Sunday, July 1, 2012

Guided Math, Chapter 1... and an Invitation

Have joined us in the Book Study for Laney Sammon's Guided Math?

IT'S NOT TOO LATE! Please join in! 

This invitation is extended to anyone interested in a quick and easy read that may have an impact on the way you teach math in your classroom... and Jen Runde, this is your very own personal invitation : )

And you won't just be reading alone, you'll have lots of friends learning along with you...

Here are some links to help you get started...

Click on the graphic to the left to get an overview of the Book Study at Primary Inspired. Brenda does a great job of explaining the Book Study adventure!  She has organized this study so that we can all learn from one another.                                                             


Click on the graphic to the left to see which bloggers have signed up to host a chapter. You'll need a few details from the list to update your calendar from the link below


Click on the graphic to the left to see the June to July calendar--and to see who is hosting which chapter (Some new collaborators have been added. You can add in the updated information from the link above) There's not really an assigned date for YOUR reading... We hope you'll join in whenever you can!


Brenda from Primary Inspired reviews the first chapter. It's clear that she embraces guided math as an integral and motivational part of her classroom. She also explains how to use an online sticky note system called Stixy. AND here's where YOU link up so that other bloggers can read YOUR thoughts about guided math!

It's always nice to have two different perspectives on a text. Beth from Thinking of Teaching also adds her thoughts on chapter one. You'll love her enthusiastic attitude! She's got a link-up too!

I have been struggling with trying to start writing my Guided Math posts for several days. It gave me some insight into the feelings of my struggling writers--and struggling  mathematicians.  I just wasn't sure what to do! My task seemed to fall somewhere in between a book report, a persuasive essay and a response to the prompt, "How is reading this book going to change the way you teach math?"

And then I started worrying: I'm behind! I've got to catch up! (If you've read any of my other posts you'll know that being behind on tasks is not a new experience. Truth: I added my June Currently post to Farley's site on June 28th... Yep! That's just two days before June turned into July for anyone who is counting!)

I had done the reading. And I wanted to post. I just couldn't seem to get started. And then I did what I do whenever I can't think of what to write: I went in search of clip art!

AAaaaahhhhh. Somehow this made my task easier. I decided to address the chapters in two parts:
1) What stood out in each of the chapters and 2) How I might use this new learning to shape the way I teach math to sixth graders. And, thanks, KPM Doodles for the sweet borders!

So, let's get started...

          Chapter 1 of Guided Math is entitled:
          Guided Math: A Framework for Mathematics Instruction

When I reflect on my school experience, I don't remember working in small groups for the entirety of elementary school! And, silly me, I always thought that everyone "got it," and that no one was being "left behind." By the time I got into middle and high school, different classes were offered so that students with different skill levels could be accommodated.

It is clear to anyone who has stepped into a classroom recently that everyone is NOT "getting it" and that many students are struggling. The author acknowledges the frustration that teachers feel when the demands of  "testing" seem to drive the curriculum. And it is more than obvious that the "learn more concepts faster" approach isn't helping all students--especially those that struggle with math.

Guided Math asks you to take a look at the "one-size-fits-all" approach that is still so common in classrooms today.  In rethinking mathematics instruction, Laney Sammons offers a model that includes:
  • A classroom environment of numeracy
  • Morning math warm-ups and calendar board activities
  • Whole-class instruction
  • Guided math instruction with small groups of students
  • Math Workshop
  • Individual conferences
  • An ongoing system of assessment
             Guided Math, Laney Sammons, 2010, p.18

Each of these components are described and then become the topics of the subsequent chapters in the book. Further, the author illustrates the release of responsibility that occurs when students need less support--or when less support is available because the teacher is working with small groups.  In whole group instruction, the teachers bears the load of the responsibility; in small groups,  teachers provide scaffolding to share the responsibility with the learners; and in math workshop, students take on the responsibility through independent tasks or group work managed by students.

All in all it is a workshop approach similar to reading or writing workshop. A sample weekly schedule is provided which demonstrates the inclusion of different components (mini-lessons, read aloud, small group work, math workshop, etc) and a Friday "Math Huddle" where students discuss their observations and learning with the whole class.

I found this line particularly noteworthy: "Guided math is a framework for teachers that allows them to use their professional judgment to structure mathematics instruction to meet the diverse needs of the students in their classes (Guided Math, Laney Sammons, 2010, p. 31). That statement alone motivated me enough to read to find out how to accomplish this.

I have looked into the eyes of my own students and known when they weren't "getting it." I had a handful of students who understood everything. I had a few in the middle that could understand the material with a little direct instruction. And I had almost a third of the class who were seriously struggling. My first solution? I tutored this group after school for two hours every Tuesday afternoon (which made for some very tired Wednesday mornings!)

As the year progressed, I started to differentiate further. I broke the class into five groups. Those who grasped the concept quickly were given an opportunity to work in a small group on some advanced algebra topics. Those who "almost got" helped each other and I circulated when I could. If I had any helpers in the classroom they helped me focus on the kids who were struggling. I circulated here as well, trying to help whoever needed me.  Well intentioned... but not terribly efficient.

