Category Archives: Questions

#TrinityLearns Leading Learners to Level Up as a TEAM (#LL2LU) Part 2

Continuing our work from last month, Trinity School’s Assessment Committee continues to grapple with the following questions.

As a team, how are we united (aligned) in our understanding and assessment of learning?  How might we grow our assessment literacy, understanding, and actions to focus on learning, assign competence, and empower learners to become agents of learning?

Under the leadership of Thomas Benefield (@yerlifeguard) and Becky Holden (@BHolden86), Trinity School’s Assessment Committee we continue our commitment to read and take action on Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill by Nancy Frey, John Hattie, Douglas Fisher.  

Below is our agenda for the April meeting where we have begun to grapple with growing our understanding together.

As a team of teachers representing all grade-levels at our school, we chose to analyze student work together and hold a norming meeting to explore and learn one way to help our grade-level teams calibrate and clarify expectations around collaboration and citizenship.

To ensure that all voices were heard, we started with quiet reading time to preview the draft of the learning progressions.  As we did last month,  we used a Google form (shown below) to record everyone’s initial thinking around the level of work based on the drafted learning progressions for Working Cooperatively and Displays Respect.

The artifact, in this case, was a two minute video that offers a glimpse of partner work. (The video is not shared in this post, but a screen shot of one second is shown below.)

Using the Google form continues to be critically important. Everyone’s initial thinking was made visible to the team. Look at the results from our initial thinking.

As you can see, we were all over the place in our interpretation of the meaning and expectations described in our learning progressions.

As a team of assessment leaders, we had anticipated this result. You can see how this might be problematic for students in different sections with different teachers, right?

High-functioning teams that focus on learning must calibrate their understanding of what is essential to learn so that all students are assessed fairly and equitably.

What happened next was nothing short of magical.

First, we discussed our leveling with one partner to explain our reasoning and understanding. It was quiet, calm, and intense.  As partners listened to each other, different interpretations and points of view were represented.  When enough time passed, we returned to the whole group setting and discussed. Again, magical! Everyone confidently shared their initial level assessment and then spoke of how their understanding was shifted by discussing it with someone else.

Then, we took time for individual reflection and leveled the same artifact again, based on our developing common assessment. Just look at the results.

Closer, so much closer to common understanding.

To hone our skills and understanding, we used the same two learning progressions for Works Cooperatively and Displays Respect using video from a different grade level. (The video is not shared in this post, but a screen shot of one second is shown below.)

Again, more closely aligned understanding.

What can be gained when all ideas are made visible to the entire team? How might we learn and grow together by sharing our thinking, seeking feedback, and calibrating with our team?

How do your school’s teams calibrate expectations, shared values, and common understanding?

What actions will we take to become stronger and clearer as a team?


Frey, Nancy, et al. Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill. Corwin Literacy, 2018.

#TrinityLearns Leading Learners to Level Up as a TEAM (#LL2LU)

As a team, how are we united (aligned) in our understanding and assessment of learning?  How might we grow our assessment literacy, understanding, and actions to focus on learning, assign competence, and empower learners to become agents of learning?

Under the leadership of Thomas Benefield (@yerlifeguard) and Becky Holden (@BHolden86), Trinity School’s Assessment Committee made a commitment to read and take action on Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill by Nancy Frey, John Hattie, Douglas Fisher.  The committee has met approximately once a month to study, discuss, and learn more about growing our young learners as capable, independent, self-correcting, and self-reliant learners.  

Below is our agenda for the March meeting where we have begun to grapple with growing our understanding together.

As a team of teachers representing all grade-levels at our school, we chose to analyze student work together and hold a norming meeting to explore and learn one way to help our grade-level teams calibrate and clarify expectations.

To ensure that all voices were heard, we started with quiet reading time and used a Google form (shown below) to record everyone’s initial thinking around the level of work based on the given learning progressions for Making Thinking Visible and Using Text Evidence.  

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 7.18.23 PM

Using the Google form was critically important. Everyone’s initial thinking was made visible to the team. Look at the results from our initial thinking.

As you can see, we were all over the place in our interpretation of the meaning and expectations described in our learning progressions.  It was eye-opening.

As a team of assessment leaders, we had anticipated this result. You can see how this might be problematic for students in different sections with different teachers, right?

High-functioning teams that focus on learning must calibrate their understanding of what is essential to learn so that all students are assessed fairly and equitably.

