How Can a Skills Specialist Support Tabor Rotation?

For specialist blog

Part of the INCREDIBLE Tabor Team of Carter Academy

 

“Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.”     -Pete Carroll, Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks

Since she has done an absolutely AMAZING job of supporting the teachers at Carter Academy in Aldine ISD, AND they have had amazing results, I posed this question to skills specialist Amanda Rodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez began her journey in Tabor Rotation in September, 2014.

“How can a skills specialist or resource teacher support Tabor Rotation?”

Here is her response. (Data to support the reasons why you should believe her are found on the NEWS & RESULTS page of this website.)

Top 5 Things a Specialist Can do to Support Tabor Rotation

1.    Provide teachers with resources and ideas to create activities for the stations. Teachers are more successful and whiling to implement a new teaching model if they have support and believe that the framework will work.  This year 92% of the math teachers in 1st-4th grade have successfully implemented the Tabor Rotation Framework. The top scores in our school are from those who implement all Three Phases of Tabor Rotation.

2.    Observe teachers implementing each phase and give them feedback. The math skills specialists on our campus have observed 100% of the teachers who implement Tabor Rotation and have given the teachers feedback.  If the teacher needs clarification on implementing an element the specialists are here to clarify or model the implementation of that element.

3.    Help teachers plan collaboratively as a grade level. When a specialist is the facilitator it ensures that 100% of the teachers are sharing and helping in the collaboration process.

4.    Model how to implement Tabor Rotation Phases if needed. 33% of our teachers who are implementing the Tabor Rotation Framework have had specialist in their rooms modeling how to implement the framework with their own students. This has been a huge aid in ensuring that teachers do not get frustrated if they do not understand where to begin.

5.    Give the teachers opportunities to observe other teachers that are successfully implementing Tabor Rotation. 100% of the teachers who are implementing the Tabor Rotation Framework have observed other teachers who are successfully implementing the framework. This allows the teachers to see how other teachers put their own flair into implementing the framework but still keeping true to the 14 Essential Elements [of the Tabor Rotation Framework]. Skills Specialists have had to cover classrooms to allow teachers the opportunities to observe the implementation of Tabor Rotation in other classrooms.

Thank you you for your suggestions, Ms. Rodriguez! You and the entire Tabor Team of Carter Academy are changing students’ lives by supporting and changing teachers. Way to go!!!

“I’d like to say to all my fans out there, thanks for the support. And to all my doubters, thank you very much because you guys have also pushed me.”     -Usain Bolt, Jamaican sprinter and widely regarded as the fastest person on earth

 

How to Prepare Students for High Stakes Tests

Students Taking Test

“The world is full of people who have dreams of playing at Carnegie Hall, of running a marathon, and of owning their own business. The difference between the people who make it across the finish line and everyone else is one simple thing: an action plan.”     -John Tesh

 

“You use math stations, small groups, and hands-on instruction, so…

What did you do to keep them engaged and sitting for 4 hours while they take the state test?

 Even during the district math benchmark tests they slouch down in their seats or lay their heads down while they are working.”

I’m asked this question multiple times every year since the instructional method I share, the Tabor Rotation Framework, is focused on active student engagement and in-depth understanding instead of paper and pencil tasks. Many teachers who use Tabor Rotation asked me to share the information in my blog so others can use the ideas.

The first step is to think of training to take lengthy tests the same way you would for a marathon since it’s an academic marathon. Below are the rest of the steps I took that have proven to be extremely successful with each of my classes. I did this with them from the beginning of the school year, but if you consistently use these strategies until the state test date it should bring the similar results.

Steps for Success in Academic Marathons

Step 1: Have your students take a 30-minute assessment or complete a set of worksheets that are formatted in the same way as the state test.

Stop every 5 minutes and have the students conduct an attention check. I posted these questions around the room.

“Am I paying attention?”

“Am I on task?”

“What ways am I engaging with problems that I find boring?”

“What do I do when I don’t know a word?”

“What do I say inside my head to keep me going?”

“What is my reward for staying on task?”

Give your students a sticky note to place next to their papers and tell them to “pay” themselves to place a tally mark on the sheet for every 5 minutes they stay on task and work hard on the problems they are given. Each tally mark is worth $5.

At the end of the test my students added their “money”  to their checking accounts. See M-Cubed: Meaningful Math Management on the FREE RESOURCES page of glennatabor.com.

