Thursday, October 14, 2021

12 Ways to Quickly Check for Student Understanding

Teachers around the world are picking up the pieces and filling in learning gaps caused by school closures, distance learning, and concurrent teaching. Students haven’t had a normal school year in 3 years. Sadly, this means a loss of learning time for many and teachers are having to fill in those gaps and address those needs. 

Despite planning stellar lessons to teach your grade-level standards we must not forget about checking for student understanding. This simple act of checking up on learning throughout your teaching will make a huge difference in your students getting it. Let me say it now...Do NOT worry about your pacing. Instead, worry about making sure that your students understand what you are teaching. It’ll all pay off in the end, I promise. 

Let’s dive into different ways on HOW to check for student understanding.

Turn and Talk - Turn and talks are so powerful because they can be used with any subject in so many different ways. You can pose a question to students such as "share with your partner what you think the main idea of this paragraph is and why". You can have them solve a problem independently then share with their partner how they solved it and why. You can have them explain a concept that was just taught.

As students are sharing with their peers, you can walk around the room to listen to their conversations. You may pop into some of them to ask follow-up or clarifying questions. Depending on how students respond, this gives you an idea of their level of understanding.

While walking around, be sure to jot down quick notes about what you're observing!

Click here to get this observation sheet.

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down- Teach students to put their heads down for this one (to avoid them looking around and copying others) OR have them place their thumbs by their heart so only you can see them. Pose different questions to your kids and have them give you thumbs up or down.

You could also use this one to get a gauge of student understanding after introducing new concepts. Thumbs up if this is making sense and you feel confident. Thumbs sideways if it kind of makes sense and you need a little extra practice. Thumbs down if you are confused and need more help.

*This of course will take talking to your students beforehand. Let your students know that it is OKAY if they don't understand and give you a thumbs down. If they aren't honest with you (and themselves) you won't be able to help them. Let them know that nobody else knows what they're showing you. Teach your kiddos to keep their thumbs showing until you tell them (to give you enough time to write down who needs extra help).

Whiteboard Checks- Whiteboard checks are great to use for math. Have students solve problems (teach them to hold their boards down while they write), then have them hold it towards their chest with the back of the board facing out. This is your cue that they are done. When most of your students have their answers completed, you can have them flip their boards and hold it above their heads. You can do a quick scan to see who got the answer correct and who didn't.

Jot down notes about how students are doing. Again, you can use a checklist like the one shown for student observations to mark how kids are doing with the concept. You can choose to make 5-6 kids at a time for each problem.

Whiteboard checks also pair well with task cards. This helps you to not have to think up of the problems. It can also be utilized well with multiple choice questions for longer answers like ELA.

Pinch Cards- Pinch cards are great to get quick snapshots of student learning. You can use double-sided pinch cards so that you have a variety of question types that you can use. True/False, ABCD, Yes/NO, Agree/Disagree.

If you're interested in the pinch cards shown above, click here.

Quick Checks/Exit Passes- Assign quick exit passes to your students to check for understanding of the day's lesson. Use these quick checks to determine what you will cover in tomorrow's lesson and/or to determine your small groups.

Utilizing Exit Passes like this will truly help you to avoid serious intervention issues later on. Your pacing may get slowed down, but it's better than keeping up with pacing and then later finding out that half your class do not understand what was taught in the last month!

I am currently in the process of creating these Quick Check Assessments for every single Grade 3 Math Standard. You can pick up what I have completed so far here.

Be sure that you are following me on Instagram and TPT so that you can be notified when I post new resources (and Quick Checks). Any time I post something new, I will ALWAYS mark it down 50% off for the first 24 hours!

Graphic Organizers- Graphic Organizers are a great way to assess reading comprehension! It's a quick snapshot to see if students are understanding the various comprehension strategies.

I have a ton of Comprehension Graphic Organizers readily available for you. The best thing about them is that there are both printable and digital options available.

