Social and Emotional Learning and CueThink: A Perfect Match! - Part 1

From CASEL Core       Competencies

From CASEL Core Competencies

How can we bridge the concepts and skills of Math with the soft skills needed to be a successful learner? The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has been a leader in the area of Social and Emotional Learning development of students. 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 first of two blog postings, we will explore two of the competencies and how teachers can use CueThink to bring problem-solving to life. In the second blog post, we will explore the competencies of social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

Competency 1: Self-Awareness

Self-awareness refers to the ability to recognize one’s emotion and accurately gauge one’s own self-perception. Understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses in a situation and the feeling of self-confidence that accompanies this is at the core of this competency. (CASEL, 2017)

How CueThink Helps Build Student Self-Awareness

Students often believe that there is only one way to solve a problem. Becoming aware that there are multiple ways of solving a problem help students develop feelings of self-confidence. Rather than focusing on right or wrong, students can view problem-solving as an activity that expands understanding.

In CueThink, help students use the following self-awareness strategies:

  • Develop shared expectations and rules around problem-solving and acceptance of multi-responses.

  • Foster an appreciation of the different rates at which students work.

  • Use annotations to facilitate the practice of academic feedback between students.

  • Conduct discussions on what worked and what didn’t work as students solved problems.

Competency 2: Self-Management

Self-management of one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors is the key to successful learning experiences. The ability to self-regulate and manage stress and impulses allow students to access concepts. Self-management is about goal-setting and organization. It leads to a self-motivated student. (CASEL, 2017)

How CueThink Helps Students to Build Self-Management Skills

The four phases of problem-solving and the design of CueThink provides students with a natural way to organize work. Each of the phases assists students in building a system of organized thinking and goal setting.  CueThink leads students to become independent thinkers and problem-solvers.

In CueThink, help students use the following self-management strategies:

  • Have students create a list of steps on how to solve a problem

  • Help students identify when they are frustrated and name ways to solve the issue

  • Use a think-aloud to illustrate your strategies when confronted with a difficult problem (for example, When I have difficulty solving a problem, I …)

  • Have students use a turn and talk with question prompts: “Last time I had trouble I did________________________. It helped because______________.”

In the next blog post, the 3 other competencies of social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making will be discussed.

CueThink users: Don’t forget to go our Community Forum within the CueThink Platform to add any ideas you might have! Go to Educator Mode>Support>Community Forum 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.

Works Cited

“Core SEL Competencies.” CASEL,

“SEL in Elementary Math – CASEL District Resource Center.” CASEL District Resource Center,

Tips For Viewing Student Data In CueThink

After students create a thinklet in the CueThink application, you have on hand a wealth of data that provides rich insights into student thinking. But how do you efficiently review student work in a way that is not time consuming, yet allows you to identify your next instructional steps?

Set a problem-solving goal to focus your review of students’ thinklets

When you select a problem, identify a goal that can relate directly to one of the four phases, the prompts in the embedded CueThink rubric, or lesson plans provided in CueThink’s Resource Bank.

Once you have a clear objective, focus your review of student work on the skills related to it. For example, your problem-solving goal can focus on students’ success with unpacking the problem by “Noticing and Wondering”. Then, you would only review students’ work in the Understand phase. In this way, setting goals when you select a problem makes reviewing student work less time consuming and more manageable.

It can be tempting to want to review all phases for all problems, but remember that setting goals with students to refine one piece of their problem solving process over time will yield high quality thinklets by the end of the school year!

Scan students’ work in the four phases using the Class Progress bar

Before you even select a student’s thinklet to view, use the progress bar in the Data: Overview page of Reports > Class Progress to quickly scan the completion level of students’ thinklets.


White means the student did not complete any fields in that phase at all.

Light blue means some, but not all, fields in that phase have been completed by the student.

Dark blue mean all possible fields in that phase are complete.

Review only the thinklets that are fully completed, or have the phase aligning to your problem-solving goal completed. Send students back to refine their work for incomplete phases.

Scanning the progress bar can help you identify trends to set your next problem-solving goal. For example, are you noticing most students are skipping the Plan phase, or leaving that phase partially completed?

Look at students’ final answers before deciding which thinklets to review more closely

You can compare students’ final answer to the problem answer right on the Class Progress page. Go to Reports > Class Progress. Change the first filter to “Data: Answers”.

Depending on your goal, you might want to only review incorrect thinklets to look for misconceptions or only review completed thinklets to look for exemplars to share with the class.

If you have CueTeach access, marking students’ final answer of yes, partially, or not yet correct funnels into the thinklet rubric.

Review student thinklets at a certain interval

It’s okay NOT to review every thinklet! Instead, you can review problems at a certain interval. For example, review a thinklet for every third problem a student solves. Sometimes, students need independent practice that is not reviewed by a teacher.  Hold them accountable for quality work by making sure students view and annotate at least two peers’ thinklet for feedback.