As I continue through this book, I am hoping to find the management tips to teach multiple levels... with varying materials and strategies.  On most days, I am alone with my thirty four(ish) friends. If I can learn to assess better, I can plan better, I can teach better, and the students can learn better! (I REALLY need to make it all the way through the book because the Domino effect is fairly clear!)

As far as the components, I am just going to have to admit that I am a novice--and that I am ready to learn. I think the workshop approach may be more common in primary grades than in upper grades. As students progress through school, they have an opportunity to fall further behind. Consequently, it is not unusual to have students arrive in sixth grade who are three or four years below grade level.  This year I had a number of students who could not subtract correctly and more than a few who could not count by twos or fives at the beginning of the year. Some could not count by tens and several could not move around a hundreds chart or add or subtract one hundred from an amount. This means many students arrive in sixth grade without strong number sense. And that's the biggest change I will need to make.

So I will need to consider:
  • A classroom environment of numeracy... My initial goal is to focus on math instruction that has more conceptual underpinnings and is more than algorithmic (despite the fact that the textbook has them dividing decimals in Week 1, Lesson 4 with no relationship to fractions AT ALL!). I think this new adjustment will be made easier by the fact that I have some wonderful BloggerFriends who have shared ideas with me (Rush immediately to Jen Runde's site for three million great ideas).
  • Morning math warm-ups and calendar board activities... This will be fairly new to me and I am learning as fast as I can (On this topic, you will hear me talk about Stephanie from Teaching in Room 6 repeatedly--and delightedly) We have done games and routines as warms ups, but not much more.
  • Whole-class instruction... With the help of the Promethean board, my math instructional is more multi-modal. I have incorporated songs and gestures and made math more interesting and, I think, much more enjoyable. The textbook is used mostly for guiding lesson sequence (especially because this sequence connects to benchmarks) and, at times, for practice problems.
  • Guided math instruction with small groups of students... As mentioned above, we have worked in small groups. And I have taught different skills to different groups, using manipulatives to a greater extent and starting from a less abstract level than the textbook. I have taught advanced skills to students who arrive in sixth grade with "out of the park skills too and we have enjoyed working on polynomials and inequalities which are not generally addressed until the end of the year, if at all.  But I have plenty of learning to do or I will be planning math for eight hours a day and we only have one hour of math instruction!
  • Math Workshop... We have done this to a limited extent. In particular, we have enjoyed the Contexts for Learning Mathematics series from Heinemann. They have some excellent lessons for teaching fractions and would lend themselves perfectly to the idea of "Math Huddle."
  • Individual conferences... This is completely new to me--and yet completely familiar to me. I think teachers do this by nature, whenever they lean in to help a child. However, to do this in a systematic way to help organize my teaching... well, that just sounds wonderful! (And really, really difficult to implement--but I'll keep reading because that material is in chapter eight!)
  • An ongoing system of assessment... I have LOTS of assessment data, from exit slips to benchmarks. And I think I can gain a pretty good grasp of what individual students know and need to know. I am reasonably good at error analysis to find out where comprehension breaks down.  I am hoping to learn how to track progress in a more streamlined way--but also in a way that lends itself to instruction, grading, and completing report cards (Our report cards are currently standards-based, so we grade by "strands."

I'm excited! Guided Math is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and I think the timing is right for some big changes.

Chapter two covers "Using Guided Math to Create a Classroom of Numeracy." This chapter is hosted by Dana at Third Grade Gridiron. She's a terrific blogger and her chapter commentary is done on video (and I'm a fan of anyone [Reagan!] who is brave enough to post their videos on YouTube). Why don't you check in with Dana when you are ready to tackle chapter two.

And check back on me too! I have made a commitment... and I do much better with friends monitoring me. Now, if only you could help me limit my ice cream consumption...


  1. I, too, struggled with getting away from the whole group teaching part because of what you said. When we were in school, that is how we were taught. Same thing with the algorithmic teaching. How can the students not "get it" when we are teaching them the clear cut algorithm?

    But when I actually did take the plunge, and started a more (modified) workshop format, with concept lessons taking center stage instead of only algorithms, the change in my students' understanding was AMAZING!

    I look forward to reading your journey through this book and how it is changing your teaching (and thank you AGAIN for the shout out! You are too kind!)

    Teaching in Room 6

  2. So I'm thinking that YOU need to come and do an inservice workshop at our school!! WoW - what a wealth of info for math teachers everywhere . . . thanks for sharing!! Lik Stephanie, I'm looking forward to learning vicariously through you!

    The Corner On Character

  3. Now I need to take notes from your I am loving this book too but behind the book study....mine came late in the mail and I'm trying hard to get caught up:) The big change scares the tar out of me but I think it will benefit my kiddos greatly:) Thanks for sharing all your insights:)

    4th Grade Frolics

  4. I agree with Stephanie above. Getting away from whole group is hard, but small groups truly work! I love all of your insights, as always :)

  5. SO informative! Thanks for sharing, and I'm looking forward to your thoughts as you read! =)

    Third Grade in the First State

  6. How am I only seeing this now??? Well, guess what came in the mail yesterday? You guessed it ... my very own copy. Guess I better start reading. :)

    Runde's Room

  7. I'm on to Amazon in just a minute to order the book. This fall I will have 32 friends instead of the usual 22-24 and I'm a bit nervous! We have a big emphasis on math and this book might be my new best friend!


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