Priorities for the Year

The first two months of the school year are almost over. I’m at a new school (new for me; it’s been around for many years), and I’m very happy with my move, in general. I’m finding teaching two totally new curricula to be a bit of a challenge, but I’m confident that I’ll do an even better job next year than I’m doing this year.

In talking with some of my math colleagues, I’ve shared different things I’m trying out this year, and some of them have been impressed/shocked at “how many” things I’m doing with my students. So I wanted to articulate for myself some of the ones which I want to prioritize and ensure I don’t lose/forget about as I go from unit to unit. I also realized there are some things I want to emphasize more that I haven’t focused enough on yet, and I need to do something to change that soon.

Things I’m already doing that I want to keep doing:

Visibly Random Groupings – mostly daily. Sometimes, we need to finish a project in groups, so we stay in the same groups as yesterday, but for the most part, students enter each day with new seats, and new partners. They’re mostly enjoying it so far, I think, but I did give assigned seats the other day (for one grade, based on an exit slip for a leveled activity, and in the other grade, for a partner project that will be graded).

Notice/Wonder – I’ve done these regularly, but I worry that my students aren’t “wondering” enough – and I’m not sure yet how to model for them what they should/could be wondering. I’m wondering if anyone has any good problems to use this routine with. I worry that I’m overusing it on things that aren’t worthy of it; in one class, I had a student express that he didn’t feel like the task was worthwhile (while in another class, a student expressed that she liked sharing her answers for notice/wonder, where there wasn’t “one right answer”). I’m not getting rid of this, but I definitely want to step it up a notch.

Partner talk daily – students talk with their mirror partners (the kids they sit across from) and their elbow partners (the students they sit next to), as well as in whole groups. Students have become proficient at talking, but I worry that the kids still don’t know each other well (especially in the 7th grade classes – or even the 6th grade class that’s not my homeroom). I want to do some middle-of-the-year ice-breakers. I need to decide which ones would be good!

Share/Check, Discuss – this is a small group routine I created to share answers to a handout and discuss misconceptions/mistakes in small groups (rather than as a whole class). I find it particularly useful with handouts that have a lot of small exercises/problems for students to work on that would be tedious to check as a whole group, but where misconceptions might cause disagreement about certain ones. I have students go around and share their answers for each problem in rounds, while the listeners circle ones they disagree about and check ones they agree on. After reading all of the answers, they go back to the ones they circled and discuss those.

Things I’ve started doing, but I am not doing consistently enough yet:

Naming routines & their structures  – and then using them repeatedly so students can get used to doing “a share/check, discuss” and not need the directions renamed every time. I learned this idea from Rhonda Bondie at MfA, and it’s reinforced in the Instruction Routines book I’ve been reading, but I want to be more and more thoughtful about the routines that I name for the kids and doing them repeatedly.

Number Talks – every class has done several dot talks. The two sixth grade classes have done several subtraction number talks, including a few with integers. The seventh grade classes haven’t really done any more number talks – one did a percent talk, but I didn’t get far with it. I want to incorporate more of these, but I’m struggling with choosing which number talk to do when – and with ensuring that there’s ACTUALLY enough time to do it!

Which One Doesn’t Belong – I almost want to include this in the category of “want to being but haven’t yet” because I’ve really only done it once or twice in each of my classes. I think this is a valuable task, but I haven’t been able to work out when to do it – perhaps as a starter instead of a warm-up once per week? I wanted to find WODB’s that matched our content (like ones with numbers or pictures, etc.), but I haven’t been working on creating those yet. Maybe I can make incorporating this my November goal.

Convince yourself, convince a mathematical friend, convince a skeptic – I need to create a new poster, so I can remember to reference it in class. I’ve definitely said “who can convince our skeptics?” a bunch, but I want this idea to be internalized by the students, and I’m not referring to it often enough for that to happen yet.

Things I want to be doing, but I haven’t yet:

Would you rather? – I want to incorporate these, but I haven’t had an opportunity to do so yet. I think it will work out really well in my ratios/proportions unit, but I might even be able to incorporate one or two of the probability ones in my probability unit (especially as we turn towards review for the end-of-unit).

Fraction Talks – I think my next unit in each grade involves fractions, so I’ll make sure to incorporate some of this in there!

Problem solving – we haven’t done nearly as much problem solving as I would like to!

Visual Patterns – I did ONE in the 6th grade (the one from Jo Boaler), and I haven’t had any opportunity to do one with the 7th graders yet! I know we’ve got a unit on expressions and equations – I plan to use these heavily in there and in the linear unit!

Vertical, Non-Permanent Surfaces – I heard about this at the same time as the visibly random groupings, but I need the right kinds of problems to have students working at these surfaces AND I need to ensure that I actually have the right kind of space for this! My white boards are way to small for this idea, and I haven’t figured out the logistics of enacting it yet.

Naming the classroom mode we’re in – for example, “whole class instruction/discussion” and what the expectations for them are right now vs “table talk” and how those expectations are different. I want to create posters that explain each of these in detail, but I need to finish formalizing it in my mind first. I got the idea from Rhonda Bondie again, and I mentioned it in more detail in a much earlier post, but I haven’t gotten around to this yet (though perhaps this is something I should begin sooner rather than later).

Open Middle problems – I’ve used these as an extension, but I haven’t had a whole class discussion about more than one or two of these yet, and I really want to encourage my students to do this kind of thinking.

*Deep Breath* I know there’s a lot here, and I have to keep reminding myself not to try to do too many things all at once. I would rather do only three of these things, but do them REALLY WELL than to attempt all of these things, and do none of them well. So I need to keep reminding myself of that as I move forward with my classes – it’s okay if I don’t do all of them this year; there will be future years.





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