Frayer Model- Yes, I know. Technically the Frayer model is a graphic organizer, but I felt this one needed to be a stand alone option. This is great because you can have students show their understanding in a variety of ways. You can truly see the understanding or lack of understanding through the various ways of representing something.

DLIQ- This is another great Exit Pass. This comes in the form of a Graphic Organizer. Students fill out each section below:

To get a copy of this DLIQ sheet, click here.

Whip Around- Whip Around and Pass works well for anything that can be answered with a quick response. You can decide if you want to allow students the opportunity to pass or not.

This works great with math facts, phonics practice, reading of sight words, etc. You can have a list on display, whip around the room and point to a different word, problem, or sound. Students must quickly respond then it's on to the next student.

This is a fun one that students often feel like it's a game. I used to time how long it would take us, and they would set goals to beat their previous records!

Hashtag it- Hand out sticky notes to students have them come up with hashtags for certain concepts. For example, you might ask them to hashtag multiplication. They might come up with #equalgroups #repeatedaddition #arrays #rowsandcolumns

As they exit the room, they can submit their sticky note (be sure to include names) so that you can quickly and easily see if they understand the concept.

Observations- Similar to the turn and talks, you would want to have some type of checklist to use while observing students. You could conduct observations while students are working independently (watch how their solving problems), listen in on conversations, observe them working on the computer, etc and take notes of what you notice.

Share Out- Have students share their thinking! This gives you so much insight into their own understanding of certain concepts. You can ask follow up questions to really dig deeper at student understanding. This is so much more powerful than a paper pencil test because you can truly see conceptual understanding through students sharing aloud their thinking and reasonings.

Regardless of how you choose to formatively assess your students, make sure you are doing it on a daily basis! In addition, make sure it's quick and easy so that you're actually able to check those assignments and use it to inform instruction for the following day. 

If you use any of these ideas, freebies or resources offered in this post, I would LOVE for you to share it and tag me on Instagram @teachinginparadise .. It would truly make my day :) 

Save for Later!

Don't want to forget about these tips? Pin the image below to save for later. 

Until Next Time...Aloha!

Thursday, October 7, 2021

7 Tips for Planning Parent Teacher Conferences

I remember my very first year of teaching, I was SO NERVOUS for Parent-Teacher Conferences that I thought I was going to throw up. Luckily, I had prepared well for conferences so I had all of my talking points, which was a good thing!

Over the years, I've perfected how I plan for conferences which have helped ease the nerves...but it is still a stressful time for sure. Today I'm here to share some tips on preparing for your parent-teacher conferences to help ease those jitterbugs.

1. Send Home a Parent Questionnaire

Sending home parent questionnaires can help you to plan for your conferences. Choosing a questionnaire that asks parents what they feel their child's strengths and areas of need are can help you to know beforehand if the parent sees the same things you see in school. It can also help you to get a gauge of how your conference will go as well.

In addition, plan to ask about any concerns that the parents have in your questionnaire. This will allow you the opportunity to address those concerns during your conference time. Knowing the parent concerns ahead of time will help you to plan out your talking points and gather any necessary evidence pieces or resources that may be needed.

2. Share Glows and Grows for Each Child

Many times, students are totally different at home than they are in school. We as teachers spend the majority of the day with these kids, we actually see them more than their own parents get to! Because of this, it's nice to share Glows (Strengths) and Grows (Area for Growth) for each child. 

Having a checklist similar to this one makes conference prep easy. Not to mention, this sheet will become a sort of "cheat sheet" for your talking points.

When planning for each child's conference, I check off the boxes or add notes for each individual child. I try to grab student work samples to show as examples for both grows and glows. I put them in order and paper clip them to each checklist. In addition, I add in any beginning of year assessment data to share with parents so they have an idea of how their child is performing academically.

As you go through the talking points on this sheet, you can pull out student work samples that address those Glows or Grows. Place the student work in the order of what you plan to discuss. 

3. Plan and Organize in the Order of Your Conferences

Know that you do NOT have to have ALL 28 of your conferences prepped and planned before any of your meetings begin!