Do this multiple times. If you are starting this academic marathon training at the beginning of the year, then this could be done once a week and incorporated into the formative assessments and checks for understanding you’re already conducting.

Celebrate their achievements in staying on task. (The same thing that runners and cyclists do after a training ride or run.) Conduct a Mathematician’s Circle and ask students to share their strategies for maintaining engagement and resolving any challenges in the problems. Post these cumulative lists, too.

Step 2: Do the same as above but extend the time checks to every 10 minutes and have students give themselves a tally mark that is worth $20 if they have stayed on task and worked hard. The amount of money increased because the time in between checks increased.

Step 3: Now give hour-long assessments (or as long as your class periods allow) and sets of worksheets. Continue with the 10-minute checks. Do this at least 2-3 times.

Reflect, and share strategies. Discuss what strategies worked best for each student and for each type of problem.

Celebrate their ability to stay on task, focused, and engaged for an entire hour! If an entire room of adults could do this we would be thrilled!

Step 4: Keep extending the time till your students have practiced up to 90-120 minutes with 10-minute checks. Have students put tally marks on a scratch sheet similar to the ones that are allowed in high-stake test situations instead of on sticky notes.

Continue reflecting, strategizing, and celebrating. REMEMBER that this is training for a marathon and “centering” your efforts always pays off in the final “run/ride.”

If your students are doing well with 10-minute checks and want to challenge themselves, for more money or course, have them conduct 15-minute checks as they take the longer tests. 15-minute tally marks could be worth $45.

Step 5: Reflect with your students on what their brain is doing. Your students will have now formed mental habits of mind that will extend into district and state-wide testing. They can’t use a sticky note on a test, but they can give themselves a check mark on a scratch sheet.

Step 6: Have your students to write about their journey and compile these into an electronic book or a slide show. Post this online and give parents and community members the link so they are aware of just how hard you and your students are working.

Congratulate and reward yourself! You care about your students and have changed their lives in more ways than you can imagine. Just ask them in 20 years…mine keep finding me on social media and recalling every moment they spent in my class…

“What I think a lot of great marathon runners do is envision crossing that finish line. Visualization is critical. But for me, I set a lot of little goals along the way to get my mind off that overwhelming goal of 26.2 miles. I know that I’ve got to get to 5, and 12, and 16, and then I celebrate those little victories along the way.”     -Bill Rancic [Croation/American entrepreneur  who was the first candidate hired by The Trump Organization at the end of the first season of The Apprentice.]

“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”     -Emil Zatopek

Zatopek  was nicknamed the “Czech Locomotive” and was the first athlete to break the 29-minute barrier in the 10,000 meters in 1954. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest runners of the 20th century and was also known for his brutally tough training methods. He is the only person to win the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, and marathon in the same Olympics.

How Can an Administrator Support Tabor Rotation?

Highly engaged Jane Long 4th graders in math stations

A group of highly engaged 4th graders in math stations at Jane Long Elementary School

“Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.”     -Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM

“A leader is a dealer in hope.”     -Napoleon Bonaparte

Since I’m not an administrator, I posed this question to principal Lorrie Kloss who began her journey in Tabor Rotation in May, 2014 and has seen ASTOUNDING results,

“How can an administrator support Tabor Rotation?”

Here was her response. (Data to support the reasons why you should believe her are found on the NEWS & RESULTS page of this website.)

The Top 5 Things an Administrator can do to Support Tabor

1. Facilitate Change
Initially, support your teachers in taking risks. Encourage them to try, while also letting them know you are very aware it will not be perfect! Hurdles will present themselves, and mistakes shall be made, however always be there to support them as they encounter struggle. Let them know that everyone will use this knowledge to be even better the next time around.

2. Select a Winning Team
Attend the initial Tabor Rotation Institute with a core group of staff who are handpicked. Choose wisely! These staff must be the ones who have leadership qualities, are open to change, and who are, first and foremost, teachers who make student learning their top priority.

3. Plan Strategically

Our school was fortunate enough to be able to attend Tabor Rotation training in May, which afforded our team the opportunity to meet together throughout the summer. Scheduling follow-up days with our core team was vital for the initial implementation push at the beginning of the school year. Throughout these trainings and the summer, we were able to identify resources and supplies we might need, and had the time to seek them out as well. In addition, our core team trained the remaining staff in our back- to-school professional development week. We also modeled for the staff what a guided math lesson with workstations and teacher time would look like.