When you first collect student data, chances are there will be many areas within problem-solving that your students will need to improve. The key is to focus on refining one area at a time, by setting tangible goals students can achieve. In doing so, you’ll be able to efficiently review student work and identify your next instructional steps.

Observing a CueThink Classroom: A Walkthrough Guide


Today’s administrators are required to be in many places at the same time. They have to constantly size up the different school initiatives and instructional strategies to decide which ones can improve student learning.  We have created a guide to help administrators observe what an active and collaborative math classroom looks like.

A CueThink classroom can lead to reflective conversations about the quality of student thinking as well as the quality of finished products. One way to gain insight into these types of conversations is through classroom walkthroughs.  Walkthroughs provide a snapshot of what is visible in classroom culture in longer than 5 to 10 minutes per class..

Key to a classroom walkthrough is knowing what you're looking for in a classroom. Using a checklist helps facilitate thoughtful conversations with teachers about their practice and the classroom environment. Principal John Skretta (2007) says that “their greatest value is that administrators can use them to gather data, which in turn can be used to prompt and provoke dialogue about instruction between teachers and administrators”  (Protheroe p. 30). Using a walkthrough protocol allows administrators to make the most of their time to understand how a CueThink classroom looks, sounds, and feels like in action.

How does a CueThink classroom feel?

One element of school culture is how classrooms feel. Tangible evidence of school culture (the physical, visual, auditory, or other sensory signs) demonstrate the behaviors of teachers, students, parents, and administrators (Shafer, 2018).  Questions to ask during the walkthrough related to the feel of the classroom environment include:

  • Are the students excited about learning?  

  • Do you want to stay beyond allotted time because it feels like the place to be?  

  • Are students persisting in their work? Are the students working through issues without giving up?  

  • Are they working beyond the frustration of not understanding and learning to take it slow? Are students talking about their challenges and ways to figure them out?

What instructional elements do you see in a CueThink classroom?

The visual aspects of classroom observations give administrators a picture of the instructional and curriculum components.  Thinking about evidence of student learning is not only in the work the student completes but in the process and tools of learning.  

  • What are there observable objectives? What does the student need to know and be able to do in this lesson?

  • What instructional materials and technology are used?

  • Are students engaged?  

  • Is there evidence of flexible student grouping?

What teacher behaviors do you see?

Listening to the quality of school talk in a classroom gives administrators useful data into the effectiveness of instruction. It is a direct link to assessing if the student truly understands the skills and concepts taught. Listening to the student presentations at the Review Phase of CueThink gives data on student thinking that is needed to plan the next instructional steps.

  • Is the teacher encouraging talk about problems and the use of language that facilitates problem-solving?

  • Is the teacher illustrating application, analysis, and creation of new ideas and strategies?

  • Is the teacher modeling problem-solving language and think-alouds to illustrate thinking?

What student behaviors do you see?

John Hattie states that quality feedback is an essential part of visible, active learning. CueThink fosters opportunities to receive three types of feedback: task-oriented, process-oriented and self-regulation. (Hattie and Zierer, p. 85) Conversations led by students are a staple of the CueThink experience.  Students generated questions are compelling data gathering opportunities that document student understanding. Their questions and conversations are indicators of students engaged in a task.

  • How is student engagement taking place?

  • Is student engagement a slow, thoughtful work process that involves challenge and dealing with difficulty?

  • Are the rates that students work differ based on the problem-solving process and skills set of the student?

Using the CueThink Observation Protocol As a Part of Administrative Practice

Printable Observation Protocol

Printable Observation Protocol

The CueThink Observation Protocol provides administrators with information about the power of problem-solving.  A protocol is defined as “A protocol is defined as "agreed-upon guidelines for reading, recording, discussing, or reporting that ensure equal participation and accountability.” (Berger and Libby p. 345) Protocols provide the observer with a means to frame discussions and data to help with instructional planning. The CueThink Observation protocol is a jumping off point for Administrators as a lens to frame the learning experience in the classroom from the teacher and student perspectives.  The information can help determine the effectiveness of the platform and lead to instructional decisions.

Works Cited

Berger, Ron, et al. Learning That Lasts: Engaging, Challenging, and Empowering Students with De. John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

Hattie, John, and Klaus Zierer. 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning: Teaching for Success. Routledge, 2018.

Protheroe, Nancy. The Principal's Playbook: Tackling School Improvement. Educational Research Service, 2010.

“What Makes a Good School Culture?” Harvard Graduate School of Education,

Managing The Quantity of Student Annotations

Have you had the chance to see your students deeply engaged in viewing and annotating their peers’ thinklets? We often hear from teachers how surprised and wow’d they are to see students excited to #makemathsocial and learn from each other.

