Scaffolding the Learning

26 July 2015

It's getting pretty close to back to school time again (and it's already that time for some of you).  Don't panic.  I've gotten together with some of my best upper grade blogging friends to create a back to school survival guide full of our best tips and tricks for you.  So ... relax and breathe.  And then breathe again.  We're all in this together.

If you are a brand new teacher, or are starting a new grade level this year (like I am), one of the first things you do is start to scour the curriculum to see the expectations and standards you need to cover.  And usually the second thing you do is start to panic, wondering how you are going to fit it all in and tie it all together in a neat little package so that your students are demonstrating their learning in those perfect little constructed responses that are required. The most important thing to remember is that these standards and expectations and constructed responses are something that students should know by the END of the year (or by testing time, which is often sooner ... but that's a post for another day).  You (and your students) have TIME to get there.

Scaffold the Learning:
Although you do need to start out right away teaching the expectations and standards, you don't need to expect full constructed responses from your students right away.  Let them start slow - their brains are hard at work learning the new concepts - give them a chance to master the material first.

When I do start them on constructed responses, I start out with one simple step.  I introduce our first response learning goal by the second week of school - and I keep it easy by starting with "start with part of the question in your answer" in reading and "plan your organization" in math.  We talk about why each learning goal is an important part of the constructed response, and we color code these parts when practicing our responses.

I scaffold the learning by introducing one step at a time, and give them time to master it before adding a second step.  This way the students aren't struggling to remember all the steps to constructed responses as well as the lesson standards and expectations for the concepts taught.  I keep a bulletin board of these learning goals (our response learning goals) and we slowly add to them each time I introduce a new goal (adding a new goal about every two weeks or so).  By January, we have a complete set of learning goals for our constructed responses, giving the students the rest of the year to practice combining the concepts they've learned with their constructed responses learning goals.  And by keeping the learning goals posted (written in the color they should use to color code their responses) they have a reference they can use independently to improve their responses.  By having them color code their responses, I find it increases student accountability and accuracy incredibly - they know what is missing from their responses and have time to add to their answers before handing something in for assessment.

Our first learning goal for responses in reading is "start with the question".  It gets posted on our bulletin board.  As we continue to add learning goals over the coming weeks, I place each one on the bulletin board below the one before it.
Our first learning goal for constructed responses in math is to "plan your organization".  This starting point helps them think about how to show their solutions in a neat and organized way that makes it easy to read (and assess).  Again, like in the reading, we continue to add learning goals to this bulletin board.

By January, our boards are a lot fuller and look more like this ...

The wonderful thing about scaffolding the learning is that you can work at the pace your students need - they will not get left behind.  Because you have time, you can spend longer on a certain area that your students have not mastered yet.  And because everyone continues to work on the same goal, there can be a lot of peer collaboration and helping in the classroom.  I like to do a lot of "turn and talks" where the students discuss with a neighbor how they will include the new learning goal in their answer and show each other what they have written.

You can read a little more about the strategies I use and see some of our work along the way in other blog posts I have written about this step-by-step process to building better responses.  Click HERE to see our scaffolded reading goals in action, and HERE to see our scaffolded math goals in action.  Each blog post also contains links to other blog posts I have written about this process.

You can create your learning goals based on the needs in your classroom, or if you're interested, I have made ready-to-use resources for scaffolding the learning that contain all the learning goals, posters, book marks, reflection sheets, scaffolded handouts, assessment ideas and activities for the students.  These are some of my most favorite resources I've created and they are invaluable in my classroom.  Click on any of the resources below or on the picture to the right to see a preview of my Building Better Responses resources.

Be sure to visit the blogs below to read their best Survival Tips, as well.  Have a GREAT start of the year!!!


Get Up and Moving in Math Class

22 July 2015
Math Circles - research proves getting students physically active while learning math concepts helps them retain information learned.
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, hopefully know I'm not much of a "worksheet teacher".  If there is a way to get my students to learn the material without a worksheet or textbook attached, I'm all over it.  And even when a worksheet is necessary to consolidate the learning, I try to make sure it has a certain collaborative or reflective nature to it to take it a step further.

The one area I've been trying to get my students more active in is in math.  Again, I'm not too tied to worksheets or the textbook in math.  My interactive math journals are just that - students INTERACTING with and reflecting on the material - not simply gluing a work sheet into a composition book and completing it with colored pencils (which I have seen way too much of lately ... but that's a post for another day).  We do collaborative problem-solving like my Stick-It Responses and group and paired work with Building Better Responses, and work with manipulatives all the time, but all of these still have my students sitting through the activity.  And that's just not good enough.  I want them moving.  I want them fully immersed in the concepts - mind AND bodies.

I've done a little of this in the past - some work with place value and having the students wear a number and then build different numbers based on questions I've asked them.  I've also done some in geometry where I've asked them to model certain concepts or shapes with their bodies.  And each time I've done something like this, the students have had a blast.  And they retained the information by the end of a unit.  Problem was, I haven't done it enough.

Math Circles - research proves getting students physically active while learning math concepts helps them retain information learned.
Students modelling an acute angle
And then, just about a month ago, when I was working on a drama circle, I had a great idea to turn these kinds of math activities into Math Circles - just like the drama circles my students enjoy.  I turned the questions I was already using into a more student-centered activity, where they need to collaborate with each other and follow along to complete the instructions on the cards.

Math Circles - research proves getting students physically active while learning math concepts helps them retain information learned.
Students modelling 3/6 (or 1/2) of the hands in fists
These math circles are just like the drama circles in which there are 40 cards - each one with a different direction or instruction.  Similar to the "I have / Who has" format, students follow the instructions on the card to know when to perform their card.  However, the math circles are more collaborative in that students must work with other students to perform the task.  Because of this, I encourage a little more "turn and talk" at the beginning of the activity - when they first get the cards - this also helps alleviate a little of the anxiety for students who are unsure of how to carry out the task they have.  Also, because the cards vary in difficulty, I can choose which students get which cards when I hand out the cards, so there's differentiation built in, too.

Math Circles - research proves getting students physically active while learning math concepts helps them retain information learned.
Students modelling an octagon with their feet.
I can't wait to bring these math circles into the classroom in September - starting with Place Value.  I'm going to continue to add sets through the year as we do the activities - I think they will be a perfect Friday activity for review.  You can click on the links below if you wish to see some of the math circles I have already finished:
Math Circles - research proves getting students physically active while learning math concepts helps them retain information learned.

Math Circles - research proves getting students physically active while learning math concepts helps them retain information learned.My newest Math Circle is one I've done for years as a warm-up before gym class, or as quick brain breaks in the classroom - Numbers Math Circle for Physical Activity.  It follows a slightly different format, as for this one, the teacher has all the cards.  Number off your students starting at one (I just tell my students their number, but I have also included number cards in the resource in case you think your students may need that physical reminder) and then start reading off the cards.  For example, "If you are a prime number, do 10 jumping jacks".  All students whose numbers are prime will stand up and complete 10 jumping jacks.  It's a great way to integrate a little math review into your phys ed classes, or a little physical activity into your math classes ... and my students LOVE it!  There are 40 different instruction cards included in the resource, but you can pick and choose any number to complete.

If there are any other circles you would like to see, please leave a comment below.  I'm currently working on a few more, but I could always use some great ideas.  Also, if you have another way to get your students up and moving in math class, I'd LOVE for you to share your ideas below.