It was during this time that I laid out my expectations to the staff on implementation, and that this was a part of our campus improvement plan. I also shared the data that showed the Tabor Rotation Framework worked with groups of students who matched our demographics and gave the staff reason to believe!

4. Ongoing Professional Development
Select on-site coaching dates, with Glenna Tabor, at the beginning of the school year for your staff. Attend these coaching sessions with your staff and support them fully! Further, arrange for continued support from Glenna Tabor whenever or however you can. Email Glenna questions; she will answer them! Sign up for web-based sessions with Glenna if time or funds are limited!

5. Support, Support, Support!
Last, ask lots of questions. Treat your faculty as though they are the experts. Celebrate their success and cry with them when they are frustrated. Ask them what they need and go find it. Schedule time for your teachers to watch model , plan together, and network with others for ongoing support.

Are these “top five things administrators can do to support Tabor Rotation” working for this principal and her school? Has it been worth all the time and energy invested? Her answer is most definitely, yes!

After just three months of implementation of Tabor Rotation, Jane Long Elementary School’s 4th grade overall passing rate on district assessments rose 9%. The 4th grade surpassed the district by 18% while district scores remained flat. Jane Long Elementary was also realizing overall growth in all at-risk sub-populations and advanced learners. The commended scores in 4th grade at Long were 11% higher than the district. Recent mid-year tests have shown even greater gains.

What about qualitative data—the things you can’t measure easily and put into a graph? After sharing her amazing results with me she related how Tabor Rotation isn’t just changing scores—it’s changing the entire community.

“…a parent called me this morning, in tears! She was blown away at the treatment of her daughter by one of our teachers, Mary Baumgardner, and wanted me to know. Her daughter, after being tutored for years, and feeling distraught about math finally is showing confidence in her ability, and is showing exceptional academic progress. This student has grown 1 yr and 2 months in just 4 months time this year. I thanked the mom and told her I would make Mary’s day with this news…”

What can an administrator do to support Tabor Rotation and effective, differentiated, small-group instruction in the classroom? John Maxwell said it well,

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Lorrie Kloss, and all other successful Tabor Rotation School principals, are doing just that. My hats go off to all of them as they guide our schools into the next century!

Long shirt

Encouraging Simultaneous Interaction

Hambrick, Sim Inter

Positive Group Interaction at Hambrick Middle School

 

“If you have a candle, the light won’t glow any dimmer if I light yours off of mine.”     -Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

A participant in a recent Tabor Rotation Institute asked me this question,

“Why is simultaneous interaction so important?”

Jeff Sapp writes about the transformational power of simultaneous interaction in at-risk schools in the Electronic Journal of Science Education, Number 30: Fall, 2006. One of these schools states, “Student interaction at every level of school fosters comfort and confidence..it increases academic achievement and equips students with the ability to speak across lines of race, class, and gender.

Sapp also found that group activities radically altered the typical teacher-fronted classroom’s sequential interaction. Instead of one person speaking at a time, one person per group or many pairs were discussing simultaneously, hence the term used frequently by Spencer Kagan, “simultaneous interaction.”

Simultaneous Interaction is included in the Tabor Rotation Framework as one of its 14 Essential Elements because it has proven to be highly effective in all three phases of Tabor Rotation. When I first created the Tabor Rotation Framework I knew that the components of balanced literacy needed to be included in the components for balanced mathematics. In fact, in the book, Cases of Successful Literacy Teachers, Lacina and Silva found that every successful teacher they studied believed that social interaction is critical to oral language development. A math classroom, filled with complex vocabulary and challenging concepts, is no different.

After attempting to implement simultaneous interaction back in her own classroom, the same teacher emailed me with this next question.

“I believe that simultaneous interaction in essential, but how do I make sure my students do it?”