What happened next was nothing short of magical.

First, we discussed our leveling with one partner to explain our reasoning and understanding. It was quiet, calm, and intense.  As partners listened to each other, different interpretations and points of view were represented.  When enough time passed, we returned to the whole group setting and discussed. Again, magical! Everyone confidently shared their initial level assessment and then spoke of how their understanding was shifted by discussing it with someone else.

What can be gained when all ideas are made visible to the entire team? How might we learn and grow together by sharing our thinking, seeking feedback, and calibrating with our team?

How do your school’s teams calibrate expectations, shared values, and common understanding?


Frey, Nancy, et al. Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill. Corwin Literacy, 2018.

Book study: #ChoralCounting and #CountingCollections – session 1 #TrinityLearns

In Making a Case for ‘Timely, Purposeful, Progressive’ PD, Brian Curtin writes

Want to maximize professional-development opportunities? Provide specific content that suits teachers’ most pressing needs—when they need it most. In order to ensure relevancy, teachers must be able to use the new insights they’ve gained right away.

As a community, we are focused on high-quality instruction that leads to deep understanding.  The teachers of our youngest learners take action to develop young, strong mathematicians.  Together, we are studying Choral Counting and Counting Collections: Transforming the PreK-5 Math Classroom to deepen and strengthen our understanding of learning and teaching early numeracy.

Prior to our first meeting on February 4, 2019, 16 teachers and administrators committed to learning together by studying the first chapter of Choral Counting and Counting Collections.  The plan for the Feb. 4 meeting is shown at the end of this post and included time to discuss what we read as well as practice together.

We started with this collection.

And ended up with this:

How might we anticipate ways students will show their thinking and record their work?

Were teachers able to use the new insights they’ve gained right away?

The authors of Choral Counting and Counting Collections: Transforming the PreK-5 Math Classroom tell us:

These activities help us enact our commitments to equity. We know that a sense of belonging and investment, of being seen, known, and heard by teachers and classmates, is fundamental to creating schools where children and families feel welcome and where they flourish. Because these activities foreground student sense making and cultivate a joy for doing mathematics, they can be powerful tools for teachers to counter narrow views that only a few can identify with mathematics or that mathematics is disconnected from students’ home lives, their communities, and their own interests.

We are motivated and driven to learn more so that we continue to serve our young learners in the spirit of our mission and vision:

Trinity School creates a community of learners in a diverse and distinctly elementary-only environment, in which each child develops the knowledge, skills, and character to achieve his or her unique potential as a responsible, productive, and compassionate member of the School and greater community.

Celebrating the present and preparing our students for the future within a nurturing and caring educational environment, we:

  • Cherish Childhood
  • Deepen Students’ Educational Experience
  • Empower Students in Their Learning

So that our students:

  • Build Academic Foundation
  • Develop Character Foundation
  • Exhibit Continued Curiosity, Creativity, and Confidence


Curtin, Brian. “Making a Case for ‘Timely, Purposeful, Progressive’ PD.” Education Week Teacher, Education Week, 19 Feb. 2019, www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/12/06/making-a-case-for-timely-purposeful-progressive.html.

Franke, Meghan L., et al. Choral Counting and Counting Collections: Transforming the PreK-5 Math Classroom. Stenhouse Publishers, 2018.

Collaboration – How might we level up again?

Last week, we drafted a learning progression for a team around collaboration and asked for feedback..   ICYMI: I wrote:

I’m curious to know what you think about the draft below. If we put this out in our classroom, will learners have a stronger opportunity to self-assess and level up?

I am grateful for all of the feedback we received.  Thank you.

The teaching team that I am coaching asked an important question.  “This works, Jill, for collaboration in our daily classroom learning. If we launch a team project, the Level 4 should really be the Level 3. How might we emphasize collaboration is co-creating something new together?

If we establish I can collaborate to co-create evidence of shared learning, work, and understanding as a goal, how can we level up to focus learning?

We want all learners in this community to be able to say

I can collaborate to co-create evidence of
shared learning, work, and understanding

At Level 1, learners are working side-by-side and periodically check-in with each other. While closer to collaboration, this is really parallel play. We are in the same place doing the same thing, and we at least acknowledge that other learners exist in our space.

At Level 2, learners exchange thinking and ideas as they discuss questions and actions to take together. At this level, learners add to each other’s thinking and make sense of new, different ideas and pathways.

