Catching My Breath


How is it that we’re 6 weeks into the school year and this is my first time blogging?! It could be the fact we were out three days last week due to Hurricane Irma and the following two days were a whirlwind. Or the start of a personalized learning format has been taxing. I feel as though I haven’t been able to catch my breath.

My First Two Weeks

I wanted my Math Enrichment classes to be a place students wanted to come and learn math. I wanted it to be a place where they knew they had a voice and flexibility with a balance of structure. So we spent the first two weeks establishing our routines and procedures.

We had flexible seating in our classroom. Seats were assigned using playing cards. Students would enter the classroom, place their book bags near the door, find their seats and read the Daily Message. It worked well for us. Students never fought over who would sit where and they would have all materials needed for class before I was done greeting the last student.

Because students would work independent of my instruction, we needed clear expectations. What better way than for students to set the expectation for themselves. So each class participated in their own affinity map activity.

Each class had their own unique set of expectations in which they were held to during self guided work time. Of course I had to remind some that they in fact set the expectation they we currently not meeting. Ownership goes a long way.

The Work Began Week Three

We didn’t begin jumping into content until the 3rd week of school. The personalized learning curriculum developed for my course has 4 levels for each unit. I had all students begin at level 1.

Each day we were to complete self guided assignments, students would complete our goal setting form before diving into the assignments. At the end of the work session, students would complete a reflection form.

I was in a groove, and 5 weeks into the year, I was informed I was moving to 7th grade…

The Best Laid Plans…


For me, formative assessment is not just one of the latest buzz words I use to sound like I know what I’m doing. It’s what I actually use to “know” what I’m doing. Without feedback from my students I feel like I’m walking in the dark, alone. 
So I formatively assessment more often than our required Friday CFAs, common formative assessments. 

In addition to the ticket out the door, observation rubrics, FALs and FAs of that sort (which never, ever count for a grade and still my students do them without griping or apathy…but I digress) I use weekly concept quizzes to capture student understanding of the concept of focus for the week. These are entered into the gradebook. 

Here lately, I’ve been using Google Forms to create my quizzes which provide a wonderful spreadsheet to which I can add conditional formatting that gives me this look to easily identify students’ levels of understanding. 

Therefore, as I go through a unit, I have a pretty good idea of who will show mastery on the common assessment (our unit test) and who will need more time before reaching mastery. This year, the FAs and CQs have been accurate. That was until this Unit 6 assessment. Although all signs pointed to majority of the students showing mastery, this data proved differently. 

Yikes!!  My knee jerk reaction was to have students complete test corrections, discuss common misunderstandings as a class, get student feedback on the test and reassess. The retest results further proved the lack of sense making of written scenarios and the confusion between rate of change and initial value on a graph. 

Does this prove that formative assessments aren’t useful and don’t help prepare students for success? Not at all. Is this an opportunity to reflect, adjust and grow as an educator to help my students be successful? Hell yes (sorry mom). This is clearly an instructors error as proven by the data from both the FAs and the CA. As we build more understanding by looking at this concept through a different lens, I’ll post about our accomplishments. 

No Regrets


The end of the year is fast approaching, which prompts continual reflection for me. I can honestly say I have no regrets. I wouldn’t change anything, I would only make adjustments. 

Standards Based Grading

Provide a rubric and explanation of the standards for parents in terms they can understand. 


Incorporate the observation rubric more. Less papers you have to grade for formative assignments (required by district). 


Emphasize backwards design. This will help determine what needs to be emphasized “instructionally” and what does not. This will also help me balance conceptual understanding with procedural fluency. 

Mastery Assessments

Have 3 options for demonstration of understanding. Make it quick (use of technology), concise and manageable (this I’m still thinking through). 


Incorporate more of it. Think of building conceptual understanding and practice like tasty lemonade, it has to have the right blend of lemonade flavor, sugar and water. Conceptual understanding, problem solving and practice or procedural fluency. 

Community Circle

Be more consistent and don’t be afraid to try with all classes. 

Small Groups

Don’t get stuck on having accountability pieces. 
Always remember we are teaching mathematics so it can be applied outside of the school setting as well. We are developing thinkers and problem solvers. Students (and parents) may be resistant in the beginning, which could be due to their inability to see the big picture. We must still push on, plant the seeds and water our crops. Teach without regrets, reflect and make adjustments. 
This post dedicated to Pam White. 

3 Things I Learned from Hitting a Wall


Last Thursday I hit a wall. After two weeks of working on writing expressions within small group rotation, I realized the kids were still missing it. Well actually, it was I who was missing it. With quiet time and prayer, reflection and conversations with my husband, I learned 3 key things.

1. I need to listen to what my students are saying.

My husband challenged me to ask my students what they felt was working for them and what wasn’t. When I inquired their opinion of small group, the responses were enlightening.

Students expressed they struggled with using Edmodo for numerous reasons. From login fumbles to computer hiccups to not understanding the layout fully which caused frustration among many.

Not understanding the purpose of games was shocking to me. Although I felt I had discussed their purpose it still was not evident to the students. When I compared playing the games to completing 10-20 practice problems, many lightbulbs turned on.

