Fostering Student Independence in Math Workshop

Picture this. Your students have been introduced to CueThink through whole group and small group lessons. They have worked through various thinklets with partners or with the help of you as the teacher. Their problem solving and critical thinking skills are booming. Their voice recorded explanations are becoming stronger and their peer to peer annotations are becoming more meaningful each day. It is time to finally let your students work through a thinklet independently, during math workshop.

But then you hear it. That one sentence that makes you rethink all your hard work and countless times modeling lessons…. “What do I do in this phase again?” With that one sentence, you suddenly feel defeated and worried that your students aren’t ready to work through a problem on their own. This is how many teachers at my school felt during the transition from whole class or small guided math group lessons to self-regulated work stations. Many of the teachers at my school realized that students still needed some additional support when working through a thinklet on their own.

As a school, we decided that we needed some type of graphic organizer or resource that students could reference that laid out the expectations and requirements for each individual phase. We had worked with the students modeling what each phase should look like and we brainstormed what strong annotations and recordings sound like. Yet, students still needed more supervision when it came time to solving a problem during math centers.  They needed something to function as a memory jogger when they were asked to work independently on a thinklet. The graphic organizer we created can be used for self-reflection or as a checklist for students to use as they move through completing a problem.

After seeing an awesome anchor chart on a twitter post, we were able to take some of their expectations and combine them with the language we used in the classroom to take the blank graphic organizer and create a version with recommendations for each phase. This tool explains, in a few kid-friendly steps, what the expectations are for each phase. We included a visual of important buttons or tools so even our younger students could access this resource. Teachers were encouraged to give individual copies of this resource to students to glue into their math notebook or print a larger version to hang at their computer center. This organizer can be adapted to meet the needs of older students by adding more detail or take away some of the language and add more visuals for the younger students

“ CueThink Guidelines for 4 Phases ” exemplar graphic organizer

CueThink Guidelines for 4 Phases” exemplar graphic organizer

Overall, we have found it to be such a simple resource, but one that has made a big impact. Many of the teachers using this organizer happily report that their students are working more independently. They are creating higher quality thinklets without having to stop and interrupt their teacher’s guided math group. Hopefully, you find this resource helpful too!

Melanie Curto is the math specialist at Navy Elementary School in Fairfax, VA.  She holds a Masters in Education from James Madison University, and has taught 1st, 2nd, and 4th grade. Melanie was first introduced to CueThink as part of a pilot program at her school in 2016. Outside of school, Melanie enjoys reading, watching Netflix, and spending time outside with her family.

Portrait of a Graduate

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I am increasingly intrigued by the Portrait of a Graduate movement. As a teacher trainer with my heart and soul in the classroom, Portrait of a Graduate provides teachers, administrators, and stakeholders with a clear picture of the dreams we hold for our students and the tools to develop a road map to get there.

The Battelle for Kids, a national not-for-profit group, has been working with school districts and their communities empowering them to create learning systems for the 21st century student (Battelle, 2019). Their website provides school-based communities the means to facilitate the discussion about who are their students, what it means to be a successful graduate in the 21st century and how do we build learning environments that support this success.

Portrait of a Graduate uses a unique design process led by superintendents and other school leaders, teachers and stakeholders. This process allows stakeholders to build a conversation about their learning community and future directions based on elements developed by the participants. The focus of the conversation is on students. They are the epicenter of the conversation.

Portrait of a Graduate pushes educators to think and plan for the long term success of students. As a teacher, I am a present being. The demands of my classroom require my undivided focus on the moment. My clients - my students - are “in the moment.” Yet, Portrait of a Graduate is future thinking. Because of this intentional focus, the outcomes are profound. Through focusing on the “who”, the students and their skills, their lives, their dreams - results - fall into place. Decisions come into a clear focus: how we fund our schools, how we approach instructional decisions, conversations about equity, and hiring practices. Resources are built around the future needs of the students.

The true power of Portrait of a Graduate is attention to future thinking throughout students’ school career. It is a commitment by a community that students will graduate with skills that will allow them to be active participants in our world. The impact on the “old ways” of thinking can be transformative.

Image created with language from the following school districts: Cucamonga, Breckinridge, Shrewsbury, Fairfax County, Jefferson County, Katy Independent, River-Vale, Humboldt, Pike County, Saline

Image created with language from the following school districts: Cucamonga, Breckinridge, Shrewsbury, Fairfax County, Jefferson County, Katy Independent, River-Vale, Humboldt, Pike County, Saline

I spent some time thinking about the language used in the Portrait of a Graduate vision statements. I used the language from ten different school districts from the Portrait of a Graduate website to create a word cloud and this is what I found:

The thought interconnections were striking. I was amazed to see the similarities across these schools and districts. These were districts from all regions of the United States.  One of the most noticeable patterns was the Social and Emotional Learning concepts and skills found throughout the vision statements. It was the prevalent theme that each district articulated as critical to the portrait of their community’s graduate.

