since I needed to be better, I would start small. I had taught my third graders the word justify. I do a lot of whole brain teaching (if you have never heard of it check out their website here). This means my students and I are actively responding, gesturing and repeating things all day. Whenever I said "Justify!" my students would respond "You can prove it!". They knew that this meant finding evidence for their answers. We had done this a lot with math and I knew it would be easy to transfer it to reading. I decided to make my "Evidence Based Terms Posters" and post them on my whiteboard in the front of the room. They made a huge difference in my teaching and my students answering!

I posted them where I could see them so I would remember to refer to them and I posted them where the students could easily see them so they could use them when answering. The terms that I used for my posters were:
* According to the text...
* The author stated...
* From the reading I know that...
* Because...
* For instance...
* For example...
* It said on page ___ that...

I started with one term at a time and showed them how to use it. I would do teacher think alouds and say things like "From the reading I know that Matilda loved going to the library." or "From the reading I know that Nick thought of the word frindle when walking home from school". Then I would encourage my students to use the phrase when they answered. When we had mastered one, I'd add another. I was amazed by how well they sounded. Then it started transferring into their writing! They began to complete assignments using these phrases without my direction to do so. It was awesome! (Of course I also had an assignment early on where my students wrote things like "For instance Matilda liked to read." and "The author stated I know that Nick liked to make up new words because it's fun to make up new words." Perfection thy name is not Cassie.)

If close reading overwhelms you, don't let it. This is not something that has to be done every day, for every reading. Start small like I did. Just use these phrases to bring your students back into the text when answering the questions you are already asking. I plan on posting more information on close reading: what a close read looks like, text-dependent questions etc. as I go. I am still learning so much about it and we can continue to learn together.

Have you done close reading in your classroom? What did it look like? What did you like or dislike?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thanksgiving Persuasive Writing and a FREEBIE!

I have always had a hard time with Thanksgiving crafts. I can never seem to find the art project that is “so cute I just can’t stand it!” One year I tried cornucopia’s. I thought “Oh this will be unique and fun!” I had my students write one thing they were thankful for on each piece of food and we hung them in the hall. It wasn’t awesome. It was okay but not great. I decided that since I haven’t been able to find anything super amazing for my Thanksgiving craft, I would make it more academic based.

My thesis for my Master’s program was on writing, specifically expository writing. I knew from my studies and from talking to other teachers that when schedules are tight, writing is the first thing to get cut back or cut out. I think writing is so powerful and can reach so many students once they feel comfortable being the authors and not just the readers! So I figured now is as good a time as any to incorporate some writing.

One of the three main components of the common core writing standards is that of persuasive writing. I normally do a few persuasive pieces throughout the year but nothing for Thanksgiving. I decided to have my students write a persuasive piece from a turkey’s point of view. Now this may sound a little morbid (and it probably is) but I had my students write a letter to the farmer convincing them that they shouldn’t be the turkey picked for Thanksgiving dinner. They had to list their reasons and justify their answers. They actually turned out really cute!

If you are interested in doing a similar activity, you can download my FREE persuasive writing pages by clicking on the link below.

This is part of my Thanksgiving Turkey Pack that can be found by clicking on the link!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Character Traits Poster

I recently posted the above picture to my Facebook page as an idea to share. While I had done something similar the above picture isn’t mine. (I tried to find a link to give credit but the image didn’t link anywhere. If anyone knows whose it is please let me know!!) My pictures were on my classroom iPad that I no longer have! I created a new poster to show you with a younger student holding it so you didn’t have to look at my face. It will make me feel better about my handwriting capabilities if we just pretend that a third grader wrote it and not me!

 I really like this idea for many reasons. It is a fun, engaging activity that can be used for a variety of topics. The above picture used this idea for biographies. When I used it in my classroom, I did it with character traits. Hopefully this post will help you see how it worked for me!
We have been having a huge focus on close reading in our state and district trainings. Our school decided to give each grade level team one of the common core reading anchor standards and present a close reading lesson to the faculty. The standard we were given was directed at the characters in the story. (I believe that it was the CCRA.R.3 which is the anchor standard for reading number 3). We wanted to come up with something that was engaging for the students that went beyond filling out a worksheet.
My other teaching half had seen a similar picture on Pinterest (aka the best site on the planet). The picture she saw also covered biographies. She brought that picture to our attention and told us it would be fun to do the same thing using character traits. Then our students could present their posters to the class.