At Level 3, learners listen and share deeply to riff and improvise, co-creating ideas, thinking, and learning.

At Level 4, learners reflect on what they knew and what they know now. They can articulate what is now possible because of shared thinking, learning, and working together.

Again, I’m curious to know what you think about the draft above. If we put this out in our classroom, will learners have a stronger opportunity to self-assess and level up?

I love what we learn when we make our thinking visible. Our students and colleagues help us learn, refine, and deepen our work.  Tell a colleague what you want next for and with your students. And don’t stop there. Teach. Help them learn even when you are learning too.

Brainstorm with colleagues.  Talk about you hopes and dreams for students and  level out what you see and want to see. Make your thinking visible to the learners in your care.

Teach.

Empower learners.

Lead learners to level up.

Collaboration – How might we level up?

About 20 years ago, I worked with a wonderful, brilliant teacher who would tease me about collaborative learning. It was not his style. But, he tried. He would say to his class, “Pull your desks up close and uhh…collaborate. I’ll be back in a minute.”  Now, there were good outcomes from this opportunity. Students had a moment to breathe, catch up if behind (or confused) in their notes, and talk with classmates.

What is our definition of collaboration? In our teaching team or teams, have we established common language about collaboration? Have we shared it with the learners in our care?

What if the learners in your care are not meeting your expectations around collaboration?

  • Do we complain to colleagues or the learners that they are not collaborating?
  • Do we tell the learners that they need to collaborate without telling them how?
  • Do we assume that they <should> already know how? And, if they do not, are we frustrated and disappointed? Do we use our blame-thrower to put responsibility on someone else?
  • Do we take time to establish norms and common language around collaboration?

Teaching, telling, or complaining? Which one or ones are we stuck in? Problem-solving dissolves into complaining and venting when we fail to seek solutions and take action.  So, let’s brainstorm what it looks like and try something different.

Excerpts from a coaching session:

Teacher: I have no idea, Jill. They won’t collaborate. Do they not know how? They work in isolation, purposefully.  

Coach: Why is that important? Why should they work collaboratively? 

Teacher: Gosh, I think everyone knows that we collaborate to learn more, deeply. I think it is about perspective and listening to the ideas of others – even when you don’t agree. And, in math, it is about flexibility.

Coach: Tell me more about what you see and what you want to see.

Teacher: I see students sitting in groups, because that is how the furniture is arranged. But, they are not speaking to each other. Well, maybe…<sigh>…occasionally they check an answer. I want an exchange of ideas; I want them to learn from each other, together.  I hope that they will be curious about each other’s thinking and try to make sense of it instead of simply saying, “Oh, that’s not how I did it.” 

I’m curious to know what you think about the draft below. If we put this out in our classroom, will learners have a stronger opportunity to self-assess and level up?

If we establish I can collaborate to learn with and from others as a goal, can we use the above to focus learning?

We want all learners in this community to be able to say

I can collaborate to learn with and from others.

At Level 1, learners are working in isolation, perhaps racing to finish first.. Maybe learners plan to confer with others only after completing the task. Some might be trying to hide what they do not know; others are lapsing into teacher dependence.

At Level 2, learners are working side-by-side and periodically check-in with each other. While closer to collaboration, this is really parallel play. We are in the same place doing the same thing, and we at least acknowledge that other learners exist in our space.

At Level 3, learners exchange thinking and ideas as they discuss questions and actions to take together. At this level, learners add to each other’s thinking and make sense of new, different ideas and pathways.

At Level 4: learners listen and share deeply to riff and improvise, co-creating ideas, thinking, and learning.

All learners need independent think time to organize thinking, process the task, and gather resources.  AND, all learners need to learn from and with others in community because it promotes understanding, perspective taking, flexibility, listening, and critical reasoning.

So, when you are frustrated with how things are going, complain. Tell a colleague what your students are not doing. But don’t stop there. Teach. Help them learn even if they should already know it.

Brainstorm with your team. Ask hard questions. Describe what is going well and what is not.  Use this data to reframe and level out what you see and want to see. Make your thinking visible to the learners in your care.

Teach.

Empower learners.

Lead learners to level up.

Sheep Won’t Sleep #Mathematizing Read Alouds – implement tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving

How might we deepen our understanding of numeracy using children’s literature? What if we mathematize our read aloud books to use them in math as well as reading and writing workshop?

Have you read Sheep Won’t Sleep: Counting by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s by Judy Cox?