A good rule of thumb is to be at least 2 days ahead of schedule in your planning. For example, if it's Monday, you have Monday and Tuesday's conferences all planned and prepped. At the end of the day on Monday, you can begin working on Wednesday's meeting prep. If something comes up for you on Monday afternoon, you don't need to worry about scrambling for Tuesday's conferences since it's already done.

Decide on what you would like to share with your parents. They truly appreciate seeing work their child 
has completed, so try to incorporate showing samples while you talk. It also helps parents to better understand what you mean when you're able to show examples. 

I use the above checklist to gather student work and figure out my talking points for each child's conference. In addition, I add the parent questionnaire to my paper-clipped stack. I go through the questionnaire to see if there are additional things I need to address and I'll write it at the bottom of my checklist (above). Any additional items I'll need will get paperclipped to that child's conference packet. 

I add all of my paperclipped conference packets into a basket in the order that the conferences will happen with the most recent conference being at the top. I'll add a schedule into my basket too so I can refer back to it to keep myself on track/time. 

If you have breaks in between your conferences, use that time to begin working on prepping more meetings! 

4. Send Reminders

Be sure to send out reminders to your families notifying them about conference week coming up and the modified school schedule. In addition, you'll also want to send home reminders to families about their specific conference day and time. 

You can print out simple reminders like this, fill them out for each child and staple them in the child's planner or communication notebook. 

I suggest sending home the reminder a few days in advance just in case a parent will need some time to rearrange their schedule.

Sending reminders home for each child does take a little extra time, but if you can save yourself from missed conference blocks (and making them up later), that time on the front end to send reminders will be worth it!

5. Set Up a Waiting Area Outside

Set a waiting area up outside for your families in case they arrive early for their conference block.Set out chairs for families to sit and wait and a table that has books or student work that parents can look through. This will help them to pass time comfortably.

In addition, be sure to include a sign on the door that reminds parents that you are currently in a conference. You'll be surprised how many parents will try to enter your room if you don't have a sign up!

 Next to that sign, it is also helpful to include a conference schedule so that families can see what time their conference begins and what time the conference before them ends. Sometimes parents with multiple kids get confused about which child is during what block. That schedule helps them to check and head off to the correct meeting!

6. Set a Timer

You'll be surprised at how quickly your 15 or 20-minute conference block will go by! Set a timer at the start of each conference so that you don't get off schedule. Let your parents know that you'll be setting a timer so that you can honor the time of all families.  

Set the timer to go off 3-5 minutes before the actual end of your conference so that you can address any final questions the parents may have. 

7. Have Parents Write Letters to Their Child

One of my absolute FAVORITE thing about conferences is having parents write a letter to their child. I ask parents to write an encouraging letter focusing on their child's strengths, what makes them proud, and to encourage their child to keep doing their best. 

I provide a simple half sheet of paper and an envelope.  Some parents will finish their letter during our meeting, work on it outside (and drop it in a basket I leave on the table), or some take it home and secretly send it back the next day. 

**If the child is in the conference, I kindly ask them to leave while I share a secret surprise with their parents. 

Once all conferences are done, I'll leave the letters on each child's desk. Their faces are SO surprised and they LOVE reading what their parents have to say. Many of the children keep the letters in their binder or pencil boxes. I've seen students take them out to read when they're having bad days. 

If you're interested in any of the conference sheets I shared in this post, you can snag them here

I hope this post was helpful for you in planning and preparing for your Parent-Teacher Conferences. One thing to keep in mind, most of the time, parents are probably just as nervous as you to hear how their child is doing. 

Save for Later!
Don't want to forget about these tips? Pin the image below to save for later. 

Until Next Time...Aloha!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

What are the SMPs Part 2

Why hello, there teacher friend! I'm back this week to share about the last 4 Standards for Mathematical Practices. If you missed my previous post that included information about the first 4 practice standards, you can find that here.

Let's jump in, shall we?! 