I didn’t have time between our assignment and the next faculty meeting to do this whole class. I decided to do it in two of my guided reading groups that had 5-7 students in each. This actually worked out to be a better idea because then I could work more one-on-one with the students to find the traits in their different books.

I took a normal size poster board and cut it in half. This could easily be done on a full poster board but I had a limited number of poster board and had some smaller students with a smaller arm span. I measured one of my students faces to give me an approximate shape. Then I traced it onto the boards and cut it out. Depending on your grade level you could have the students cut it out. Since I was presenting these in a faculty meeting I decided to cut them out.


I gave them to my groups and we talked about the assignment. Each of my guided reading groups was on a different book depending on their level so I had a wide range of character choices. Each student was able to pick which character they wanted to do their poster on. We went over the rubric that they would be graded on and what I was looking for. The task was pretty simple. Here are the guidelines that I gave them:

·       Create a brainstorm list of the character traits you have found so .

·       Find evidence/examples that shows that character trait. Remember to write the page number and a quote if applicable.

·       Draw the head of the person first.

·       In your nicest handwriting begin writing the character traits around the outside. These can be in many different styles of writing: print, cursive, bubble letters etc.

·       Underneath each trait write the page number of where you found the evidence for that trait. There can be more than one page.

Close reading has a major focus on finding evidence in the text to justify your answers. My students were used to my Evidence Based Terms and Language Arts Graphic Organizers and so finding evidence came easier to them than I think it would have previous years when I didn’t use my posters.

The students wrote in pencil first and then traced over it in marker. When they were finished we practiced presenting it. They pretended they were that character and said things like: “My name is Junie B. Jones. I am a smart student. You can tell I’m a smart student because I worked really hard on my homework and got a good grade on it.” They were so cute! When they felt ready we filmed them on my iPad so they could see it and so the other teachers could see it. They felt very special knowing that the other teachers wanted to see it.


I graded them using a simple Presentation Rubric that can be found for free by clicking on the link. This project took us 3-4 guided reading sessions of about fifteen minutes each.

I hope your students enjoy this as much as mine did!
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Slide Cards for Fact Fluency

Recently the school that I worked for asked if I would make some products that would help students develop their fact fluency. This week they have parent-teacher-conferences and they wanted some products that they could pass out to parents to help their kiddos at home. I already had some things for the upper grades: triangle flashcards, part-part-whole multiplication and division flashcards, array flashcards, ZAP commutative property game and more.  (I'm almost done with a complete addition and subtraction fact fluency program called Mighty Math that I'm really excited about! I'll post more on that later!)

 I realized that I didn't have a lot prepped for the younger grades and that I would need to make a few things for them to choose from. This got my creative juices flowing. I love trying to figure out what is going to meet the needs of my students best. My other teaching half had recently requested that I create some ten frame flashcards. There is nothing out there quite like what she was looking for so I put something together. These ten frame flashcards are great for number recognition, memory games, making tens ( or nines or elevens etc.). That was the only thing that I had ready to go. I needed something that parents could handle (because let's be honest, it's easier to train the kids than it is the parents) and something that wasn't one time use. I had a lot of flashcards in my store and wanted to come up with something different. Enter the fabulous slide card.

 I thought the slide card would be an easy way for even our kinders to learn their math facts. I also wanted a way for one product to teach multiple concepts. We teachers are the ultimate multitaskers and we need the resources in our room to be multitaskers too. The concepts that can be covered using these slide cards are:
* addition facts 0-10

* subtraction facts 0-10

* making doubles

* commutative facts

* fact families

* making tens (or other numbers)

* identity property of addition

* zero property of addition

* fact families


The preparation is also really easy. You just need to print out the cards (cardstock is best but I printed them out on normal paper and it was okay). When I cut them out I noticed that it worked better if I cut them all along the black lines. I tried to fudge it a little bit and left some white edges on a few of them and all it did was show me that my mother was right when she said “Do it right or do it over.” I ended up having to go back and trim the white edges off along the black lines. Lesson learned, mothers are always right.

Then I cut out one of the white strips and folded it around the paper, creased the edges and taped the back closed. The first one I did, I folded the white slip exactly the same height as the card. I would recommend doing it slightly bigger so it’s a little more loose for little hands to maneuver.


