Matt Copeland, author of Socratic Circles, launched a Facebook discussion and collaboration page about a year ago. Today he discusses why teachers need collaboration and discussion and how his online community helps to facilitate the process.
Collaboration. It’s the one thing we educators never seem to get enough time to do.
Very early in my teaching career, a more seasoned colleague shared with me his lamentation on the profession: As teachers, we are the eggs; the school is our egg carton. Each of us is separated off into our own little protective compartment—our classroom—never touching, never interacting, never discussing.
“Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works,” a report from the National Center for Literacy Education, appears to suggest that little has changed in the last twenty years in that regard. According to its findings, only 40% of educators have the opportunity to co-plan with colleagues more than once a month. And yet, co-planning is the one professional learning experience survey respondents value the most. In fact, a majority of educators have less than one hour per week to work with other members of their learning teams. (A one-page infographic summarizing the report’s findings is also available.)
In a fascinating article from Vox, Elizabeth Green, who spent five years researching the complexities of becoming an exceptional educator, offered the following nugget of insight:
We don’t give teachers the space to do anything but work, work, work. They have no space to learn. Whereas in Japan or Finland there are 600 hours per year of time spent teaching, in the US, it’s 1,000 hours or more. So teachers have no time to think, no time to learn, no time to study the kids, no time to study the curriculum. They have no way of seeing anything that’s happening outside their own classroom.
For a profession firmly focused on developing a love of lifelong learning, this reality may seem counterintuitive. The good news, as the NCLE report also states, is that many of the building blocks to begin to rectify this problem may already be in place: educator teams, online professional networks, smart use of student data, and—perhaps most important—instructional coaches and school librarians.
For those educators interested in empowering student-led discussion in their classrooms, one such online professional network already exists: the Socratic Circles Community on Facebook. Here, practitioners of the strategy share insight and advice with one another and learn from the classroom experiences and expertise of others. We share potential sources of text, troubleshoot common pitfalls, and offer one another the kind of support and collaboration that is too often missing from our lives during the school day.
Changing the climate and culture of our schools to embrace collaboration may seem a daunting task. Yet, as classroom teachers, we must be that change. Now, as we begin a new school year, as classrooms across the country begin the heavy lifting of implementing new standards and striving for college and career readiness, the work becomes more important than ever.
So, come and check out the Socratic Circles Community. Click “Like” and join us. Engage in the conversation and collaboration. This is the time to finally break free from our Styrofoam sarcophagi, to escape our egg-carton mentality, and to model for our students the kind of lifelong learning we desire to see in them.
We recently sat down with Kim Yaris and Jan Miller Burkins, authors of the new book Reading Wellness: Lessons in Independence and Proficiency. During the conversation they talked about how teaching kids the importance of the heavy lifting their brains do while figuring things out during reading helps them become more independent readers and learners. Watch the video below and then preview the book online!
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention
November 20-23 • National Harbor, Maryland
Stacey Shubitz, Jeff Anderson & Debbie Dean, Dorothy Barnhouse, Jean Boreen, Jan Burkins & Kim Yaris, Rose Cappelli, Kathy Collins, Ann Marie Corgill, Andie Cunningham, Smokey Daniels, Lynne Dorfman, Ralph Fletcher, Kelly Gallagher, Mary Lee Hahn, Stephanie Harvey & Anne Goudvis, Georgia Heard, Sara Kajder, Heather Lattimer, Cathy Mere, Kate Messner, Donna Niday, Penny Silvers, Lee Ann Spillane, Melissa Stewart, and Annie Ward
Kid Lit Frenzy featured Perfect Pairs by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley, and found that “despite how comprehensive it is, there is an ease in which it is laid out and how it is structured. Whether someone is a new or an experienced teacher, the ideas and suggestions are easy to follow and can be implemented in the classroom.”
Reviewing Poem Central, MiddleWeb‘s Jenni Miller writes, “Shirley McPhillips brings us face to face with a beautiful truth: that while in many ways poetry is in hiding, the truth is that it is hiding in plain sight…McPhillips expresses this in a lovely way that gives us permission to interact with poetry on our own terms, to allow it to cohabit, so to speak, with our curriculum.”