Here are my Top Ten for Encouraging Simultaneous Interaction:

1.    Model, model, model! Provide an exemplar for your students. When working with a group at the Teacher Time Station, model how to ask questions of a partner and how to actively listen. Show video clips of people interacting effectively.
2.    Practice what you modeled. Students need to see the model and then practice with their partner and their team. Make it a purposeful practice that reflects what they should be discussing during the Whole-Group Mini-Lesson or during station rotations.
3.    Assign partners for Whole-Group Mini-Lessons and in Teams. I assign partners based upon their complimentary abilities to communicate with each other. Having an assigned partner eliminates student concern when a teacher states, “Turn to someone next to you and share.”
4.    Extrinsically reward appropriate interaction. A teacher can observe group and partner interaction, note those behaviors, then give teams points for the positive behaviors. The responsibility of observing effective simultaneous interaction could also be assigned to a team member, noted, and then shared with the whole group.
5.    Write specific questions you want students to ask each other. This could be as simple as putting the questions each student asks their partner or team on a sticky note and placing it on the Leader Folder.
6.    Cultivate active listening techniques in your classroom. Teach students how to have positive facial expressions, physically turning toward the person speaking, and responding in a way that the person knows you’re listening.
7.    Schedule times to have students stop and interact. Many teachers write notes to themselves in their lesson plans or set a timer that reminds them to stop and let students share what they have learned so far.
8.    Post key statements that help students encourage each other in a discussion. Two of these are “How did you know that?” and “Explain your thinking.”
9.    Accept and encourage the “hum of productivity.” Classrooms where students interact and discuss will not be silent. They will have a positive hum of discussion, elaboration, and display of understanding.
10.    Give opportunities for students to work in varied settings. Some students crave quiet time and working alone. Give them a chance to do this at some point during the day or week.

Begin with…

  • Have Materials Managers from each team distribute supplies.
  • Stopping every 5-8 minutes and having students share a summary “word” with their partner and why they chose that word.
  • Have students practice listening to an answer given by their partner and restating it in their own words.

Why plan for simultaneous interaction? Why make it a purposeful and vital part of your classroom? Noreen Webb, in 1989, conducted research with primary level students learning mathematics in mixed-ability groups. She found that both high and low achievers benefited when lower achievers requested and received explanations, but no one benefited when answers without explanations were provided or requests were ignored.

Simultaneous Interactions provides for active engagement of all students, gives students a chance to regularly process information, and allows students to work together and learn from each other. For those students who only learn if they are talking and interactively engaged, simultaneous interaction is non-negotiable!

Hands-On Expanded Form

 

expanded notation bag

What is expanded form and how do we make the practice of expanded form hands on and engaging?

Let’s start with the first question.

Expanded Form is…
…the writing of a number to show the value of each digit.
…the sum of each digit multiplied by its place value.
…a helpful way to rewrite numbers in order to show case the place value of each digit.
…method of writing numbers as the sum of powers of ten or as the sum of its units, tens, hundreds, etc.

For example, 3000 + 400 + 10 + 7 is the expanded form for 3417.

But, if you’ve searched for this blog, then you’re really wanting is the answer to the next question.

How do you make expanded form hands on and engaging?

expanded notation directions

The game, “Excellently Expanded,” is hands on, engaging, and deepens a student’s understanding of how to compose and decompose numbers up to 999,999 using expanded form.

place value cards

Each pair of students arranges their expanded form cards so they may easily and quickly create the expanded form of numbers.

number cards

After the leader turns over a number card, pairs of students try to be the first ones to create the expanded form of the number and be able to say what they have created. Whichever pair does this first wins that round and receives 5 points.

Every pair who has correctly created the expanded form of the number earns 2 points. Answer Keys are given to the Leader and Co-Leader.

answer keys

The winning pair turns over the next number and play continues as time allows.

exit questions

Of course, Exit Questions are asked and Passports are used at the end of activity to bridge from the activity content to the way a student will need to answer a high-stakes test question about the concept.

Here are the components for Excellently Expanded:
Excellent Expanded Directions
Excellently Expanded, Examples
Place Value Cards: Excellently Expanded Cards, Ones, Excellently Expanded Cards, Tens, Excellently Expanded Cards, Hundreds, Excellently Expanded Cards, Thousands, Excellently Expanded Cards, Ten Thousands, Excellently Expanded Cards, Hundred Thousands
Number Cards (Answer Keys):Excellently Expanded Answer Key & Numbers, 1, Excellently Expanded Answer Key & Numbers, 2, Excellently Expanded Answer Key & Numbers, 3

Now all you need is a group of students who need to learn expanded notation and want to have fun at the same time…

PBL & Tabor Rotation Rock- TOGETHER!

Inspiration, oil spill, 1.25.10

I have the distinct honor of working with some of the most dedicated educators on the planet. Some of these incredible educators have been trained in Project-Based Learning before learning more about the Tabor Rotation Framework. Those who believe in the power of PBL and small-group, differentiated instruction may have ask themselves this question,

“Can a classroom use Project-Based Learning and Tabor Rotation?