This week’s Embolden Your Inner Mathematician session is designed to learn and practice both a Mathematics Teaching Practice and a Standard for Mathematical Practice.

Implement Tasks that Promote
Reasoning and Problem Solving.

Effective teaching of mathematics engages students in solving and discussing tasks that promote mathematical reasoning and problem solving and allow multiple entry points and varied solution strategies.

Jennifer Wilson and I use the following learning progression to help teachers and teaching teams calibrate their work.

From the Standards for Mathematical Practice,

Construct viable arguments and
critique the reasoning of others.

Mathematically proficient students understand and use stated assumptions, definitions, and previously established results in constructing arguments. Elementary students can construct arguments using concrete referents such as objects, drawings, diagrams, and actions. Such arguments can make sense and be correct, even though they are not generalized or made formal until later grades. Students at all grades can listen or read the arguments of others, decide whether they make sense, and ask useful questions to clarify or improve the arguments.

We choose to reword this for our students. Instead of I can construct a viable argument, we say I can show my work so a reader understands having to ask me questions.

We use the following learning progression to help students self-assess and reach to deepen their learning.

Now, Sheep Won’t Sleep: Counting by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s by Judy Cox gives away the mathematical thinking on some pages. We decided to read the book and ask our students to listen and take notes as readers, writers, and mathematicians.  Mathematicians notice and note details, look for patterns, and ask questions.  To support listening and comprehension (a.k.a. empower learners to make sense and persevere), we created visuals for quasi-reader’s theater and spelled sheep, alpaca, llama, and yak.  (Level  2; check.)

We also practiced a keep the pace up and get kids collaborating instead of relying on the teacher strategy we are learning from Elizabeth Statmore.

And every day I used 10-2 processing to keep the pace up and get kids collaborating instead of relying on me. For every ten minutes of notes, I gave two minutes of processing time to catch up and collaborate on making their notes accurate. (Statmore, n pag.)

Instead of 10-2 processing, we took a minute after every couple of pages to intentionally turn and talk with a partner with the express purpose of comparing and improving our notes and mathematical communication.

As teachers, we are striving to implement tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving.   Sheep Won’t Sleep: Counting by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s is a counting book so 1st graders can tackle the math. 2nd and 3rd graders can use this to connect skip counting and repeated addition to multiplication and to use and connect mathematical representations. 4th and 5th graders can use this to use and connect mathematical representations while attending to precision. (Level 1; check.)

Here’s a messy version of how we anticipated student work and thinking.

These read-aloud moments open up the opportunity for rich discussion and engaging questions. Students have the opportunity for more organic and deeper understanding of mathematical concepts thanks to the book that brought them to life, and it is an engaging way to look at math through a different lens.

As Professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education Jo Boaler explains in her book Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, “Mathematics is a subject that allows for precise thinking, but when that precise thinking is combined with creativity, flexibility, and multiplicity of ideas, the mathematics comes alive for people.”


Boaler, Jo. Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching (p. 115). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Leinwand, Steve. Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. Reston, VA.: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014. Print.

Standards for Mathematical Practice.” Standards for Mathematical Practice. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.

Statmore, Elizabeth. “Cheesemonkey Wonders.” First Week and AVID Strategies. 25 Aug. 2018.

Focus on Learning: Establish Mathematics Goals to Focus Learning

Worry in her beautiful, tired, sad eyes communicates so much. Strain across her face makes my heart ache. As we sit down for coffee with our children playing nearby, she blurts, “I don’t know how to make myself clearer, Jill. They just don’t, won’t, can’t – I don’t know – get it!” I sigh into my coffee which causes steam to fog up my glasses, and she laughs through her tears.  

Knowing that I am an evidence-interested educator, she pulls out her unit plans for me to see and offer feedback. “You were in our class yesterday. What I can I do better…? How do I help them learn?” Love and concern for her students is evident in her thoughtfulness, craftsmanship, and design.

I was in this class yesterday and had been for many days of the unit. I go again and again, because I am learning from her and with her students. This strong, organized, empathetic teacher is, in fact, a very good teacher.  

“What if we take your teaching up a level to a stronger focus on learning? Let’s look at the output that is causing you this worry and stress. Together, can we look at their work and identify what they, in your words, ‘just don’t, won’t, can’t’ do?’ And then, what if we establish mathematics goals to focus learning for you and your students?”