Common Core Standards in Diverse Classrooms by Jeff Zwiers, Susan O’Hara, and Robert Pritchard was highlighted by Teachers College Record reviewers who believe “teachers will find the details, instruction, and annotations fascinating, like a slowed-down movie version of an actual classroom where we have the opportunity to pause, think, and rethink, move around the room, and reflect on our normally fast-paced lessons.” Preview the entire book.
In her new flipchart, Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary, veteran educator and literacy expert Janet Allen deepens your understanding of effective vocabulary instruction and helps you meet the specific needs of your students and learning goals, as well as the demands of rigorous texts and high-stakes assessments.
Following the same practical format as Janet’s best-selling Tools for Teaching Content Literacy and More Tools for Teaching Content Literacy, this practical resource presents twenty instructional practices that address the four components of effective vocabulary instruction: Providing Rich and Varied Language Experiences, Teaching Individual Words, Teaching Word-Learning Strategies, and Fostering Word Consciousness.
Printable organizers, forms, and charts linked to each tool make it easy to implement the strategies in any classroom.
By adopting the practices in Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary, you’ll see improvements in your students’ writing and speaking, and ensure that all students experience the power of knowing and choosing the right word for any task.
Spend an hour in good company with poet and Stenhouse author Shirley McPhillips and National Writing Project host Tanya Baker as they discuss poetry, Shirl’s new book Poem Central, and the joy of reading the right poem at the right time. So pour a cup of tea and click on this link to listen to the entire interview.
We continue our Profiles in Effective PD series with a visit to Kearney, Nebraska, where teachers are in the middle of a three-year plan to implement the techniques discussed in Jessica Shumway’s recent book, Number Sense Routines. Stenhouse editor Holly Holland recently talked to instructional learning coach Julie Everett and shares how teachers in kindergarten and first grade are helping their students improve their number sense.
Teachers Get Fit with Number Sense Routines
By Holly Holland
Instructional learning coach Julie Everett analyzed math assessment data over several years in the five elementary schools where she works in Kearney, Nebraska, and kept noticing a persistent problem: number sense was lacking. Many students did not have basic understanding of the relationships among numbers. They did not know how to think or talk about numbers or use number sense reasoning strategies to solve problems. Without those foundational skills, Everett believed students would likely struggle in higher-level math classes.
She discussed her concerns with colleagues, and then in Spring 2013, Everett discovered Jessica Shumway, author of Number Sense Routines: Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K–3 (Stenhouse, 2011). Everett heard Shumway present at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference and knew she had found a valuable colleague and resource.
“I was highly impressed with her background knowledge and the research base she had done,” Everett said. “I had several conversations with her, and discussed how we might involve her in consulting with the district. Our curriculum and instruction team believed that we needed to be doing something more systemic and systematic with math and literacy and improving instruction with our teachers.’”
Over the next few months, they developed a three-year plan to help all elementary teachers in the school district learn the techniques that Shumway shares in her book and in her new DVD, Go Figure! Number Sense Routines that Build Mathematical Understanding (Stenhouse, 2014). Their plan started with a book study involving the kindergarten and first grade teachers, expanded to include Skype sessions with Shumway, and finally led to on-site visits where Shumway modeled routines and cotaught small- and whole-group lessons with the faculty.
In addition to reading the book, the Kearney teachers also had to write a personal reflection every month, sharing what they had learned from Shumway’s book and what they were doing differently in their classrooms as a result. Everett believes the requirement made teachers more accountable for synthesizing information and focusing on results.
“It’s just been a really cool experience,” Everett said. “At first, I have to say, our K–1 teachers were overwhelmed by the work that was expected: ‘We have to read every month? What is this all about? We don’t have time for that.’ There was grumbling at first.” But after Shumway showed the strategies in application and helped teachers take risks and raise their expectations, Everett said, “I would have to say that 80-90 percent of our K–1 teachers have now said, ‘Wow, this has totally transformed my thinking about math. I had no idea number sense was so critical.’”