But let’s think realistically for a moment. If your students regularly annotate each others’ work, that results in a lot of annotations per problem. How then, do you manage reviewing it all to make sure students are annotating appropriately and responsibly?  

The answer is, you shouldn’t have to! Your goal is not to read each annotation. Instead, it’s to develop responsible digital citizens by teaching students how to give appropriate written feedback in an online environment.

Give students ownership over their digital citizenship skills

Creating a supportive community of learners who understand digital citizenship will help take the onus off of you, while giving students the practice they need. Teach students to use the embedded sentence starters.

Fig. 1: When creating an annotation, select the 3 purple dots to access sentence starters.

Fig. 1: When creating an annotation, select the 3 purple dots to access sentence starters.

Show students how to flag inappropriate annotations. When viewing a thinklet, select the 3 white dots by an annotation to flag it. This will empower them to take ownership of the online community they are a part of. The flagging feature automatically hides a selected annotation and sends teachers a notification to review the content.

We want to guide our students closely, especially as they are developing new skills. But sometimes, we need to take the training wheels off and have students give it a go. We’ll still be there to guide them in the ways they need.

Share exemplar annotations from time to time

Students may need reminders on what quality annotations look and sound like from time to time, especially after a school vacation. When you do review students’ annotations, select 2-3 exemplars to highlight in a brief class discussion or mini-lesson on why they are exemplars.

Limit quantity of annotations without limiting learning

Students don’t need to annotate every peers’ thinklet for each problem to reap the benefits of peer-to-peer learning. Limiting the quantity of their feedback will also help students post appropriate content. Task students to annotate one thinklet that used a different strategy than they did and then annotate a second thinklet of their choice. This will expose students to multiple strategies and build in choice! It's a win-win.

If you’re just starting to introduce the annotations process to your students, go to Support> Learning Hub within the application and view the topic Annotations: Evaluating Strategies and Solutions. Here you can learn, implement, and reflect on how to introduce students to annotations to set expectations.

Supporting English Learners As Problem Solvers

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CueThink and English Learners: Strategies that build Mathematical and Academic Vocabulary

Helping English Learners (EL) access the phases of problem-solving can seem daunting. Yet, there are several tried and true instructional strategies that give ELs an entry point into the world of math problem-solving. CueThink provides students with the means to interact with the domains of English Language Arts, building language skills and mathematical understanding. CueThink, along with vocabulary building strategies, is a powerful tool for students to access high-order thinking skills and become math problem-solvers.

Strategy 1: Word Banks

Word banks provide English Learners with the academic and content language required to access ideas and concepts. Word banks need to be differentiated based on the English Proficiency Level of the students and must include academic and content words. In CueThink, word banks can assist ELs throughout the four phase problem-solving process. Here are some ideas for incorporating word banks in your CueThink practice:

  • Use the highlighter tool with students during the Understand Phase to build word banks

  • Encourage students to highlight and categorize (tiered) words they know as “school words” (i.e. academic vocabulary) and “math words” (i.e.content vocabulary)

  • Create anchor charts and post these words so students have easy access as they move through each phase

Requiring students to use tiered vocabulary in their CueThink thinklet during all four phases is the most meaningful way to ensure concept understanding. This formative assessment gives even richer information about what students know and are able to do.  

Strategy 2: Sentence Frames

Sentence and paragraph frames provide EL students the academic language and organization they need to build an understanding of English Language structure and vocabulary. They also support content learning. Sentence frames are useful during the Plan, Solve, Review phases as well as when writing annotations. CueThink offers a number of ready-made sentence frames for you to use with your students. The Write Your Plan Sentence Frames graphic organizer can be found in the CueThink Resource Bank:

Strategy 3: Graphic Organizers

Students need tools to organize their thoughts before jumping into a writing assignment. Graphic organizers provide students the opportunity to show what they know, work out their plan and make changes in their thinking. CueThink’s power of slowing a student down to reflect and then present what they know gives English Learners the time to use their language skills and build fluency. Graphic organizers can be given to students during the Plan, Solve, Review phases as well as when writing annotations on peers’ thinklets. The CueThink graphic organizer takes students through all four phases. The CueThink Noticing and Wondering Graphic Organizer assists students in processing the deep elements of a problem while organizing their thoughts and words as they read and analyze a word problem.  

Helping student navigate complex text

There are several tools that can help students as they work within CueThink platform. First, using speech to text accessibility features on iPads or within a web browser for computers can help students get their ideas into the four phase process. In addition, websites such as Rewordify can take a word problem and switch out complex vocabulary for easy to access synonyms. Using Rewordify and then copying the word problem into CueThink allows teachers to work more efficiently and differentiate word problems based on language proficiency levels.

CueThink, coupled with these tools, helps students gain access to problem-solving thinking. Give these ideas a try! We want to hear about your stories! Share your ideas, tips, and tricks on Twitter at @CueThink. Remember to use #makemathsocial!