Works Cited

“A First Step in Transforming Your School System.” Portrait of a Graduate, www.portraitofagraduate.org/.

“Learning Together.” Battelle For Kids, www.battelleforkids.org/.

Set Instructional Goals Using The Rubric Summary

In the blog, Using the CueThink Rubric, evaluating student work at a deeper level by analyzing the key skills within each phase was discussed. But the benefits of using the rubric don’t stop there.

The data from the CueThink Rubric is funneled into a Rubric Summary to present an aggregate of students’ scores. This view supports you in setting your next instructional goal and planning targeted instruction.

Navigate the Rubric Summary

The Rubric Summary is found under the Reports menu of Educator Mode. Scores from the the problem you most recently assessed are displayed in the Rubric Summary. You can see scores from previous problems by using the dropdown menu (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Rubric Summary displays scores of the most recently assessed problem.

Fig. 1: Rubric Summary displays scores of the most recently assessed problem.

In the center table, the number of noticing and wonderings students entered appears first. Then, the rest of the table displays how many students received a score of Yes, Partially, or Not Yet for each criterion of the rubric. Select the numbers in blue to view a list of students who received that score (Fig. 2).

To the right of the summary table, you can view student-specific notes and scores for each phase. Toggle between the phases or select Total to view students’ total score (Fig. 3).  

Fig. 2: Numbers in blue list students who received Yes, Partially, and Not Yet scores.

Fig. 2: Numbers in blue list students who received Yes, Partially, and Not Yet scores.

Fig. 3: Student-specific notes and scores for each phase.

Fig. 3: Student-specific notes and scores for each phase.

Select Your Next Goal

When you task students to solve a problem in CueThink, plan a problem-solving goal. This way, the Rubric Summary will help you identify how well students met your objective.

For example, if your focus is improving students’ written plan to contain a clear procedure and explanation, the breakdown of scores will help you determine your next goal. Such as:

  • If most of the class received scores of Partially or Not Yet, continue to strengthen students’ written plans.

  • If most of the class received scores of Yes, look at the criteria for a different phase for trends in the Partially and Not Yet scores to select your next instructional focus.  

Fig. 4: Phase-specific notes and Fig. 5: Student groupings

Fig. 4: Phase-specific notes and Fig. 5: Student groupings

Plan Your Next Steps

Once you identify your next goal, use phase-specific notes (Fig. 4) and student groupings (Fig. 5) to plan targeted instruction for small groups, or, for whole class instruction.

Let’s return to our written plan example, where most of the class received Partially or Not Yet scores. Do your notes indicate most students need to work on writing a plan? If so, then your next mini-lesson could be whole class instruction on how to write a plan. Using an exemplar plan and the Expectations for Written Plans resource, ask students to formulate criteria that should Always, Sometimes and Never be part of a written plan. Look at the list of students whose scores are Yes and your phase-specific notes to identify exemplar work. Using student work emphasizes peer-to-peer learning and saves you time.

Let’s Sum It Up

The Rubric Summary helps you identify class-wide trends and set your next problem-solving goal. You may find the need to select the same objective for a few problems to give students time and practice improving their skills. Additionally, it’s also not uncommon to revisit a goal a few months later as a refresher for students. The key is to provide students with direct instruction to improve their problem-solving process over time.

View the Learning Hub Unit on Introducing CueThink to students for tips on how to work with students on each phase.


Social and Emotional Learning and CueThink: A Perfect Match! - Part 2

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In our previous blog post, we showed how CueThink bridges the concepts and skills of Math with the soft skills needed to be a successful learner. "Using CASEL’s five SEL competencies, teachers can plan lessons that deepen content understanding and utilize the soft skills needed to become truly accomplished learners.” (CASEL, 2017)     

In this second of two blog postings, we continue to explore the last three competencies: Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-making through the lens of CueThink’s four phases of problem-solving.

Competency 3: Social Awareness

CASEL defines social awareness as “effective participation in all educational activities, including Mathematics...to understand and observe important social norms of the class, recognize there are diverse approaches to the problem-solving, and understand that the approaches of others can help us identify new and improved strategies ourselves. Further, empathy and perspective-taking are critical skills when applying mathematical reasoning to real-world problems.” (CASEL, 2017 p.2)

How CueThink Helps Build Student Social Awareness

CueThink develops positive classroom norms around the process of problem-solving. Through the use of peer-to-peer interactions, students learn to have powerful conversations. This structure helps students take perspectives and ultimately leads to developing an understanding of others’ viewpoints. Having students review and annotate each other's thinklets  can build greater awareness. Students can ask:

  • What did I do well when I solved this problem?

  • What do I need to work on? Did I read my annotations?

  • How did others solve the problem? What can I use the next time?  