Standard 5: Use appropriate tools strategically

Standard 5 is all about students being able to select the most appropriate mathematical tools to be able to successfully complete a math task. Typically when you hear the term math tools one might think of a ruler, protractor, or calculator right? While that isn’t incorrect, the term math tools have a much broader definition when we’re looking at Standard 5. Tools are anything that can support students to perform a task. This could be concrete materials such as base-ten blocks, connecting cubes, counters, a number line, etc. Calculators, paper and pencil, and mental math are also math tools. 

Often times there is more than one tool that can be used for a task, but some tools are more efficient than others. This standard is all about students choosing the tools that are MOST efficient in solving their math tasks. 

Standard 6: Attend to Precision

This standard in particular is referring to precision in calculations and performance of math tasks as well as precision in communication. 

In math, there are times where estimation works. There are other times when precise calculations are vital (balancing a checking account, ordering window blinds to fit within a frame, calculating hourly pay, etc). Initially, precision may be answers expressed in whole numbers, but as our students get older and progress in their understanding of math, that precision is refined with answers expressed as decimals to the tenths, hundredths, or thousandths. 

In addition, students must also be precise in other math tasks such as constructing graphs, determining the probability of events, using a ruler, measuring angles, etc. As primary students learn about measurement, they may start with lining up cubes to measure an object. They might notice gaps between the cubes whereas their neighbor doesn’t have any gaps and their measurements differ. As students develop their skills, attention is placed on moving the cubes together to eliminate gaps, and in turn, their measurements become more precise. 

When we talk about precision in communication, we expect students to thoroughly describe math ideas, precisely explain how they solve a problem, and give specific examples as they construct their mathematical arguments. In order to do so, students must know the words that express their thoughts. This is where math vocabulary comes into play. 

If a student is explaining that they measured “around it” rather than talking about the perimeter of the figure, this student doesn’t quite have the vocabulary to precisely explain their thinking. 

How do I get my students to be able to do this?

  • Model precise communication by using grade-level appropriate vocabulary.

  • Discuss important math vocabulary and explore the meanings of math words through familiar language, words, pictures, and examples

  • Expect precise communication and ask students to elaborate on ideas, choose specific words, specify units of measure, and explain symbols they use.

  • Orchestrate ongoing experiences for students to talk and write about math. 

  • Require students to label units, quantities, and graphs 

  • Expect students to justify labels (e.g., what area is labeled as square units and volume is labeled as cubic units

  • Model specific and thorough explanations

  • Allow students opportunities to work with partners to come up with explanations 

Standard 7: Look for and make use of structure 

Standard 7 focuses on understanding the structure of mathematics and using this understanding to simplify things! For example, when adding up how much your grocery list will cost, you don’t worry about the order in which you add the items. If your students understand math properties, they know that the order in which numbers are added will never change the total. Another example of this standard in real life is when baking. If you can’t find the ¾ measuring cup, you could simply use the ¼ cup three times because you know it’s the same amount or quantity. 

This standard is where conceptual knowledge is necessary. Students must truly understand how math works to be able to apply properties and see patterns. The goal of this standard is to get students to see the flexibility of numbers, understand properties, and recognize patterns and functions. Below are a few examples of each.

The flexibility of Numbers: This is the understanding that numbers can be broken apart and put together in a variety of ways. Using this understanding can help students to be more efficient in how they choose to solve problems. This also helps students tremendously with mental math. 

6 x 8 is the same as 5 x 8 plus 1 x 8. 6 x 8 is ALSO the same as 6 x 4 + 6 x 4.

53 + 18 could be solved by adding 53 + 20 = 73 - 2 = 71. Here the student understands that it is easier to add 20 to 53 and knows that 18 is 2 less than 20. 

Understanding Properties: Understanding the different properties helps students to be able to solve problems more efficiently. 

If a student was asked to solve the following problem:

The cafeteria had 14 rows of seats and 8 seats in each row. How many people can be seated? 