The answer is YES!!!

The Tabor Rotation Framework is a way of structuring a classroom so that a teacher is able to meet and exceed the needs of all students using the 14 Essential Elements of Tabor Rotation and the 3 Phases of Tabor Rotation. It provides a platform that ensures every level of student is being moved a little bit further than they were the day before. Tabor Rotation makes sure that everything a student needs in planned for–including projects.

What is Project-Based Learning? The NEA- Research Spotlight on PBL gives a simple explanation:

…As far back as the early 1900s, John Dewey supported the “learning by doing” approach to education, which is the essential element of PBL. Today, PBL is viewed as a model for classroom activity that shifts away from teacher-centered instruction and emphasizes student-centered projects.

Teachers who use Tabor Rotation know that’s exactly what they do–move away from teacher-centered and emphasize student-centered. In fact, participants who attended “TR2: Taking Tabor Rotation to the Next Leve,” spent a portion of the day exploring how to bring real-world, meaningful and purposeful projects into the Tabor Rotation Framework. What PBL proponents may not realize is where, when, and how PBL and Tabor Rotation mesh seamlessly in a week of Tabor Rotation. Keep reading…

I have always used project-based learning, so I was using it when I created Tabor Rotation. It just may have been packaged differently. My district, Prince George’s County Public Schools, in Maryland was using the Dimensions of Learning Model created by Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering. This tool helped me facilitate the type of learning that I knew my students needed and it complied with the district initiatives. Learning that is purposeful, meaningful, qualitatively challenging, and enduring beyond the classroom is called Meaningful Use of Knowledge or Dimension 4 in the Dimensions of Learning Model. For an overview of the Dimensions of Learning Model you may want to view this brief slide show.

My students needed the intense instruction and on-going preparation for state tests that Tabor Rotation provided. I fine-tuned Tabor Rotation using teams, team roles, math stations, on-going assessment, and guided math based on readiness levels, but I never gave up anything else I was doing. This included projects (See the video clip of the space station my students built in the blog post, “The Origin of Tabor Rotation.”) Marzono’s discovery of this project was the catalyst that began our work together as a theorist and a practitioner. Marzano later learned about Tabor Rotation and its impact on my students in the in-depth exploration of mathematical concepts.

Space Station, 3

Ready for the nuts and bolts of where PBL fits in a week or unit of Tabor Rotation?

Tabor Rotation Phase 1 emphasizes setting the stage for the unit of concepts. This is the time for building connections to what is about to be studied. It’s also the perfect time for generating the essential questions that will drive the projects produced by students.

Tabor Rotation Phase 2 is about varying the modality in which students learn by using math stations. It also gives teachers the opportunity to teach students, in a small-group, guided setting, the most difficult concepts for the week.

The Technology/Application/Innovation Station is where teachers place the projects. Students can work in pairs, triads, or quads as they develop their projects. The use of technology and innovative strategies is the emphasis here. Guidelines are determined by the students and the teacher and are driven by the in-depth understanding of the state standards that will be needed to complete and share the project.

Phase 3 of the Tabor Rotation Framework is focused on meeting individual needs via readiness groups for all levels of students. While the teacher is meeting with readiness groups, based upon the on-going assessment conducted during Clipboard Cruising, [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T5nZmevfxY[/youtube] students are working on Choice Boards. A large portion of a Choice Board or Menu of Options may be the projects students are developing.

When will my students have time to share? When planning for a unit of study, a quarter, or a semester, you will plan for and schedule the presenting and sharing the information. The same way you schedule district tests and events, you schedule presentations and projects.

Are there other ways to combine the small-group instruction in the Tabor Rotation Framework and Project-Based Learning? I believe there are and together (thanks for the challenge, Chris) I can’t wait to find them!

Scavenger Hunt, 3, clue

 

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Homework???

dog ate homework

After spending a day immersed in an initial training at a recent Tabor Rotation Institute, participants placed several sticky notes on the “parking lot” of questions. I promised I’d blog about those questions.

“When do you give homework?”

“When do you check homework?”

“When you’re using math stations and guided readiness groups, how will you have enough time check homework?”

These are valid questions, especially when a teacher or school is beginning to use small-group, differentiated instruction in math using the Tabor Rotation Framework and homework is mandatory. This next question is the one most frequently asked.