That’s it! You’re done. The white slip of paper can be slid along the card to cover one of the addends or subtrahends, the addition or subtraction sign or the answer. By choosing what your students cover, you are (obviously) choosing what they are trying to study.

 These would be great whole class or in math centers, guided math practice and more!

If you are interested in my slide cards for addition and subtraction fact fluency (that’s somewhat of a mouthful isn’t it?) just click on the link!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Just Wait....


I recently saw a post on Facebook called 'Joy, or Just Wait?' It talked about new parents constantly being barraged with, "Oh just wait until they are teenagers..." or, "Oh just wait until (fill in the blank with something negative about parenting)...". In a round about way this made me think about my teaching career. (For the full article click here.)

Parenting can be challenging and so can teaching. There is a lot of negativity that surrounds both. The summer before I started teaching I was working hard to get prepared. Third grade was completely new to me and I didn't know where to start. Having student-taught in fifth grade, I was worried to "step down" to third. But my job was at a school I had previously worked at and I felt it would all be okay.

The school where I worked was a Title 1 school. For those of you that don't know what that is, a Title 1 school has at least 50% of the student body on free or reduced lunch. We had 2 (that has since turned into three) different apartment complexes in our boundaries which means we also had a lot of students transitioning in and out of our classrooms. I had worked as an After-school Program Coordinator for three years at this school and had a little background on the population, school procedures, and teaching (oh my naiveté!).

During the summer about a month before school started, I received my first "Just wait..." phone call. Apparently the group I was going to get was "the hardest group we've had in my twenty years here!" This teacher, who I know had only good intentions, warned me to find another school to teach at because my kids were "rough." While I appreciated her concern (truly I did), this made me want to stay even more. I sorta have this stubborn streak that won't let me quit something once I'm committed.

This was the first of many warnings I received about my first group of kiddos. I heard many more "Just waits" while I was preparing that summer. Surrounded by negativity I tried not to get discouraged. Teaching is hard. We have a lot of hoops to jump through.  We have parents who can't help, parents who won't help, and parents who can't help but help anyway. We have conferences, faculty meetings, professional development, and trainings. We have papers to grade, lesson plans to write, and data to track! And let's all face it, our hardest kids are NEVER absent!

But teaching is also wonderful. For every negative thing we have to face, there is undoubtedly more positives. We have hugs to give, smiles to share, and high fives in the hall. We have accomplishments to celebrate and the joy of seeing that spark in their eyes when they learn something new! We buy our kiddos backpacks, shoes, socks, pencils, paper, crayons, glue and more because they need it so desperately. We slip granola bars into the hands of our homeless kids who haven't eaten since lunch at school yesterday. We wipe the tears away from the student whose mom overdosed on drugs over the weekend. We do all of this and more. We do it because we care. We do it because we love what we do. And we do it above all because they are worth it.

So despite all of the negativity surrounding education that we face on a daily basis, I wanted to share with you a few of the "just waits" that I have discovered since that first phone call a few summers ago.

- Just wait until your class comes in on that very first day of school and you realize they are all just as nervous as you are!

- Just wait until a student starts throwing things around the room and you realize you know exactly how to handle the situation and everything worked out great!

-Just wait until you see a student who has struggled to learn something finally "get it" because of you. Those are the moments that give you goose bumps!

-Just wait until you get your students as excited about learning as you are. Enthusiasm for learning is easy to share!

-Just wait until your student makes a connection from a story they read in social studies to a story they are reading during guided reading.

-Just wait until you get a hug from the same student every day as they tell you, "Mrs. Tabrizi, you're my favorite teacher!" (And even though they say it every year, to every teacher, they still mean it!)

-Just wait until the students who you struggled with on a daily basis come back to visit you when they are in junior high and high school. They'll give you a wry smile that speaks volumes when they enter your door!

And finally,

-Just wait for the moment when you feel bogged down by everything you have to do, overworked and underpaid, and just plain tired. These moments will come. But they won't last. Remember this: You are a better teacher than you could ever imagine. Your students are in your room because they need YOU. You are making a profound difference in each of their lives in ways you can't see yet. When you start to feel this way, pull out a pen and paper and begin making your own "Just Wait" list. I promise it will fill up faster than you think!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Math Task Explanation Part 3

Math Tasks Part 3

Welcome back to part 3 of my math task explanations! I hope that you have found this useful to you and that it answers any questions you may have. If not, please leave your questions in the comment section and I'll try to help clarify.