The biggest aha moment was when the students said, “when we’re doing independent work we need someone right here (patting the desk next to them) to help us get there it!” Even with a mini-lesson and modifying the tasks, it still wasn’t enough for them to think through it without explicit guidance.

Solution: Be explicit with connections. List the learning targets for small group instructions so students know which one they are practicing. Showing them how the mini lessons connect to the independent practice by literally showing them the task ahead of time. Once the mini lesson is finished, I’ll show them how it is setup just like the task. My hope is that it’ll begin to build their confidence in the idea of “oh this is familiar or I can do this”. Gradual release…
And vary the technology. If they’re frustrated with one aspect, they’ll begin to surf the web for other things.


2. It can take more than 21 days to break a habit.

It’s been 7 years of procedural teaching, where the correct answer was the only thing you needed to know. 7 years of synapses pathways carved out in their brains from doing the same thing over and over again. Although I knew this, it wasn’t until my quiet time that I finally accepted that fact.

We’ve been engaging in tasks, doing Number Talks, implementing the SMPs and yet they revert back to their old way of thinking. The bible says to change the way you thinking by the renewing of your mind. This renewing has to be daily and it takes time.

My goal of October to have students at the point of those who’ve had conceptual teaching for years had come and gone. The picture I painted in my mind had been splattered with red paint. It was time to paint a new picture.

3. I lost sight of the ultimate goal.

When I reflected and thought deeply about what caused my break down, I had a hard reality to face. In that moment, I cared more about what the naysayers would think rather than why the kids weren’t getting it. Ugh…

There are many teachers out there who believe if a student understands the procedure, they understand the concept. They feel conceptual understanding is pointless and look for opportunities to say “I told you so” when other practices seem to fail (purely my opinion). In my head there was someone watching me in the dark shadows ready to jump out and say, “Ha! Your way doesn’t work.”

Solution: Refocus on what’s important. They’re farther than they were at the beginning of the year, so you know they will continue to grow from where they are now.

Note to Self…


How to grade for learning is so important. I’ve shifted over the years as I learned what’s important to include in the grade and what is not. Now, students’ grades are solely based on their demonstration of their understanding. I don’t deduct points if they write in pen. I don’t take off if the assignment is late. And I do not give extra credit.

Currently, students decide which assignment they want scored from work collected in their portfolio from Wednesday to Wednesday. I use the rubric created using the Standards of Mathematical Practice and record the score in the grade book. How I manage the various assignments turned in, I list them as checkpoint 1, checkpoint 2 and so on.

Note to self, stating 2nd quarter, why not log the score in the grade book using the learning target it addresses. So all assignments and scores relating to simplifying expressions will be entered under the target “simplifying expressions”. This will ensure the information record is accurate to how the student is performing on specific learning targets.


Ideas spawned from reading this book.

Lessons from a Go-Go Hypeman


Back when I lived in Maryland, I would listen to Go-Go music.  When I think back on my days as a “fan” this line always comes to mind is “Hold up, stop, pause, quit, change the bass and funk it up a little bit!”

Go-Go music, born and raised in Washington D.C.

I had to do just that with my instruction in my classroom.  With a moment to reflect, I realized my approach was not meeting my students where they were.  So how could I get them to where they needed to go if I didn’t first meet them where they were?

The Change Up

With my small group instruction, I implemented group captains, one person who would be the point of contact for their group.  The captain had to ensure several things, they needed to ensure their group was on task and they needed to make themselves available to answer questions of the group members.  In selecting group captains I had several strategies.  I chose students who were normally off task, I felt by being in charged they would be motivated to be on point.  I chose students who love to play in the background while the more assertive students take charge, in hopes they would have an opportunity to be assertive.  And I chose students who were natural leaders, which is pretty self explanatory.  

In addition to the group captains, I began rewarding the groups who were on tasks throughout the rotations.  Often times the students who do the right things are over looked because of the students exhibiting the negative behaviors.  I believe this is called positive reinforcement.  These ideas proved successful with most but not all.  I’m not ready to give up on that idea because it’s only been a week.

Go Slow To Go Fast

My good friend @turtletoms often says profound things, one of them being “You have to go slow to go fast”.  My toughest group, my 2nd academic class is a prime example of this statement.  They struggled the most being on task when doing everything except working out of a textbook.  Yes, I had them work from a textbook one day to show them what their year could look like.  Needless to say, they didn’t want to continue to do it.  Turtle reminded me of the importance of building stamina.  Fast forward to 2nd academic, our group rotations are 5-7 minutes long and in between each rotation students are given a 1 minute brain break to talk before getting refocused.  We had a discussion about what it means to build stamina and why they needed to do it.  The students were very candid about their experiences in math class prior to this year which was different from what they are experiencing this year (Thanks Evelyn Hines for this idea). This strategy was very successful.  By the end of the week I had students asking if they work through the brain break time, of course you can!!  As we continue through the unit and year, I will begin to add more time in which students should be focused.

Please stay tune as the journey continues.