Sunday, July 25, 2021

Cut Back on Grading and Paper Clutter NOW!

If you've got stacks of ungraded papers piling up (or shoved in drawers), this post is for you!

Let’s be real, you have enough on your plate and don’t need to be grading unnecessary amounts of stuff. It’s time to think about what really matters and let’s get rid of some of that paper clutter AND grading.

Tip #1: Stop assigning tons of homework

Re-assess what you are currently assigning for homework. Ask yourself these questions:

1. What is the purpose of this assignment?

2. Is the purpose of this assignment being met?

When I first started teaching, I viewed homework as an opportunity for students to get the extra practice and support needed to gain mastery. When I reflected on the questions above, I realized that the students needing the most support were the most were very ones NOT DOING THEIR HOMEWORK!

It was a constant battle chasing down assignments (and trying to keep track of who did or did not do each assignment).

When I truly thought about it, most of my homework assignments weren’t even truly serving the main purpose. So, I stopped.

I stopped assigning math homework (because parents tried to undo what I was teaching anyway) and stopped any type of spelling homework (because I didn’t want my students memorizing words).

Instead, I only assigned quick and easy assignments that truly supported my students’ learning. It was something I knew they could do independently (which is what I wanted). 

You can read about my nightly homework routine here. The type of assignments that I did assign, for the most part, I was able to do a quick spot check, mark my grade book, give it a star then return it back to students. 

Tip #2: Use Task Cards

I love task cards because you’re able to provide your students with LOTS of practice and you only use up 1 sheet of paper!

Teaching math using the math workshop approach allows you to differentiate work, differentiate instruction, and provide lots of practice with little paper clutter.

One of my stations would be ‘hands on’ where my students would be doing a scavenger hunt around the room solving task cards. Since my rotation blocks were short, they would work on completing that 1 set of task cards throughout the week. I would also typically assign 1 worksheet to check up on how students’ understood the small group lesson for the day. 

For the entire math block, I would only be collecting 1 piece of paper for every student (and the task card sheet at the end of the week). 

For more ideas on how to use task cards in the classroom, you might enjoy this post.

Tip #3: Grade Right Away!

My last tip is to grade whatever assignments you need to right away! This one probably seems like a no-brainer, but might be one of the most difficult because you'll need to get yourself into the HABIT of doing this.

Find some time during recess, at lunch, or after school. Make it a rule to yourself that while you're grading, you won't get distracted by anything (no scrolling social media or checking emails).

Not letting the grading pile up will be a tremendous help later. Plus, grading along the way will provide you with valuable information about what your students know and/or need extra support with. 

Tip #4: Create a System for Grading

Grading multi-page reading assessments used to take forever, until I came up with a system! Grading 1 page at a time for all students makes the grading 10x faster (this is especially easy with multiple-choice questions).

I then write how many points the student earned on the bottom right-hand corner of the page. That way, when I’m done, I can add up all the points then record them on the front of the assessment. 

Until next time!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Using the CPA Approach to Teach Math

Do your students struggle to retain the concepts that you are teaching? Do you often find yourself asking "Why don't my kids get it?!".

If this sounds like you and your students, this post is exactly what you need to transform your math instruction!

What is the CPA Approach? 

The CPA Approach was created by psychologist Jerome Bruner and stands for concrete, pictorial, and abstract learning. Jerome Bruner proposed this approach as a means of scaffolding learning. The CPA Approach builds on a child's existing knowledge by introducing abstract concepts in a concrete and tangible way. It’s learning that transitions from concrete materials, to pictorial representations, to abstract symbols and problems.

Concrete: Using physical objects to solve math problems. This is a ‘hands-on' approach using real objects and it is the basis for understanding math concepts. 

Pictorial: Using drawings to solve math problems. It is sometimes referred to as the “seeing” stage. 

Abstract: Solving math problems using only numbers. It is sometimes called the “symbolic” stage. 

Why should I use the CPA Approach? 

Math is abstract and can be confusing for students! That's why providing concrete learning is so important in teaching elementary math. By using concrete materials students are able to ‘see’  the math, and make sense of what is happening. The CPA Approach makes learning math accessible to all students, including those with math learning disabilities. 

There is a common misconception that older students do not need to use manipulatives and that they are just for the younger grades. However, concrete learning is equally important with older learners as it is with younger learners! ALL students benefit from learning math concepts in a concrete way, as opposed to just memorizing a procedure. 


Concrete Learning

One benefit of concrete learning is it promotes discussion, which allows students to talk through and explain math concepts. As students work through math problems using manipulatives, teachers are able to observe and gain a greater understanding of misconceptions and to analyze students' depth of understanding. 