A student that understands properties can quickly and easily solve this problem in their head. They will immediately break the 14 rows apart into 10 rows and 4 rows. In their head, they would figure out 10 x 8 = 80 and 4 x 8 = 32 and 80 + 32 = 112. This understanding of how distributive property works helps the student simplify the task. 

Recognizing Patterns and Functions: When students are able to truly make sense of math, they can look at the numbers to find patterns. Look at the table below.

1/2 = .5

1/3 = .33

1/5 = .20

1/4 = .25

1/6 = .167

1/10 = .10

1/8 = .125

1/12 = .083

1/20 = .05

1/16 = .0625

1/24 = .0467

1/40 = .025

In this table, we see that as the fractions are being halved, their decimal equivalent is also halved. Using this knowledge students can solve other types of problems. 

For example, if you don’t know the decimal representation for 3/8 but we know that 1/4 is .25 and that 1/8 is half of that or .125, you could triple .125 to find that 3/8 equals .375

Standard 8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. 

Standard 8 is all about students seeing and finding patterns and repetition in what they are doing in math. By recognizing the repetition, students are then able to develop shortcuts- like algorithms or formulas to make tasks easier. 

In Kindergarten students notice repetition in the counting sequence, always following a 1 to 9 sequence. Once they recognize this, they are then able to continue their counting with “twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three….thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three….forty-one, forty-two, forty-three…..”. 

Standard 8 is where you as a teacher help your students to discover patterns and make sense of them to gain a deeper understanding of math as opposed to just telling them. Letting students discover on their own will make the learning stick.

How do I get my students to be able to do this?

  • Set up learning opportunities for students to gather data and observe repetitions to find shortcuts.

  • Ask students to explain shortcuts

  • Frequently ask “What do you notice?” “Do you see any patterns?” “Have we seen this before?”

  • Pose problems that draw attention to repetition

  • Ask students to think about how new problems are like previously solved problems

  • Ask students to use familiar problems as a way to decide on an appropriate strategy

I truly hope that these blog posts helped you to gain a better understanding of what the SMPs are as well as how incoporating
these math practices play a critical role in getting your students to achieve true proficiency with the Common Core Math Standards.

If you're interested in learning more, this is a wonderful book that has many examples of each Practice Standard across various grade bands.

If you'd like to save this post to view later, you can hover over the main image at the top of this post to save to your Pinterest board!

Friday, September 10, 2021

What are the SMPs (Standards for Mathematical Practices)?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a parent say “Why is math so difficult now?!” or “This isn’t the way I learned math. It’s so complicated and confusing now.” 

Chances are that if you’re an elementary teacher, you’ve definitely heard this or maybe even thought this yourself.

The Common Core Math standards can not effectively be taught without a focus on the Standards for Mathematical Practices (SMPs). Understanding the SMPs will enable you to better be able to shift your teaching practices from a focus on content (the standards) to a focus on application and true understanding. The SMPs are actually the heart and soul of the Common Core Standards.

You might be thinking:

Think of the SMPs as the process which one must take to learn their content standards. In order for students to be truly proficient with their content standard, they must be able to apply, communicate, make connections, and reason about the math content. This differs from how you (or your students’ parents) learned math because back in the day, proficiency was measured by a correct answer or one's ability to carry out a computation (based off of rote steps). 

These practices can’t be learned in a quiet math classroom filled with drill and kill activities/worksheets (think back to when you were in school). This level of thinking must be developed in classrooms filled with thoughtful conversations and hands-on explorations about math concepts. Your ability to ask thought-provoking questions is what will truly be the change in your math classroom.

Let’s take a look at Standards 1-4:

Standard 1: Make Sense of Problems and Persevere in Solving Them

In short, what is expected is exactly what the standard says. Students will be able to understand the problem-solving process and know how to navigate the process from start to finish. They have a variety of strategies and know how to go about solving a problem. Last but not least, students don’t give up at the site of a challenging problem. They have the tools in their “toolbelt” to power through and figure it out on their own. 