“Do you believe in homework and how do you use it with your students?”

A discussion on the belief in homework could encapsulate quite a few hours of heated discussion and debate. I have studied the topic with an open mind and from varied perspectives. (I’ll share some links in this blog.) You can find studies that support many varied views, but most agree on one assertion,

“The quality of homework assignments is more important than the quantity of time students spend on them.”     -Homework Expert, Harris Cooper of Duke University

Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering, in their article, “The Case For and Against Homework” assert that there is great value in the right kind of homework. They support schools making policies that ensure homework will produce learning gains. Here are their general guidelines.

-Assign purposeful homework.
-Assign homework that is likely to be completed.
-Involve parents in appropriate ways.
-Don’t overdo it.
-Follow up with students.

Linda Darling-Hammond and Olivia Ifill-Lynch provide additional insight into effective ways to get students to do their homework in, “If They’d Only Do Their Work.”

Here’s a summary of the key points of their article.

-Assign work that is worth of effort. Teachers should be examining homework assignments and asking questions. What is the purpose of this assignment? Do students have the support to complete it? Does it make sense? Is it necessary? Most important, is it authentic and engaging?

-Make the work doable. Teachers need to make sure that directions are clear  and that the work can be done independently.

-Find out what students need. The goal is to make the process of doing the assignment transparent, concrete, manageable, and as simple as possible. The point is for the student to learn that it feels better to succeed than to fail.

-Create space and time for homework. Some schools have put in place systematic ways of ensuring that students have opportunities to get their schoolwork done in school. As founding principal of Manhattan East Middle School Jacqueline Ancess asserts, “The school needs to make it harder not to do the work than to do it!”

-Make work public. When schools engage students in major projects [or even in minor ones], it is important to show them models of work and exhibitions that meet the standards. This practice helps demystify the work, demonstrates that it can be done, and illustrates how to do it.

-Encourage collaboration. Schools that are organized as supportive learning communities with opportunities for collegial problem solving can better support their students in developing the practices and habits essential to doing schoolwork.

One homework criteria, from Cathy Vatterott’s article, “Five Steps to More Effective Homework,” really made me stop and think.

Decriminalize grading!

“Homework should not cause students to fail. Holding students accountable for homework should mean insisting that they finish rather than giving them a zero.”

The list below provides good guidelines for this.
-Have a zeros aren’t possible policy—all work must be completed.
-Use homework to check for understanding and give feedback.
-Don’t kill motivation or course grades by being too punitive.
-If possible, don’t give grades at all; give credit for completion only, not correctness or accuracy.
-Count homework for 10 percent or less of final grades.
-Be somewhat lenient on lateness; allow re-dos or give incomplete until the work is finished.

Vatterott’s work is worth reading and gives many more ideas for making sure homework is not only done, but contributes greatly to learning.

The research provided in this blog was put there to help you, your students, and the parents understand how to make homework as meaningful and purposeful as possible. But, you may still have the same concerns that some participants have at the end of a Tabor Rotation Institute Training.

Teachers who are trained how to transform their classroom using the Tabor Rotation Framework really don’t want me to share the research or quote the theorists. Most are required by their departments, schools, or districts. What most teachers want are some answers, they want to know how I incorporated homework into a classroom that is student-centered and focused on engagement instead of rote practice.

Below are suggestions that have proven to be highly successful with students who use Tabor Rotation and are accustomed to engaging and meaningful instruction. It’s what I did with my students.

*Make deadlines flexible. I assign a week or unit of homework/productive practice all at the same time with a final turn-in date. I give specific dates for certain homework items to be completed and brought into class so that students have practice with concepts that build on each other.By giving the homework assignments all together it allows those students who  have varying commitments to complete the homework when their schedules allow.

*Give students time to complete homework/productive practice during the school day. I allow students to complete homework during daily warm-ups, during extra study periods, and during choice board selection or independent work. Some students do not have a home environment that is conducive to working on anything and may never finish any work or practice at home. Homework then becomes punitive. This was counter productive and I just didn’t do it! Homework was never more than 10% of their grade.

*Provide the teams with the answers. You don’t need to review all of the problems–just the most important ones. This allows students time to check their work and then move to the discussion of which ones were most challenging and which ones were the simplest. The discussion and the process of their learning was more important to me than having all the right answers.