Sitting there on the bank of the Chattahoochee, occasionally interrupted, joyfully, by a toddler that needed to show us a valuable rock or other important discovery, we combed through student work. Outpouring concern and frustration, she talked about each learner, their strengths, and what surprised her about what they did not understand. I listened in awe of what she knew about her students in granular detail, and what she thought they knew but didn’t really. My notes highlighted every success she saw and the joy and pride she felt with every success.

How might we shift her work to increase the amount of success for her and her students? How might we empower learners to take action, self-assess, and ask questions early and often to improve their understanding and communication? What if we take what we just learned about her class and level it out to make her expectations and her thinking visible?

We found four categories or groupings:

  1. As soon I as finish explaining the task, they are all over me, Jill. They have no idea what to do or are too scared to get started. They want me to hold their hand. They are not empowered or safe enough to try.” They are splashing around in the shallow end, maybe even thrashing.
  2. They started, but cannot think flexibly when their first attempt gets them nowhere. They will not hear feedback or collaborate to think differently. They just shut down.
  3. “They are happily working along and find success.” They are willing to work in the pool, but need support build around them to know this is a safe, brave space to draft and redraft to think and learn. Mistakes are opportunities to learn; they do not define you.
  4. “They are first and fast and successful. They want and need more. I want to deepen and connect their learning, not broaden it.” They are willing to dive into the deep end confidently to explore new connections and representations.

This hard, important work helped us gain clarity about what is essential to learn in her classroom. Articulating frustration points as well as success points during her analysis of learning in her classroom revealed and organized a path for communication of learning intentions.

How might we empower and embolden our learners to ask the questions they need to ask by improving the ways we communicate and assess?

What if we make our thinking visible to our learners? What if we display learning progressions in our learning space to show a pathway for learners?

Great teachers lead us just far enough down a path so we can challenge for ourselves.  They provide just enough insight so we can work toward a solution that makes us, makes me want to jump up and shout out to the world, makes me want to step to the next higher level. Great teachers somehow make us want to ask the questions that they want us to answer, overcome the challenge that they, because they are our teacher, believe we need to overcome. (Lichtman, 20 pag.)

We want every learner in our care to be able to say

I can make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.  (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1)

But, as a learner…What if I think I can’t? What if I’m stuck? What if I feel lost, confused, or discouraged? How might we offer a pathway for success? What if we provide cues to guide learners and inspire interrogative self-talk?

NCTM’s recent publication, Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, calls us to support productive struggle in learning mathematics. How do we encourage our students to keep struggling when they encounter a challenging task? They are accustomed to giving up when they can’t solve a problem immediately and quickly. How do we change the practice of how our students learn mathematics?

How might we coach our learners in to asking more questions? Not just any questions – targeted questions. What if we coach and develop the skill of questioning self-talk?

Interrogative self-talk, the researchers say, “may inspire thoughts about autonomous or intrinsically motivated reasons to pursue a goal.” As ample research has demonstrated, people are more likely to act, and to perform well, when the motivations come from intrinsic choices rather than from extrinsic pressures.  Declarative self-talk risks bypassing one’s motivations. Questioning self-talk elicits the reasons for doing something and reminds people that many of those reasons come from within.” (Pink, 103 pag.)

Our coffee is cold and our children have lost interest in playing together. As we wrap up our reflection, feedback, and planning session, we agree to experiment the next week with her students. How might the work and learning change if we make a pathway for self-assessment and self-talk visible to the learners?

We plan to post #LL2LU SMP-1:  I can make sense of problems and persevere in solving them in the classroom and on the tables for easy reference.  Our immediate learning goal for the students is to make sense and persevere, to ask clarifying questions and try again, to show thinking for clarity and questioning, and to find multiple ways to solutions and find connections.

Excellent teachers think hard about when they will present the learning intention. They don’t just set the learning intentions early in the lesson and then forget about them. They refer to these intentions throughout instruction, keeping students focused on what it is they’re supposed to learn. (Hattie, 55-56 pag.)


Hattie, John A. (Allan); Fisher, Douglas B.; Frey, Nancy; Gojak, Linda M.; Moore, Sara Delano; Mellman, William L.. Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning (Corwin Mathematics Series). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Leinwand, Steve. Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. Reston, VA.: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014. (p. 21) Print.

Lichtman, Grant, and Sunzi. The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. New York: IUniverse, 2008. Print.

Pink, Daniel H. (2012-12-31). To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.