Thursday, August 25, 2016

Math Assessment for Growth Mindset

We're getting close to the end of our summer collaborative book study. Today we're reviewing Chapter 8: Assessment for Growth Mindset. This book is FULL of gems & my brain is hurting because I'm rethinking so much of how I "do math"! If you missed some of the other fabulous chapters, you can catch up here:
Chapter Summary
Chapter 8 begins with convincing evidence that we must change the way we assess mathematics! "The knowledge needed for success on such tests is so far from the adaptable, critical, and analytical thinking needed by students in the modern world that leading employers such as Google have declared they are no longer interested in students' test performance, as it in no way predicts success in the workplace. (Bryant, 2013)" p. 141 Hey, if Google says we need to rethink testing, then. . .
What was also interesting were the numerous studies that show not taking tests but focusing on meaningful feedback and problem solving led to higher scores. These results are attributed to having a growth mindset; these children had been taught to believe in their own capabilites and the feedback they received was helpful to their learning. (Read: no "good job")
My Takeaway
Have you seen the documentary, Race to Nowhere? It's a powerful film, highlighting the stress students are placed under in U.S. schools. I've experienced firsthand, the craziness of high school through my oldest daughter. Everything she did in high school was "for my college resume." What?! I had never heard of such a thing. That fear of not getting into the best universities is what motivated my daughter and all her friends: the classes they took, the clubs they joined, the activities they pursued. She admits that she memorized material to pass tests but couldn't recall any information later. It saddened me to never hear her talk about the joy of learning.  True, she graduated with a 4.0+ GPA & she goes to an excellent university. But my heart broke when she called me during her sophomore year and said, "I don't know why I'm here. Everyone is smarter than me. I don't know what I want to do with my life." Just like the premise of this film, with all our teaching, we need to be asking the questions, "What does it take to produce a happy, motivated, creative human being?"
Three Tips for the Classroom
Reflect, reflect, reflect. Although we're always pressed for time, the few minutes students take at the end of a lesson to reflect is valuable to internalize new learning. I'm going to have my students glue these Big Idea prompts into their math notebooks to guide their reflections. You can download your copy here or by clicking on the picture below.
The damage with over-testing our students is taking its toll. Ego feedback (this term was new to me) is a form of feedback based on a grade or score. Students (& parents) cannot help but use those scores to compare themselves to others around them., and often use these as indicators of who they are as people.  We must move from grades to meaningful feedback.  True, writing feedback takes longer than running a stack of scantron tests through a machine, but students need to be able to demonstrate their understanding of content, then the feedback specifically gives them strategies to get to their next step or goal. A4L: Assessment for Learning was developed in England and found to be highly successful in empowering students to take control of their learning. Students no longer sit back passively, waiting for the teacher to give them a grade.

This chapter was full of alternative means of assessing students. A few that I want to implement this year are: more student self-assessment, exit tickets, and students developing the test questions (this will really tell you what you thought you taught & what students actually learned!)

Be sure to stop by next Thursday; you don't want to miss our final chapter and a GIVEAWAY!!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What do We Stand For?

What do we stand for? That's a pretty abstract, heavy question to ask 8 and 9 year olds. . .
Our school year began last week and instead of focusing on class rules, I asked the questions,  "What do we stand for? What do we value and believe in?" We started with the definition of a mission statement, then looking at our school mission statement. Next, we reviewed several other well-known company mission statements and discussed common words. You can download the sample mission statements I used here.
In groups, students worked to come up with a sample class mission statement, then presented them to the class.  We've been discussing having a Growth Mindset all week, as well as many of the ideas behind mathematical mindsets, so it was interesting that most of the sample missions statements did not include specific learning about subject or grades. (I thought many of the kids would focus on getting good grades, so I was pleased when they did not!)
We identified and listed words that were used multiple times and discussed strong verbs. From there, we wrote one class mission statement. The kids were thrilled (they felt very grown-up) and agreed that our mission statement represented what we wanted our class to stand for. I'm going to enlarge it into a poster and the kids have asked to sign it!
I love that students took ownership for our new class mission statement; they all have buy-in. Do you post class rules or allow students to create behavioral expectations?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping

This is my first week back to school & what an awesome start! From the first day, we've been following Jo Boaler's Week of Inspirational Math plans. Each day reinforces the big ideas of our book study book, Mathematical Mindsets. She even has a FREE course for students and families called How to Learn Math. I'm recommending it to my class this year!  

Anyway, I'm so glad you're here! Today we're discussing Chapter 7: From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping. If you missed the first few chapters, you can catch up here:
Chapter Summary
Chapter 7 focused on the detriment of ability tracking. Boaler claims there is no stronger fixed mindset message to students than putting them into groups determined by achievement. Yikes; that is a powerful claim! What harm have I (unintentionally) done to students in the past?  International analysts discovered that the most successful countries are those that group by ability the latest and the least (p. 112). This chapter addresses the fear and the challenge of teaching heterogeneous groups effectively by giving several suggestions.