*Make homework collaborative. If my students spent time working, then I wanted them to be able to share it with someone else besides me and receive feedback from their peers, too. Before checking homework, I have students work with their partner and share the most challenging problem and the simplest problem from their homework and why they found it challenging or simple. I encourage discussion on how they solved the most challenging problem or the steps they took in attempting to solve it. Students should be able to ask for assistance from their partner or another member of their team.

*Use homework results as part of Guided Readiness Group Instruction. I conduct progress monitoring using Passports, Clipboard Cruising, Exit Questions, and formative assessments. I use this information to form Readiness Groups during Phase 3 of Tabor Rotation, but homework results should also be used. You can also circulate and use teachable moments during Homework Check.

*Ensure homework is interesting and purposeful. I always make some portion of the homework assignment have a purpose beyond rote practice. I make sure that it is used for something outside of class. I also put a social component into the homework that encourages purposeful interaction with a family member or with a team member.

*Make sure the students can do the work independently. My rule of thumb was “if it takes you more than the amount of time we spent on it in class, then record your efforts and bring it in to discuss. Homework isn’t purposeful or productive when it becomes painful to my student and/or their parents.

As I think about my years of assigning homework, there is one consistent truth. No student has ever come back and thanked me for giving them homework. They come back to thank me for making school fun, meaningful, purposeful, and engaging. They thank me for all the cool things we did that didn’t even seem like work. They tell me they remember everything we did like it was yesterday.

I’m going to take that to mean the homework was pretty good, too!

What is the Rest of the Class Doing?

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or to accept the responsibility for changing them.”     -Denis Waitley

application menu, Farrell (2)

The first challenge of differentiated Readiness Groups, based on your students’ level of understanding of skills and concepts, is realizing that all students deserve the opportunity to move further ahead in their depth of understanding. This is Phase Three of the Tabor Rotation Framework and typically occurs on Days 4 and 5 of a week of Tabor Rotation.

The second challenge, for most teachers, is figuring out meaningful, respectful, and qualitatively challenging ways of engaging the remainder of the students while the teacher is guiding the math readiness groups. Choice Boards are an excellent option.

What is a choice board? Essentially, a Choice Board is an outline of instructional options that are targeted toward important learning goals and are based on the state standards for the students’ grade level/subject. The teacher directs the process, but they are called “Choice” Boards because students are given some type of control or choice over their selections. This choice includes the items that most appeal to them and the order of completion.

Choice Boards typically have nine cells or spaces. This Choice Board Template is differentiated or tiered based upon the student’s level of understanding. I worked with a group of high school and junior high students to develop the names for the levels: Novice, Pro, Master. They felt these were descriptive but not demeaning.

This example of a Choice Board or Choice Menu was developed by a secondary level teacher. It includes options that must be completed by all students (a Check for Understanding and turned in for a grade), requires completion of the Passport to the Tabor Rotation Stations, and then selection of at least 5 assignments. The teacher also asked that the students select one choice from each column and that their choices equal at least 12 points.

This high school teacher, who strongly believed in small-group instruction at all levels, said her Algebra II Honor students loved this type of Choice Board and felt greatly empowered when they began to work independently. The Choice Menu also gave their teacher time to work with her Algebra II Honors students to move each level (approaching, at, above) ahead in the curriculum.

Tabor Teachers have also found the “Menu” Selection to be an exciting way to provide choices for their students. Chris Tienken, in a presentation to Keansburg, New Jersey Schools, shared some excellent examples. I like that students all have to do the “Main Dish” activities, select two of the “Side Dish” activities, and then may choose optional “Desserts” if they finish their other choices. Take a look at Chris’ slide show presentation to learn more about “Menus” and differentiated instruction in general.

What if you want to hold Guided Math Readiness Groups and are ready for Phase Three of Tabor Rotation, but creating a 9-Cell Choice Board is simply too much to think about right now. I like the adaptations suggested by Carol Ann Tomlinson in her book, Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom. I’ve also added a few of my own adaptations that have worked well with my larger, more diverse classes.

