Writing is a subject that is important to students–to everyone, really–and the teaching and assessing of it are ever-changing.  I LOVE the topic of writing (wait–you knew that already didn’t you?): I love doing it, reading about it, teaching about it, everything.  And above all, one of my favorite things about writing is helping kiddos get to love it, too.

So…this year our district is implementing a new writing curriculum, one that I have had the privilege of spending the last year rewriting to better match the Common Core State Standards and better help every student become college and career ready.

In some ways, writing in our school district was already aligned with CCSS, and we have always had really high standards for what students should be able to do.  But there are also some things that have (and will) changed in response to the new standards:

  • Students will now be required to learn about and then demonstrate their knowledge of argumentive writing.  This is much different than the opinion pieces we’ve done for years–the heart of the argument is staking a claim, anticipating counterarguments (and answering them) and using valid evidence to support the claim.
  • The ability to write in every content area, while included for years, is more highly expected now.  Writing is expected to be thought of as something you do every day, in many ways and in many places.  It is not just something you do at school for an hour a day.  Students should be writing in reading, writing in math, writing in science and writing in social studies.
  • New listening and speaking standards have been introduced, and are emphasized in all areas of student learning, not just in writing.
  • Students are expected to be writing for a larger audience and making global connections via the internet.  Thank you KidBlog for your help with this one!  Luckily I started this one years ago. 🙂
  • Students are expected to be able to produce an entire piece of writing in one sitting.  Yep, go all the way through the cycle in 45 minutes. 🙂

And so that’s why this post is called On-Demand (glad I finally got to that explanation, huh?).  We did our second on-demand writing piece today.  And boy is there a story to tell. 🙂

This year, as a part of our new curriculum, we have access to Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study.  The newest version of them is aligned with CCSS expectations, and gives teachers many ideas of how to help kiddos achieve these more rigorous standards.  Included in each unit is an on-demand writing assessment (well actually there are two–one as a pretest and one at the end of the unit).

We just finished up a narrative unit, and today was the day we sat to do our on-demand piece, in 45 minutes.  Here were the directions I gave:

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Now, we have done this before.  Only once, though, at the beginning of the year before we started this unit.  I wish I had pictures of their faces when I first told them what we were going to do and how long they had to do it.  I don’t.  Boo. 😦

But I do have pictures of what it looked like today.

Some friends sat with me at my table to work on their pieces.

Some friends sat with me at my table to work on their pieces.

Max needed to stretch out on the floor to get the juices flowing.  Totally how it rolls in our room!  Love how he looks like he's really thinking!

Max needed to stretch out on the floor to get the juices flowing. Totally how it rolls in our room! Love how he looks like he’s really thinking!

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There are definitely many friends with their heads in their hands for at least part of the session.  Again--lots of deep thinking happening here!

There are definitely many friends with their heads in their hands for at least part of the session. Again–lots of deep thinking happening here!

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I set a timer for friends who needed to monitor how much more time they had.  Although, not surprisingly, this really stressed some people out more than it helped them. :(

I set a timer for friends who needed to monitor how much more time they had. Although, not surprisingly, this really stressed some people out more than it helped them. 😦

For as hard as it was, though, I was so glad that in a very short time, everyone was busy and writing.  Everyone got a piece written and everyone turned something in!  It was very cool to see what they are now able to accomplish in such a short amount of time!  I think they’re amazed, too.  And the best part is that the more we do this, the easier it will get!

Mathematics in the City (in Kirkwood)

Mathematics in the City is an organization I learned about this summer when the fabulous Kara Imm came to Robinson to teach us about how to better teach addition/subtraction and multiplication/division of fractions using new units from Cathy Fosnot (another amazing math mind!).

Fast-forward to now: yesterday we (several 5th and 6th grade teachers and math specialists) were lucky to have Kara back again to continue to learn from her (and each other!) as we taught one of those units in our own classrooms!  We spent the morning planning our lesson, digging into the mathematics, talking about how we’d introduce the scenario, anticipating what kiddos would do and say, and brainstorming questions we’d ask our mathematicians to help “lift their thinking.”  Then our group (oh, did I mention there were like 15 teachers??) watched as Mrs. Hong taught the lesson in her room with her friends.  We got to “kid-watch” and take notes on what thinking they used, how they explained their work and also practice what we’d planned during our earlier session.