The Importance of Number Sense
As Shumway relates in her book, teaching number sense is not only critical, it’s also complex. “There are many layers to it, and it is rooted within all strands of mathematics,” she writes. “Number sense facilitates problem solving, reasoning, and discussing mathematical ideas.” Students with strong number sense can visualize quantities and perform mental math, understand the relative magnitude of amounts, make comparisons among quantities, and determine the reasonableness of an answer, among other skills. “Embedded in these characteristics of number sense are big mathematical ideas; strategies that utilize number sense; skills, models, and tools for using number sense; and language for explaining number sense ideas and strategies.”
Just as athletes stretch their muscles before every game and musicians play scales to keep their technique in tune, mathematical thinkers and problem solvers can benefit from daily warm-up exercises. Shumway has developed a series of routines designed to help young students internalize and deepen their facility with numbers.
Shumway also shows teachers how to move students through what she calls the Early Number Sense Learning Trajectory, starting with subitizing, understanding magnitude, and counting and progressing to hierarchical inclusion, part/whole relationships, compensation, and unitizing. The goal is to develop children’s flexibility and fluency with math. Shumway says these methods involve teaching the meaning of numbers, rather than procedures and memorization, so that students are able to decompose numbers, visualize them and apply them in the future.
“Think about it in terms of reading,” she writes. “It is cumbersome and inefficient to sound out every letter in a word. When children begin to recognize and use chunks of letters within a word or read sight words, they become more fluent readers. This frees up their cognitive energy for more challenging words. It is the same in mathematics. Seeing groups and thinking about amounts in terms of groups leads students to become more fluent and numerically literate. Their cognitive energy can then be spent on more challenging problem solving.”
The Urgency of Understanding Math
For many elementary teachers, Shumway has instant credibility. In addition to having worked as an elementary teacher and math coach, she acknowledges having had weak preparation and understanding of how to teach math. A history major in college and a “social studies guru” when she began teaching, Shumway had to deepen her own knowledge of mathematical thinking along with her students.
“She is clear to say, “I am not a mathematician and I always felt that I was poor in math and that it was because of a lack of number sense. And what’s why I have an urgency to make sure that teachers understand the very important piece of number sense and why that leads to success for kids,’” Everett says. “Teachers could relate: ‘Oh, this is me,’ or ‘that’s how I feel.’”
As part of their book study of Number Sense Routines, Kearney’s kindergarten and first-grade teachers had to choose three students to follow in a case study through the school year. They set goals for all the students, tracked their progress in math, and shared the information and consulted with their colleagues each month. If a student achieved the goals set for him or her before the end of the year, the teachers selected other students to follow.
“It was fun to hear teachers talking about those kids,” Everett says. “They would ask, ‘How is Karl doing?’ It became very personal. We had never had those conversations before. The sharing piece is just so enlightening and refreshing. It becomes a problem-solving event, as well as a celebration of moving kids along their learning continuum.”
Teachers also taught demonstration lessons, with Shumway observing and deconstructing the vocabulary they were using with students and the questions they were asking. They observed and taught with teachers in other schools.
“I feel it’s important to talk to other teachers outside your building. It gives you more perspective,” says Marissa Schleiger-Kruse, who just finished her first year teaching first grade at Buffalo Hills Elementary in Kearney. “I feel that everyone, new or old, has benefited so much from Jessica Shumway and her Number Sense studies.”
Schleiger-Kruse says she incorporated many of the practices in Number Sense Routines, including one called Count Around the Circle, which helps students understand the pattern the teacher is describing, such as counting by twos or fives or counting backwards.
“I’ve done those every day, and it helps students learn their counting routines,” she says. “Eventually some of my higher learners, I know that it will help them with multiplication because it’s really skip counting. If we practice that daily, they get that.”
The consistent practice benefited every student, Schleiger says. By the end of first grade, her school district expects students to be able to count by twos to fifty and count by fives and tens to one-hundred.
“All of my students have mastered that, and all it takes is five or ten minutes a day,” she says. “We may start at 200 and count backward by fives or tens. They love it; it’s never boring to them. They are always trying to figure out what I’m going to start with.”