Part 3: The Actual Task
I will be using a 5th grade level task to walk through. A third grade level task is found in my Free Math Task Explanations set.

I start by briefly reviewing the Math Task Procedure Posters . Then I simply read over the task using the document camera and have the students use their finger to circle in the air any important information. I asked them basic questions like "what are we looking for?" and then put my students into groups of 2 or 3.

Lets look at the 5.NBT.2 Powers of Ten math task called "Sewer Rats".
It states:

There are many rats in the sewers. The total amount of rats doubles every seven days. How many rats are there in the sewers after one year? Write your answer in scientific notation.

Extension: One rat has three babies. Each of those babies has three babies. The rats follow this same pattern of birth for 10 generations. How many rats are there altogether?

Now you may look at this at say "Wait a minute! It doesn't tell you how many rats are in the sewer to begin with!". Again, that's the point. This is were the independent thinking and reasonable estimating comes in. The students need to decide what reasonable and what numbers they really want to deal with when doing the task. You will probably have some that will be smart alecks (shocking I know) and choose a number like 5 billion. Well, let 'em! If they can do the math correctly it DOESN'T MATTER WHAT NUMBER THEY CHOOSE!" The purpose of a task is to focus on the mathematical process and mathematical reasoning. Your student will learn quickly that they won't want to be a smart aleck during task time.

If you felt it appropriate you could talk about how many rats would realistically be in the sewer. 1? 100? 1,000? Make sure you let your students decide. This means that every group could potentially use different numbers in their problems and that's fabulous. The numbers they choose don't matter as long as the answer and process are correct. (And by answer I mean as long as their math is correct with whatever number they choose.)

So say your student picks 5 (it's not very surprising that they lean toward benchmark numbers like 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 etc.). That means they take 5 rats and double every seven days. So:

-Day 1: 5 rats
-Day 7: 10 rats
-Day 14: 20 rats
-Day 21: 40 rats
-Day 28: 80 rats
-Day 35: 160 rats
-Day 42: 320 rats
They will need to double it a total of 52 times (for 52 weeks in the year). They could do this by adding, multiplying, drawing pictures, using manipulatives. However they want to solve it is up to them. As you are walking around you can gently guide them (do not give them answers, just suggestions) into easier paths or clearer processes. (FOR THIS TASK I WOULD RECOMMEND THAT THE MAJORITY OF YOUR CLASS START WITH A LOWER NUMER. In this task the numbers get really big really fast!).

After the students have been working for several minutes, walk around and take note of the different approaches your students are taking on this problem. Then, pull up 1-3 groups and have them share their thinking on the document camera or board. This is a crucial piece that allows for student reflection. It also helps us as teachers see what our students are thinking and where they are in the mathematical process. As much as I wish my students could learn everything from me, sometimes it takes the words of a peer to help something click.

After sharing a few, my students would go back to work. I would walk around and ask questions like: "Okay, explain to me what you are doing." or "Can you tell me more about this?". I tried not to praise to heavily (and the facilitators at our state training said to not praise at all!) because then the other groups think that there might be only one correct way of doing things. I couldn't just look and them and say nothing so I would respond with "I like your thinking here!" or "I really love how you showed me two different ways to solve this!" etc.

Finally, if there was time at the end, we would share a few more groups and talk about their work and answers. The students would turn in their task pages to me and any additional pages they had done work on. I graded these as a participation grade. The tasks are to help my kiddos think and talk about math and help me to see where my students are and where I as the teacher need to take them.

There are many different ways to do a task in your room. How do you run your math tasks? 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wall Folders: A grading and missing assignment miracle

Wall Folders for Classroom Management

One thing that I have LOVED using in my classroom is wall folders. Wall folders seriously saved my sanity over and over. They help with classroom organization, collecting student work, grading, entering grades, managing late work, classroom procedures and more!

I really have to give a shout-out to my site teacher when I was student teaching. She is the one who gave me the idea (one of many).

How to make wall folders:
1. First, you take colored folders. I used the thicker ones for durability.