In CueThink, help students use the following social awareness strategies:

  • Use peer-to-peer learning through annotations as a means to explore different perspectives

  • Show students the embedded sentence prompts located in annotations to help prompt student responses

3-Part Annotations Guide

Statement Specific Example Question
I noticed... Your... was... How did you know...?
Could you explain more about..?
Why did you decide...?
I noticed you used a picture to help you solve the problem. Your picture was of the 5 kids and you drew different colored lines to show who was shaking hands. Could you explain more about how the picture helped you not double count handshakes?
I noticed you double checked your work. You double checked your work by making a table. How did you know a table would help you double check?


Competency 4: Relationship Skills

How success is defined in mathematics, as well as other academic areas, is based on how well you listen, ask questions, and seek help when you are stuck on a problem. Active learning and focusing on cooperative strategies are critical to school success. (CASEL, 2017 p.2)

How CueThink Helps Build Student Relationship Skills

CueThink tools support students in building relationship skills in a variety of ways throughout each of the four-phase process. As students work together, the classroom becomes an environment with a problem-solving focus based on relationship skills. Using sentence frames with language that fosters problem-solving conversation brings students’ understanding to a whole new level. This is how relationship skills are cultivated. Encourage students to ask:

  • What kind of feedback did I give: was it a compliment or did I make a suggestion too?  

  • Did I use exemplar thinklets to help extend my thinking?

In CueThink, help students use the following relationship skills strategies:

Competency 5: Responsible Decision-making

Becoming thoughtful decision makers is a critical part of becoming an effective learner. “Mathematics assumes that students will have the basic ability to evaluate options and make effective decisions to complete assignments.” (CASEL, 2017 p.2)

How CueThink Helps Build Student Responsible Decision-making

CueThink goes beyond math as a drill activity. Through interactions around problem-solving, students make decisions about how to solve and present a problem to others. The ability to ask questions and make decisions based on the answers is at the heart of this competency. Questions students can ponder include:

  • How can I solve this problem?

  • What steps do I need to take?

  • What language will make the most sense?

  • How will the listener understand and make sense of my ideas?

  • How do I evaluate my process?

In CueThink, help students use the following responsible decision-making strategies:

  • Model good decision making through the use of the four-phase process

  • Have students use Bloom’s Taxonomy sentence prompts to evaluate and set criteria for feedback

CueThink users: Don’t forget to use Community Forum within the CueThink application to add any ideas you might have! In Educator Mode go to Support>Community Forum and select the category, Classroom Tips to share your questions and activities.

If you don’t have an account, we encourage you to register for a free trial account and explore the product further.

Interested in learning more? Join us for a live webinar about Social Emotional Learning in the Math Classroom on April 23 at 12pm, or April 25 at 9pm. Click the button below to register.

Works Cited

“Core SEL Competencies.” CASEL, https://casel.org/what-is-sel/

“SEL in Elementary Math – CASEL District Resource Center.” CASEL District Resource Center, https://drc.casel.org/resources/sel-in-elementary-math/


Using the CueThink Rubric to Evaluate Thinklets

In our Tips For Viewing Student Data blog, we discussed how setting problem-solving goals and using embedded data views can help you manage viewing student work. To evaluate student work at a deeper level, the embedded CueThink Rubric guides you in analyzing the key skills within each phase.

Use The Rubric While Viewing Student Work  

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When viewing a student thinklet, along the far right is a teacher toolbar with three icons. Select the middle icon to access the CueThink Rubric. As you open the CueThink Rubric, the question displayed below the thinklet automatically swipes left to reveal students’ work from the Understand and Plan phases.

The Rubric contains a section for each of the four phases. Within each section are guiding prompts related to the problem solving skills of the phase. Each prompt can be assessed as correct: “Yes, Partially or Not Yet.” Additionally, you can record phase-specific notes. An aggregate display of students’ scores and notes are visible in Reports > Rubric Summary.

Final scores from the rubric are displayed in the Class Progress page. Scores are calculated as a fraction of the score students earned, over the total possible points based on the number of prompts assessed. For example, if you only assess the Understand phase and a student scores all 1s, then the final score will be 3/6. But if you grade a student using the entire rubric and he only earns 1s, then his score will be 10/20. This allows you to flexibly use the rubric as discussed below.

Focus On One Phase Or Use The Entire Rubric

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Depending on your learning goals, decide if it’s necessary for you to complete the entire rubric for each student thinklet you view.

For example, if your goal is for students to explain how they are going to use their selected strategies in their written plan, then just focus on the Plan section of the rubric.

Use the whole rubric for summative assessments or to gain a holistic view of students’ problem-solving process. From that information, you can identify students’ strengths, misconceptions and determine the next problem-solving skill to focus on with students.  

Add notes on each student’s thinklet as you evaluate with the CueThink Rubric. Entering notes will help you:

  • Clarify how well each student met your goal

  • Note mistakes and misconceptions for scores of Partially or Not Yet

  • Identify areas where students are struggling

The CueThink Rubric helps you evaluate students’ problem-solving skills. Set goals to focus your analysis of students’ work and use of the rubric. The key is to determine which parts of the CueThink Rubric will best inform your understanding of student thinking.