Category Archives: Questions

Number Talks: developing fluency, flexibility, and conceptual understanding #AuthorAndIllustrate

How might we work on fluency (accuracy, flexibility, efficiency, and understanding) as we continue to teach and learn with students? What if our young learners are supposed to be fluent with their multiplication facts, but… they. ..just…aren’t!?

It really isn’t a surprise, right? Children learn and grow at different rates. We know that because we work with young learners everyday.  The question isn’t “Why aren’t they fluent right now?” It isn’t. It just isn’t. The question should be and is:

“What are we going to do, right now, to make this better
for every and each learner in our care?”

In Making Number Talks Matter, Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker write:

Multiplication Number Talks are brimming with potential to help students learn the properties of real numbers (although they don’t know it yet), and over time, the properties come to life in students’ own strategies. (Humphreys, 62 p.)

Humphreys and Parker continue:

Students who have experienced Number Talks come to algebra understanding the arithmetic properties because they have used them repeatedly as they reasoned with numbers in ways that made sense to them. This doesn’t happen automatically, though. As students use these properties, one of our jobs as teachers is to help students connect the strategies that make sense to them to the names of properties that are the foundation of our number system. (Humphreys, 77 p.)

So, that is what we will do. We commit to deeper and stronger mathematical understanding. And, we take action.

This week our Wednesday workshop focused on Literacy, Mathematics, and STEAM in grade level bands.  Teachers of our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders gathered to work together, as a teaching team, to take direct action to strengthen and deepen our young students’ mathematical fluency.

We began with the routine How Do You Know? routine from NCTM’s High-Yield Routines for Grades K-8 using this sentence:

81-25=14×4
How do you know?

Here’s how I anticipated the ways learners might think.

Paper.Productive Struggle.195

From The 5 Practices in Practice: Successfully Orchestrating Mathematical Discussion in your Middle School Classroom:

Anticipating students’ responses takes place before instruction, during the planning stage of your lesson. This practice involves taking a close look at the task to identify the different strategies you expect students to use and to think about how you want to respond to those strategies during instruction. Anticipating helps prepare you to recognize and make sense of students’ strategies during the lesson and to be able to respond effectively. In other words, by carefully anticipating students’ responses prior to a lesson, you will be better prepared to respond to students during instruction. (Smith, 37 p.)

How many strategies and tools do we use when modeling multiplication in our classroom? It is a matter of inclusion.

It is a matter of inclusion.

Every learner wants and needs to find their own thinking in their  community. This belonging, sharing, and learning matters. We make sense of the mathematics and persevere. We make sense of others thinking as they learn to construct arguments and show their thinking so that others understand.

Humphreys and Parker note:

They are learning that they have mathematical ideas worth listening to—and so do their classmates. They are learning not to give up when they can’t get an answer right away because they are realizing that speed isn’t important. They are learning about relationships between quantities and what multiplication really means. They are using the properties of the real numbers that will support their understanding of algebra. (Humphreys, 62 p.)

As teachers, we must anticipate the myriad of ways students think and learn. And, as Christine Tondevold (@BuildMathMinds) tells us:

The strategies are already in the room.

Our job is to connect mathematicians and mathematical thinking.

From NCTM’s Principles to Actions:

Effective teaching of mathematics engages students in making connections among mathematical representations to deepen understanding of mathematics concepts and procedures and as tools for problem solving.

And:

Effective teaching of mathematics builds fluency with procedures on a foundation of conceptual understanding so that students, over time, become skillful in using procedures flexibly as they solve contextual and mathematical problems.

What if we take up the challenge to author and illustrate mathematical understanding with and for our students and teammates?

Let’s work together to use and connect mathematical representations as we build procedural fluency from conceptual understanding.


Humphreys, Cathy. Making Number Talks Matter. Stenhouse Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Smith, Margaret (Peg) S.. The Five Practices in Practice [Middle School] (Corwin Mathematics Series). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Multiplication Fact Fluency prototype – feedback requested

I am concerned that we are conflating automaticity with fluency.  How might we get clear on the difference?

From Assessing Basic Fact Fluency by Gina Kling and Jennifer M. Bay-Williams:

Think about how you assess reading fluency. Does your assessment plan involve listening and observing as children read as well as asking reading comprehension questions? Now imagine what you might learn about students’ reading fluency if you used only timed quizzes. How would your confidence in your assessment change?

When I use Google to search for sample “multiplication fluency assessments, worksheets from TPT show up.If you haven’t yet, it is important to stop and read three articles:

From Fluency: Simply Fast and Accurate? I Think Not! by Linda Gojak:

Building fluency should involve more than speed and accuracy. It must reach beyond procedures and computation.

From Fluency without Fear by Jo Boaler:

The best way to develop fluency with numbers is to develop number sense and to work with numbers in different ways, not to blindly memorize without number sense.

Ok, so how do we assess fluency? Do we have common language for mathematical fluency?

From  Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All

Effective teaching of mathematics builds fluency with procedures on a foundation of conceptual understanding so that students, over time, become skillful in using procedures flexibly as they solve contextual and mathematical problems.

Let’s focus this 3rd grade standard:

Multiply and divide within 100.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.OA.C.7
Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.

 

Do any of the fluency assessments from the above Google search help us assess fluency?

What if we try a different type of assessment? An assessment that involves listening and observing as children compute, reason, and respond.

What if we confer with learners individually, just like we do with reading assessments, to listen, record, and encourage learners as they think, reason, and compute?

I need, want, and invite your feedback on the following prototype.  I hope that I have constructed a viable argument and I seek your constructive critique.

Multiplication Fluency (within 100)
Conferring with Mathematicians

Section 1 asks students if they know their multiplication facts. We intentionally ask these questions because of John Hattie’s work on student expectations of self – effect size of 1.44.

Section 2 checks for accuracy and efficiency.  The teacher will code the student’s response as recall, uses a strategy, or skip counts.  The first 8 facts are common for all students. The next 8 facts can be customized for each student based on their responses to easiest and hardest.

 Section 3 checks for accuracy and flexibility.  In the previous section, the teacher gave the multiplication expression and the student responded with the product.  Now it is reversed. The teacher gives the answer and student states an expression and are asked if they know another way.

Section 3 also checks for accuracy and flexibility using images from #UnitChat.  Students are asked how many they see and how do they see them.  If they skip count, their answer is confirmed, and they are asked if they can say or write it again using multiplication.

If you open this Multiplication Fluency (within 100) pdf, you will find each image on its own page so students can touch to count when needed.

Will you take time to offer actionable, growth-oriented feedback using I like…, I wonder…, and What if… to help clarify or improve the assessment?

Thank you in advance.

#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.