2. Add your students names. This can be done in many different ways. My site teacher laminated her names and used Velcro  to easily change the names from year to year. I had a lot more mobility in my classroom (usually about 40-60% of my students would move in and out) so I used badge holders that I got from Office Max. I just applied these with brads so I could easily slip in the students names

3. Tape the two short sides that are open with packaging tape.

4. Add three paper clips: Two at the top and one at the bottom.

5. Tape or secure to the wall close together.

Here is an zoomed in picture of the folders.
Wall Folders Zoomed In

Now some teachers use the opening in the top for students to turn in work and get it passed back to them. That is an option. However, with how rough my little 3rd graders could be on paper, I didn't want to be changing the folders every single year. The folders in this picture are five years old. You could also have your wall folders hang vertically instead of horizontally.

You want to organize your students alphabetically by last name. My first instinct was to alphabetize by first name because that is aesthetically pleasing and I'm a little type A. But if you alphabetize by last name, when the papers are collected to be graded, they are already to go in alphabetical order! This may only be an issue with me but having a stack of papers placed neatly on my desk by my class president in alphabetical order made entering grades SO MUCH easier! I didn't have to take the extra seconds to search for a name. Now maybe this is just something that bugs me, but seconds are valuable in the classroom and this is one thing that made grading much easier.

The two paper clips are the top are for your students to turn in their work. They slide it up under the paper clips. I had my students always place their papers with their names on the right hand side. That way when they are collected the papers are all facing the same way in alphabetical order. This takes a little practice depending on your class but they usually pick it up pretty fast. I have only had a few students that push their papers up too hard and take the paper clips with them. They can fix that themselves (usually :)) pretty fast.

Wall Folders With Papers

The paper clip at the bottom is for their cards. The cards show who is missing an assignment and what assignment it is. I have many different colored pieces of laminated cardstock. They are about 2 x 4 inches. When a student doesn't turn in an assignment, my class president would write the assignment name next to a colored card. Then she/he would take that colored card and put it in the bottom paper clip to mark which students hadn't turned in the assignment. The president does this BEFORE they collect the other papers. Then the president would collect the papers from left to right across the rows and place the pile on my desk.

Here is a picture of the board with the assignment lists. (And that is 8 year old handwriting so don't judge too harshly!! :))

So, for example, if a student was missing our grammar page 183 and practice page 212 (copied front to back) then they would have a yellow card. If they were also missing practice page 211 and spelling page 183 they would have an orange card. The students and I could look at the wall and see who was missing what immediately! They didn't have to come up to me to ask what they were missing and I didn't have to track them down and keep checking my gradebook to see who was missing what. Seriously fabulous.
Wall Folder Cards

In my room my students couldn't go outside to recess if they had cards. They would need to stay inside and do their work. I also had a basket labeled "Extra Papers" where I made 1-3 extra copies of work that they could check to find what they needed. When they were done with their work, they would take their card off and turn their paper in. (I had them turn their late work in a different box so the wall folders wouldn't be cluttered with random late work pages but you could do it however you wanted.)

The best part is that my class president took care of all of this! If I had a class where I didn't trust a student to do this on their own then I had to be more involved but usually it went smoothly. At the end of the week any students with missing work were given an orange card that said late work. All the other cards were put back and the assignment names erased so we could start over fresh the next week. The student would have to come see me and I would staple all of their work together along with a note for the parents to sign and they would take it home for the weekend to work on it.

Wall folders take up some space but if you can afford to give that up then try it! You won't be sorry!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Math Task Explanations Part 2

Math Tasks Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my enthralling series called "Math Task Explanations"! 
(If you missed part 1 you can click here: Math Task Explanations Part 1)

I talked briefly about the procedures I set up in my classroom when doing a task and now I want to get into the nitty gritty. Exciting right?

As mentioned before, I did tasks with my other teaching half. She is a FANTASTIC and strong teacher and I have learned so much from her. This means that we had about 45 kids in my room on task day. Translation: PROCEDURES WERE A MUST! We would start by briefly reviewing the procedures all together by talking about them, acting them out etc. Then I would introduce the task for the day.