My Takeaway
Heterogenous groups are manageable IF the tasks are engaging enough, rigorous, and provide natural differentiation.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Made-It: Back to School

Summer flew by & I finally finished a few things on my "To Do" list! I'm happy to be linking up today with Tara, over at 4th Grade Frolics.
My classroom doors have a narrow window that often streams light into bad angles while students are working. To block the light, I used to cover them up with whatever construction paper I had on hand. The construction paper turns shabby & tacky, as the school year wears on, so I was happy to find directions for easy to sew curtains.  This fabulous mother sews the curtains as gifts for her children's teachers!! You can read the original post here. I am by no means a seamstress; my sewing these days involve hemming a pair of pants & sewing my daughter's Girl Scout badges onto her sash. I took the original directions and modified them a bit.
Step 1: Measure the window; mine are 6" x 30"
Step 2: Buy fabric you want to show on the inside, toward the classroom, and a darker fabric for the outside. Cut it 1-1/2"-2" larger on each side than the window; I cut mine 8" x 33". (And I tend to always be in a rush so I just laid out all the fabrics together, folded in half, and cut them out at once.)
Step 3: Pin the RIGHT sides of both fabrics together. Pin three loops of ribbon facing DOWN, BETWEEN the two fabrics.
Step 4: Sew all 4 edges together, leaving part of one side open, large enough to fit in your hand. (Helpful hint: use colored thread in your needle to match the top fabric, and a dark colored thread in the bobbin to match the dark fabric.)
Step 5: Clip the corners before turning, so they are not lumpy on the right side.
Step 6: Stick your hand inside the opening & turn the curtain inside out. I also used a chopstick to poke the corners, making them sharp.
Step 7: Iron the curtain flat.
Step 8: One at a time, place a magnet inside the curtain, along the edge. I spaced out three magnets on each side. Place three pins around the magnet, then sew around each magnet. Funny note to self: sometimes the magnet stuck to the metal of the sewing machine while I tried to sew! I had to gently push it through.
Step 9: Finish sewing the opening shut.
And voila! The finished curtain! I stuck a dowel through the loops then hung it on two Command hooks. You could probably also hang the loops onto Command hooks on their own. Pull the curtain down to cover the window, then use the magnets to poof the curtain to look like a roman shade. (My classroom door is metal so the magnets stick.)
Spray paint is my best friend. There's nothing like a fresh coat of paint to turn ugly into cheerful and new. My next Made It was on my To-Do List for a looong time! I use these plastic hanging file folders boxes for writing forms, and other class forms (missing assignments, conflict resolution, reflections, etc). But they were old, dusty, dirty, and so faded that I'm not sure what their original colors were! I picked up bright spray paint  at Home  Depot (less than $4 per can) & they look like new, just a few minutes later! 
I'm really excited about my latest product, School Tools Logic Task Cards. These are great for developing logic, building number sense, and reviewing math vocabulary.  School tools tiles are used as manipulatives to help bridge abstract concepts to concrete understanding.
Have a great new school year!

Friday, August 12, 2016

5 Tips for a Smooth Back to School Re-entry

I'm in denial that school is starting (with students) in just 4 days! There's always so much to think about when planning, not to mention classroom setup! I'm linking up with Laura at A Grace-Filled Classroom and a ton of other terrific teacher bloggers to share tips and ideas to make your transition back to school smooth!
Here are 5 tips to start off your school year right!
Build relationship with students!
“When students know that we know them, they are more connected with school, they are more likely to persevere when challenges arise and enjoy school more!” Don Graves suggests completing a chart to get to know your students:
However, teachers should NOT become friends with students; there still needs to be a hierarchical nature to the relationship. In The Well-Balanced Teacher: How to Work Smarter and Stay Sane Inside the Classroom and Out, author Mike Anderson lists some ways to (appropriately) get to know our students: build in class time for chitchat. Each morning we start our day with Morning Meeting, a time to greet one another and share out on particular topics or questions. Definitely check out this post on Morning Meeting with upper grades! Eat in the cafeteria every so often and sit with students (their lunch time conversation is much different than classroom discussions!). Some other ideas: start an after-school club or an optional children’s book club that meets during lunch every few weeks. Post pictures of former classes: posting pictures of former students and classes also lends a sense of history to your classroom, showing student that they are important even after they leave! Avoid social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) with students & parents; keep the relationship professional.
Build Relationships with Families!
Be proactive: send a friendly letter home before the school year. My grade-level partner and I don’t know which students are in our classes beforehand, (and we're at a small school with only two of us at 4th grade) but we send a postcard in the summer (to those students who are registered by then) from both of us, letting students know we are excited to meet them. 