Central Elementary School first-grade teacher Tara Abdallah says she and her colleagues appreciated the practical strategies and tools Shumway shared that they could immediately use in their classrooms. One of her favorites is Dot Cards, which resemble domino tiles or dice and help students practice skip counting and recognize groupings and multiples that they can later form into equations. The visual aids help students learn to subitize, but they also let teachers continually assess how students are thinking about amounts.
Kearney teachers adapted some of the strategies in Number SenseRoutines for other purposes and for subjects other than math. For example, Abdallah tweaked Shumway’s Count Around the Circle strategy to help students learn to count money, and her coteacher adapted it for guided reading. Instead of using numbers, she substituted the alphabet and phonetic sounds so students could become more fluent when reading.
“There’s some amazing stuff in this book that’s so hands-on and freeing,” Abdallah says. “I cannot wait until next school year. I’m going to implement so much from the book!”
During the 2014-15 school year, Kearney’s second- and third-grade teams will begin the training cycle with Number Sense Routines, and the following year teachers in fourth and fifth grades will get involved. Everett says she hopes that teachers will keep the momentum going in future years, coaching their colleagues and planning collaboratively so that they can eliminate instructional gaps from one grade level to the next.
“Teachers are sharing way more than they ever have in our staff development,” she says. “This is powerful. I am super proud of the work our teachers are doing.”
We recently had a lovely post from Sarah Cooper about the importance of taking things slow in the classroom. Today’s post from Tracy Zager is based on the same idea — giving students the space and time to figure things out on their own. Tracy was reminded of this important lesson by her daughter during a car ride. Read her story and watch the video and then head over to visit Tracy’s new blog!
“You just listened, so then I could figure it out”
My daughters and I climbed in the car to go shoe shopping before their first day of school. I sat in the driver’s seat while they buckled themselves into their car seats and noticed I was keeping track of the loud clicks I heard for each buckle. I took the opportunity to open a math conversation with my kids.
“I didn’t look, but I know you’re all buckled. How could I know that?”
Daphne, age 5, said, “You looked in the mirror!”
“I did not look in the mirror!”
Maya, age 7, said, “You must have counted the clicks! So, you heard 6 clicks and knew we were all buckled.”
I asked, “How would 6 clicks tell me you’re both buckled?”
Maya answered, “Because each car seat has 3 buckles, and 3 times 2 is 6.”
Daphne started to cry. “That’s what I was going to say!”
I turned to Daphne. “Tell me where the 6 comes from, in your own words.”
Daphne said, “Each car seat has 3 buckles, and 3 plus 3 is 6.”
Ah! There was my first opening.
“Maya, you said 3 times 2 is 6. And Daphne, you said 3 plus 3 is 6. Can those both be true? They sound different.”
Maya and I played with this idea for a few minutes, but I could see in the mirror that we were losing Daphne. When Maya and I were done, I asked a question just for Daphne.
“Daphne, what if we had 3 car seats? How many clicks would I hear then?”
There was a long pause while she thought, Maya waited, and I drove.
“How did you figure that out?”
“Well, I remembered the 6, and then I said 7, 8, 9.”
I asked, laughing, “Since when are you counting on? How did you learn that?”
Daphne said, “Well, you gave me a lot of time to think. You didn’t say anything, and you didn’t tell me what to do. You just listened, so then I could figure it out for myself.”
My jaw dropped. For the rest of the car ride, Daphne talked about how school should be filled with lots of time when the teacher “doesn’t say anything and lets the kids think, because that’s how we can learn. The teacher can just listen.” There was so much wisdom in what she was saying that I asked her if we could make a quick video once I parked the car.
Daphne knows what she needs to learn math: time and something tricky to figure out.
“Do you like when a problem is tricky?”
“Because then I get some time to think, and I learn something.”
I am a teacher, and I also coach other teachers. How many times have we all talked about think time, and how important it is? But, here’s the truth: about halfway through the time Daphne was thinking about the fourth car seat, I got a little nervous. I tried to keep my face encouraging on the outside, but on the inside I heard a tiny voice:
“Uh-oh. Maybe this problem is too hard. Should I help her? What would be a good question to help her?”