In the 3rd Grade, many of the math standards are NEW to our students. It’s their first experience with these concepts and they have a difficult time jumping into the math workbooks because the math is so abstract. Over the years, I have found that when I’ve used manipulatives to let students truly understand what they were doing and make connections, this helps them learn the standards the best. 


Pictorial Learning

Once students feel confident in concrete learning they can move to pictorial learning. Pictorial learning involves drawing pictorial representations or sketches. Students are no longer using the manipulatives but still are supported by the drawing. 

Some teachers choose to skip over this step, but it is an important bridge between concrete learning and abstract learning. Without this step, students can find visualizing a problem very difficult. 

Abstract Learning

Once students have grasped an understanding of the concept through concrete materials and pictorial representations they can progress to abstract learning. In this stage, students are using numbers to solve problems. 

Although the CPA Approach has three distinct stages, teachers should be using all stages within one lesson. This allows students to make strong links between each stage. 

Applying the CPA Approach

One of the greatest struggles I hear that other 3rd grade teachers have is with problem-solving. Using the CPA Approach to teaching students how to problem-solve will be a game-changer. Let me walk you through some examples of what that might look like.

Concrete: Have a discussion with students about what it means to add. When students explain that it means putting two amounts of something together and getting a new total or amount, ask them how they might show that using unfix cubes. Go through several examples of having students add (you can give word problems) and have them demonstrate it with their unifix cubes.

Pictorial: Now make the connection for students of what a pictorial representation would look like. Draw out what you see in front of you. Ask students if that picture represents what they have in front of them.

I usually ask students how I might show a larger number. Would I draw each individual unifix cube? No! That's when you transition that understanding they just built to bar model drawings.

Abstract: Now that students have been walked through this process, they can see that this bar model drawing now represents an addition problem or equation. They should be able to determine equations by looking at different bar model drawings.

I go through this process with all 4 operations. Getting students to truly grasp what it means to add, subtract, multiply and divide helps them to be able to solve problems. When they read word problems, they are able to draw a pictorial representation and from that, can determine what equation (what operation to use) without relying on keywords.

What do you think of the CPA Approach? What questions do you still have? Leave them for me in the comments below and I'm happy to answer them for you!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Ideas for Welcoming Students Back to School

In Hawai'i, teachers go back to work on July 28 and students return on August 3. July has always signaled Back to School Mode for me as setting up a classroom is NO JOKE. Since I'm not in the classroom this year, I figured I'd get you started with some ideas (that you can save for later) for Welcoming Students Back to School!

Send a Personalized Postcard Introducing Yourself

I wrote a post about Building Relationships with Students Before the Year Starts and shared about sending postcards to students to introduce yourself.

When I first began, I just used to handwrite each postcard. However, technology has enhanced the possibilities. Here are variations on how to personalize your welcome/introductions.

For each of the ideas listed below, you will need to create a QR code with a link for students to scan with a smart device. 

  1. Simply introduce yourself via video and let them know how excited you are to meet them.
  2. Record a classroom tour and attach it to the postcard that you mail out to students.
  3. Read a book to help ease those first-day jitters. Another variation could be to read half of the book and let students know that you’ll finish the rest on day 1. 
  4. Ask students to bring something special to them and be ready to share about it on the first day.
Here's a tutorial on how to add a Voice Recording to a QR Code. The steps for creating the QR code will be similar for video as it was for audio. 

Assign Seats Ahead of Time

This is something that I always did so that no student felt left out. I work at a school that has about a 50% military population so we have new students all the time. You never want a student to be told that they can't sit somewhere because the seat is being saved for a friend. To avoid this (and unnecessary chattering between students) I would pre-assign seats. 

Send Students Home with a Little Welcome Gift

Giving gifts to your students are totally unnecessary, but it’s something extra that I always loved doing. I LOVE a good pun and can’t help myself from sharing them with my students. I always gave a little treat to those students who showed up for our Meet and Greet! 

For gift ideas and already made tags, I've got you covered!

Share Advice From Your Former Students

This idea will take advanced planning from the previous school year, but I like to have my former students create brochures or Google Slides presentations giving my new students advice on how to be successful in the 3rd Grade. During the year of COVID- I needed to adjust and turn my brochures into Google Slides presentation. I decided to then add a QR code link to a bookmark which would then be shared with incoming students. 

Here are some photos of what the student bookmarks look like. You can hand these out to kids on the first day or Meet the Teacher Night!

What other ideas do you have for Welcoming Students Back to School?! I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Until next time. Aloha,