Create a class website to keep parents informed of class projects & dates, recommended websites, files, updates on class happenings, and post pictures. I created my class website on I’m definitely NOT a techie, but it’s so easy and it’s free. Many teachers also use Parents have appreciated access to information and it has drastically cut down their constant questions; I just refer them to the website. (I've also trained my students where to look for information!)
Parents are often used to getting phone calls or notes only when their child is misbehaving. Send notes home or call with good news. I try to be very specific when writing a note or postcard, such as “__________ had a great day! She found many ways to solve a problem in math.” Or “__________ was a kind friend; he helped another student during reading.” Often parents are speechless when I call to say something positive or parents have told me they put my postcard on the refrigerator because they’re so proud! However, again a note of caution: "nurturing supportive and professional relationships with parents will help us better connect with our schools and better meet the needs of our students. Having close personal friends who are parents of our students can lead to conflicts of interest." (Anderson, p. 43)

Parents want to feel confident that their child's teacher is competent, confident, and communicative. You can read more details about tried and true teaching tools to help with parent communication here.
Cultivate a feeling of community and safety in your classroom. You can read more about no-prep to low-prep community building activity here,  here, here, and here
Read the book Have You Filled Your Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud to your class. It's an awesome picture book about the power of positive words & "filling" each other up, rather than "emptying" others' buckets. We have small buckets (thanks, Oriental Trading!) numbered with student numbers hanging in my classroom; students use them to add positive affirmations and compliments to classmates. You should see their faces light up when they receive a note!
Have your behavior management plan in place before students arrive. I'm sure you've heard the advice, "don't smile the first day of school until students know you are serious." Pshaw! That's just silly! Be approachable and friendly, but firm and consistent. Your students are nervous enough without meeting a scary, stone-faced teacher. You can also read more about tried and true behavior plans here. Most of all: be yourself! To start developing empathy with your class, a GREAT book to read to your class the first day is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg.
It's all about the main character who is so nervous about the first day of school and at the end there's a twist because you discover the nervous character is  the teacher (not a student)! This book elicits terrific discussions!
Lastly, be sure to take care of YOURSELF!! Teacher care is SO important! We are so busy thinking about our students & their families, our own families, things we have to get done, blah, blah, blah, that we often forget about ourselves! Be sure to check out my Teacher Care Pinterest board; there are tons of ideas for how to stay sane during the school year! You may also be interested in an awesome book study series of posts on The Well-Balanced Teacher!
Here's to a fabulous new school year!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mathematics & the Path to Equity

Welcome to Chapter 6 of our Mathematical Mindsets Collaborative Book Study! I'm so glad you're joining us, but if you missed the first few chapters, you can catch up below:
Chapter Summary

Chapter 6 focuses on the myth of the mathematically gifted student. Hmmm. . . that caught my eye, particularly since my district does identify students as gifted in particular subjects. “The US education system focuses on gifted students who are given different opportunities, not because they show great tenacity and persistence but often because they are fast with math facts." (p. 94) Yikes! That is food for thought! And how often have I been guilty of emphasizing math fact speed? But even more concerning to me was the next quote:
Not only do our unlabeled students suffer, but it is a detriment to our students labeled "gifted" because they asuume math should come naturally to them. When they come to a difficult problem, they often quit and get more easily frustrated than my students who have to work harder and show persistence.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Roadblocks to Implementing Morning Meeting

I'm so happy to introduce you to my Southern belle friend, Tammy over at Tarheelstate Teacher! One of the favorite parts of our school day is Morning Meeting & Tammy is an expert!

Hi Yall, I'm so excited to be guest blogging at Tried and True Teaching Tools today! When Kathie asked me to guest blog, I was eager to say yes. When she suggested that I talk about Morning Meeting, well, it was an offer I couldn't turn down! Before I discuss the roadblocks of implementing morning meeting in our classrooms, I'd love to briefly introduce myself. I've taught for 11 years in North Carolina as a 4th and 5th grade classroom teacher. As an upper-elementary educator, I am most passionate about creating devoted, confident readers, thinking about the ins-and-outs of differentiated math instruction, and inspiring teachers to utilize our classroom platforms to build character and community. Let's get on with that "character and community" part today!

back to school beginning of year in upper elementary
Have you thought about how you will
  • set the tone for your classroom environment?
  • maintain your classroom community yearlong?
  • solve classroom problems and conflicts?
  • regularly respond to students' emotional needs?
  • regularly provide time and space for your students to set goals and develop personally?
  • consistently give your students the opportunity to bond with one another?
Do all of these questions have you stressing a little bit? What if one routine could help you target all of these common classroom needs? Well, I believe Morning Meetings (or community meetings as I call them) are key to the social, emotional, and academic development of our upper elementary students. Using community meeting, you can set the tone for your environment, maintain your community, solve behavior problems and conflicts, respond to students' emotional needs, teach your students to set and reflect on personal goals, and create an everlasting bond among your students.

If you've never heard of Morning Meeting, I'd love to share how I define my kind of morning meeting: a routine classroom experience that allows older elementary students an opportunity to develop personally, academically, and socially through the use of read alouds, videos, quotations, key vocabulary, classroom discussions, and the teacher as a trusted guide.classroom routines for morning meeting definitions
To me, "morning meeting" is the most sure-fire way to launch a strong classroom community, troubleshoot when the community is not feeling so "communal," and keep the love going all year long. A routine classroom community meeting provides a time and a place for you and your students to take care of classroom business, take care of one another, and grow yourselves.

If you have heard of Morning Meetings and not yet implemented them into your routine, then you may have developed some beliefs and roadblocks that I'd love to help you put to rest today!