We tied in the task topic to whatever we were studying in class which made it nice and easy. I would simply read the task to them and ask very generic questions such as "What is it asking you to find?" or "Can you see the important information?". If it seemed to be a particularly difficult concept (like time to the nearest minute, don't even get me started with some of my kids!!!) I might prompt them more. Bottom line is you are the professional in your room with strong gut instincts. You know your kids and if you need to hold their hand longer or not. It is important to note that we walked our kids through an entire task together the first time. I did think alouds on how I would estimate, check, find etc. the answers to the problem. This is a really important step that can help them see the process.

 Then we would split our kids into groups. We tried it every way you could think of: high/high, high/medium, low/low, high/low, medium/low etc. Sometimes we wanted our low babies to have a strong example and we placed them with a high student. Other times we wanted to challenge our high kids and we put them all together. It depends on your needs at the time. The possibilities are endless. Having our low babies together pushed them and surprised us. The picture that I used for Part 1 is a paper taken from 2 special education students. They were using mathematical thinking and stretching their brains even if they didn't always find the exact right answer.

Side note: We tried using groups of 4 at the beginning and didn't love it. We found that students were more engaged and more accountable when working in partners.

At first the students feel a little unsure about the task process (and trust me I felt the same way!). The students are used to having all the information given to them in a tidy little package and they just need to simply add/subtract/multiply/divide it. This stretches them as a student and you as the teacher!!

The important thing to remember about tasks is that not all of the information is given and that's on purpose! We are trying to get our students to be deep, INDEPENDENT thinkers. Trust me, at the beginning the students will look at you like they can find the answer in your face. They are used to being spoon fed and we need to help them break that habit.

I have had several questions where the teacher is wondering how the students will know what to estimate. That is where you can guide them at the task presentation. Ask them explicitly "What do we need to estimate/find here?". They can get it easier than you think. (After doing two or three of them this becomes no problem). To make this easier, I am going to walk you through a math task in Part 3. Since my Free Math Task Explanation set walks you through a 3rd grade problem, I figured I would use a 5th grade task.

If you didn't get my Free Math Task Procedure set just click on the link!

What questions do you have? How have you set up tasks in your room?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Math Task Explanation part 1

Math Tasks Explanations Part 1

I have had several people ask me to go into more detail about my math tasks. I know that sometimes they can seem confusing and even way beyond your students. I promise they can do it and so can you!!

(You can also download my Free Math Task Explanations for more information)

Two years ago my state had a MAJOR training on math tasks. This was where I learned what was expected and how to create them. This is also where I accidentally flashed the assistant superintendent while pumping (I was still breast feeding my daughter) during a break. Alas that is a horrifying story for another time!

I admit that when I was first introduced to math tasks that I was doubtful. They seemed SO open ended and very ambiguous. But I soon realized that therein lies their beauty! One of the points of the Common Core is to create students who are deep, independent thinkers that can make educated estimations as well as check the reasonableness of their answers. Math tasks fit in perfectly with that! Why are we doing all the heavy lifting for our students? I'm too old and too tired for that!

Once I realized the beauty of the task I thought to myself: "Okay we just had a week long training on this. I'm actually excited about it and want to try it." I set out with my other teaching half to get our math task process started. We came up with a list of procedures to help us. We went over these procedures a lot at the beginning and then periodically throughout the year. I'm sure you could think of others, but here are the ones we came up with:

1. Quiet voices.
2. Everyone participates.
3. Focus on task.
4. Take turns.
5. No put downs. Everyone’s ideas can be heard.
6. Tasks may be hard, stick with it!
7. Figure out ways to get along! Problem solve!!
8. Teacher’s job is to guide you, not give you the answers!
9. Three ways to show your work.
10. More than one way to solve a problem.
11. Treat manipulatives with respect.
12. Be responsible to return all materials that are checked out.
13. Record your thinking so we don’t forget.
14. Circle the important numbers and words.

Click on the link to go to my Math Task Procedures Freebie!!

We decided to try and do the math tasks in a manageable way. We knew our state and district wanted us to implement them but with the millions of other things that are mandated we didn't have time to do one daily. We decided on once a week and loved it! We chose our short day (early out day) and did the tasks every Wednesday because our time for math was a little shorter that day, about an hour long. This gave us enough time to present, work on and share the task. Our students also became used to task day and honestly it became their favorite day of the week.

Well it seems like this post is turning into a novel so I will break it up into a few parts. I hope you enjoyed part on. If you have ANY questions please leave a comment and ask. If you have a question then others have it as well.

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