  • Allow students to complete any 3 tasks in the order they choose.
  • Assign students a few specific tasks based on readiness and tasks everyone completes.
  • Base the Choice Board on students’ learning styles or learning preferences. This example with column headings was developed by a primary school based on varying modalities.
  • For those students who are less independent, allow them to work with a partner and teach them how to scaffold support for one another without “doing the work” for each other.
  • Assign the more complicated choices to a student who becomes the “Master of the Task.” Explain how to complete the assignment to that one student and write their name next to the task. If a student doesn’t know how to do it, they go to the “Master of the Task,” not you, for assistance.
  • Provide answer keys so students can check their own work. I typically asked students to check their partner’s work, not their own.
  • Create a Choice Board that will last for 2-3 weeks or an entire unit of study instead of just one week.

If you’re looking for more ideas for creating Choice Boards, key search words are Choice Menu, Learning Menus, Tic-Tac-Toes, Tic-Tac-Toe Menus, Custom Boards, Tiered Activities, and Extension Organizers. When you and your team are in the planning process for a unit or quarter of instruction, you will be able to find a plethora of examples. Some will be accurate and some will not, so be sure to read and to complete the choices (Yes, someone on your team needs to complete each of the activities before giving them to your students.)

Below are just a few of the websites that will help you in your journey to create meaningful and engaging independent activities. You will find many more websites or pins linked to all of these websites. Your dilemma may not be how to find a Choice Board, but which ones are best for your class’ needs.

https://daretodifferentiate.wikispaces.com/Choice+Boards

http://tobytheteacher.wikispaces.com/Choice+Boards

http://www.pinterest.com/tahamati/choice-board/

http://quality.cr.k12.ia.us/DI/DI_ChoiceBoards.html

“You can’t make positive choices for the rest of your life without an environment that makes those choices easy, natural, and enjoyable.”     -Deepak Chopra

Final quote for those of you who are concerned about your first efforts in using Choice Boards with your class,

“As a child, my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”     -Buddy Hackett

 

Why Teach Guided Math?

“We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right – one after the other, no slipups, no goofs, everyone pitching in.”     -Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

Buffet, 5.12.14

The antique in the picture above reminded me, once again, of the importance of teacher-guided, small-group instruction in math. I know, it’s probably tangential thinking like a 1st grader, but let me explain.

This buffet has been in my husband’s family for over a hundred years. It is made of solid wood in a mission style. It was built in the late 1880’s and has the most interesting and distinctive marks on it. One of the marks was made from an old-fashioned flat iron that was accidentally left on the surface. The triangular mark is a commentary on history, especially when most of my students have never even used an iron. (And, no, as I explained to an 8th grader the other day, there isn’t an app for that!)

The part of the buffet that has stood out to me for years isn’t it’s workmanship, the grain in the wood, or its history. It is the fact that one of the doors just would not stay closed. We tried propping up one side of the doors with a shim. This held the door in place for a while, but then someone would open the door, the shim would fall out, and the door would flop open again.  We tried propping up one of the legs of the buffet. This just made the piece look odd. For over ten years, we have used twist ties, twine, rope, rubber bands, stretchy wrist bands, slap bands…just about anything that was conveniently nearby when the door popped open.

A few months ago, the buffet was moved to a different room and we decided to store other items in it. I was putting some things away in the cabinet space behind the doors last week and dropped a placemat on the floor. I looked at that buffet from a different angle and in a different light.

Buffet door

That’s when I noticed something on the top part of the “always open” door. Instead of finding a quick fix, I began to look at the door. There was something on the top edge I had never noticed before. It was a small piece of metal that had been covered over with dust and paint. Hmm!

After decades of banding the door shut I realized that we had never looked for the cause. We just assumed it was just old and not repairable. I got a flashlight and looked underneath the edge of the cabinet. Sure enough, under the edge of the cabinet was an indention where a magnet used to be. With a new magnet in place, the door closes and stays closed without any effort. I just needed to look closer at the cause instead of using the quickest and easiest fix.

Buffet door closed

The connection?

If teachers only use whole-group instruction, worksheets, and meaningless activities when teaching mathematical concepts, they may never find the cause of the challenges a student is facing.

Without small-group instruction, a teacher may never realize that a student has great computational skills, but has simply memorized one step in the algorithmic procedure incorrectly.

If a student is never given the opportunity to explain their thinking, then their brilliant spatial intelligence may never be cultivated by anyone.

My discovery helped me enjoy an antique instead of finding it irritating—what a small thing compared to what happens in a classroom. Taking the time to look under the surface, to actively listen to your students, to use engaging strategies, to give them a time to share their thinking with you and each other in a guided, small-group setting is invaluable. And, it will probably change your students’ lives forever.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”     -Dr. Seuss