While I was secretly worrying, Daphne was calmly figuring out how many clicks 4 car seats would make. To a teacher who makes decisions every few seconds, 20 seconds of think time—which is what Daphne took to solve this problem—feels like an eternity. New teachers, in particular, tend to break silences after a second or two with some kind of “help.” With practice, I’ve learned how valuable think time is, and I now sustain those long silences. But internally, I still find it hard to quiet that worried voice.
Later that night, after we watched the video together, I asked Daphne about the reason she gave for why counting on is challenging. She’d said, “You have to remember while talking about something else.”
“What did you mean by that, Daph?”
“Well, you have to remember a whole bunch of things. Like, I had to remember the 6, because that’s where I started. And I had to remember the 3, because I had to stop after 3. And I was counting at the same time. It’s a lot to remember!”
“It sure is. Can I tell you something? While you were doing all that, I was wondering if I should help you.”
She looked shocked. “But I didn’t need help, Mommy! I was just thinking!”
“What would have happened if I had said something while you were remembering where to start and where to stop while you were counting?”
“I would have forgotten what I was doing and had to start all over again! That wouldn’t have helped at all, Mommy! That would have been so frustrating!”
“You know, Daphne, you’re making me a better teacher. You’re teaching me, again, that sometimes when teachers want to ‘help’ a student, we’re actually not helping at all. Sometimes we just need to be quiet. And we need to be comfortable with silence.”
“Yeah. So kids can think!”
We were quiet for a minute together, each thinking.
“Mommy, can you tell other teachers that too? Tell them what I taught you? To not interrupt us when we’re thinking, and just listen while we figure it out?”
“Yes, honey, I think I can.”
Tracy Johnston Zager is the author of the upcoming Stenhouse book Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms. You can find her on twitter at @tracyzager, and at http://tjzager.wordpress.com.
My teenage children hate history. It was always my favorite subject, and that was mostly with teachers who believed in names and dates, and little else. During homework hour at night (or hours these days), I try and explain Faulkner’s famous quote to my kids: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And I’m greeted with blank stares or a roll of the eyes and always another complaint about history being boring and irrelevant. I don’t expect it to be their favorite subject, but irrelevant? I could go on and on…
One of the ways a book gets published is that an editor has a zeal and passion for the manuscript. This is especially true in the trade world where countless examples exist of a famous book turned down sixty times before some editor read it, loved it, and made sure everyone in the office knew just how wonderful it was. We are not a trade house, but passion still plays a significant role.
I love the three books we currently publish on ways to teach history that are meaningful and engaging. Making History Mine by Sarah Cooper, Eyewitness to the Past by Joan Brodsky Schur, and Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer? by Bruce Lesh. What they give history teachers are the tools to prove to kids that while names and dates are important, history is much more than that. Kids research and interpret history. They learn firsthand what historians actually do. It’s nonfiction that requires full engagement of the imagination. What a wonderful blend!
When students talk about their ideas for writing, they often exhibit spark, personality, and pizzazz, expressing interesting ideas fearlessly and creatively. Yet the writing they submit lacks this same enthusiasm and originality. They have the ideas, but what happens between that talk and the written draft?
Jeff Anderson and Debbie Dean provide a practical framework for smoothing the space between ideas and drafting in their new book, Revision Decisions. Starting at the sentence level, Jeff and Debbie show you how to create learning experiences where students discover and practice the many options available to them as writers.
The heart of the book is a series of ten lesson sets with printable handouts that will give your students a repertoire of revision techniques using elements such as serial commas, interrupters, and sentence branching. A key part of the lessons is talk—collaborating in small groups on revision decisions and developing a writer’s vocabulary in whole-class discussions.
Revision Decisions helps teachers engage their students in the tinkering, playing, and thinking that are essential to clarify and elevate writing. You can now preview Chapter 1, “Revision Decisions Are Possible: Actively Processing to Develop Options for Revision.”