How do I get my students to be able to do this?

  • Focus classroom activities and discussions on students’ thinking rather than on the correct answer

  • Do not rely on oversimplified methods to teach concepts, such as keywords (I saw the word altogether so I added).

  • Pose students with problems that push students to apply their understanding of math content and allow them the opportunities to explain their process of solving.

  • Provide students with opportunities to explore complex problems that include multiple approaches to solving. Allow them opportunities to share all of these different approaches. 

  • Praise student efforts, put value on their persistence and process on solving rather than praising the correct answers.

  • Create a supportive and nonthreatening classroom environment where discussions of confusion points are encouraged. Openly discuss these confusion points and include insights on ways to simplify problems and move through confusion. 

  • Acknowledge the efficiency of particular strategies but also celebrate individual, reasonable approaches. 

Standard 2: Reason Abstractly and Quantitatively

Standard 2 addresses the importance of building a strong understanding of numbers. When students are given a problem, they are able to represent the problem using numbers, symbols, and diagrams (abstractions). Students must see the connection between the problem situation and the abstract representation (equations). Once the equation is solved, students should refer back to the context of the problem to evaluate if the answer makes sense. 

How do I get my students to be able to do this?

  • Ask students to identify and describe the data in the problem.
  • Model building appropriate equations to solve problems.

  • Use diagrams to model math situations to make it easier to see what is happening in the problems. Can students draw a diagram to show a word problem for 3 x 5?

  • Frequently ask “what operation makes sense?” or “How should we build an equation to match this problem?”

  • Ask students to write a word problem to go with a given equation.

  • Consistently ask students to explain equations or diagrams, connecting them to the problem scenario (e.g., What does the 6 represent in our equation 6 x 3 = 18?)

  • Ask students to label answers by referring back to the problem to determine what the quantity (solution) represents. 

  • Ask students if the quantity makes sense when referring back to the problem (e.g., Does 3.5174 buses make sense?)

  • Discuss building appropriate equations to solve problems (are there more than one equation that could be used to solve this problem?) 

Standard 3: Construct Viable Arguments and Critique the Reasons of Others

This standard means that students are able to come up with a correct answer and also explain WHY it’s correct. In addition, they’re able to listen to the justification of others, or even look at how a problem may have been solved, and identify any misconceptions or misunderstandings that the person may have had. They are able to communicate their thoughts to others. 

How do I get my students to be able to do this?

  • Don’t just accept an answer from a student, follow up with questions such as “why?” or “How do you know?” 

  • Encourage students to use math vocabulary in their justifications

  • Use probing questions such as “Does that make sense?”, “Why is that true?”, “Does Ronald’s way to solve this problem also work? Why or why not?”

  • Give students the opportunity to listen to their classmates' reasoning. Rather than the teacher asking clarifying questions or correcting a misunderstanding, allow the students to do this. 

  • Create a non-threatening classroom environment where students feel safe to share their arguments and know how to ask clarifying questions, and how to respectfully disagree with others. 

  • Provide students opportunities to work with error-analysis problems. 

Standard 4: Model with Mathematics

This standard encourages students to create models or visual representations of abstract math ideas. When students create models of problems, they are able to see the problem clearly and then work towards a solution. When you ask students to create math models, you are challenging them to represent their math understanding- to get it out of their heads. The power of this is that as students share their own thinking (Standard 3) and view the models of others (and listen to their thinking) they are able to gain new insights and strengthen their own understanding. 

How do I get my students to be able to do this?

  • Model the use of diagrams and drawings to represent problems

  • Encourage the use of manipulatives

  • Encourage students to create simple diagrams to show problems

  • Encourage students to come up with multiple ways to model a given problem

  • Have students justify why they chose to use a given model

  • Ask students to interpret models of their classmates

  • Have students share out about the models they created and why

I hope that this post was helpful in learning a little about what the practices are and why they are important.

Head on over to this post to learn about the last 4 Standards for Mathematical Practices.