At lunch we debriefed on how the morning had gone, planning for how we’d change things based on the information we gathered.  Then it was time to plan for what would happen in my classroom later that day.

We decided that Kara would lead a number string with my students, focusing on fractions, but using the context of money.  Her string looked like this:


See the red parts?  Those are the problems she gave students to solve (remember when we did number strings together at our Curriculum Night?  Same idea, only with a different concept).  The black is documenting kiddos’ thinking, and the blue is how she was modelling their thinking.  The story she told here (that gave kiddos an entry point and helped them make connections to what they know) was about how she’d found some money as she walked along this morning.  What a great way to talk about fractions huh?  TOTALLY made it less scary, and who doesn’t know at least SOMETHING about money?  The thinking they were able to share was fabulous, and the kiddos who felt confident to share their thinking was great, too; some kids who don’t normally share during number strings were more than willing to do so with this one!



I know that pictures of this totally don’t do the fabulous thinking justice, but here are some shots I captured during our work yesterday.  Check them out!

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What a fabulous (man, I say that alot, but it’s true!) opportunity to learn with such great minds!  Can’t wait to see how this helps our math thinking progress as we begin a new investigation and more number strings!

If you’re a parent, be sure to share what your kiddos said about this experience.  If you’re a teacher, have you used number strings in your room?  Do you know Kara or Mathematics in the City?  Do you use Cathy Fosnot units with your learners?  What do you think of them??  I’D LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT IT!!


Narrative Writing Lessons

Happy Tuesday, friends!  It’s our first it’s-so-dark-and-rainy-we-had-to-turn-on-the-lights days of the fall.  Kind of gloomy, but also one of my favorite things about this time of year!  Weird, huh?

So..today we’re going to do some thinking together about writing RIGHT HERE ON THE BLOG!  I’m going to give you your job and then you will leave a comment on this post to share your thoughts with me and with the other writers in our room.  Ready?  Ok, here we go!

Below are two of the anchor charts we’ve been using during our study of narrative writing.  Reread them to yourself.

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Now I want you to think about something from these charts that you know you have tried during this unit, either in your Writer’s  Notebook or your story.  Tell me about how you have used it in your comment below.   You could start your sentence with something like: “During our study of narratives, I learned…and I tried it in my writing by…”  Your words might sound different than that, but use the starter if you need it!  I can’t wait to hear about your smart thinking!  The pieces you are writing are pretty great, Rm. 202, and I’m excited to see where we continue to go as writers this year!

Rethinking Multiplication Strategies

First of all, I know.  It’s been forever.  Man, I’ve been saying that a lot lately.  All I can do is apologize, though, and ask that you’ll kindly keep reading.   Life is nuts these days. 🙂

So…we are just about at the end of a study of multiplication and this year I’m asking my friends to think in a different way about the word efficient when it comes to multiplying.

Based on our district rubrics, which have recently been rewritten based on work related to Common Core and an updated curriculum, the standard for 5th grade has changed.  Instead of just being able to use the traditional algorithm, students are expected to be able to fluently use a variety of strategies.  But get this: the strategy they choose to use should be based on the numbers in the problem, rather than personal preference or the strategy they know best.  WHAT??!! I seriously have some friends whose heads might explode.

But it’s not really their fault, I guess, because for years the algorithm was the goal.  And once they learned how to use it, that’s what they stuck with and used every time.  For years, we (or they) saw the other strategies as lower-level–ones used by friends who didn’t yet “get” how the algorithm worked.

District Math Rubric for Multiplication

District Math Rubric for Multiplication

Now we’re thinking more about how mathematicians should be able to be flexible with their thinking, to use place value correctly and to explain their reasoning based on what they know about numbers.  This doesn’t mean that the algorithm isn’t something kids should know how to do, but that it’s not the only thing they should know how to do.  I mean think about it in the real world: there are times when you have to be able to do math in your head, in an efficient way–without paper.  The algorithm doesn’t really fit into that model.

So what does this look like in our room?

First of all, here’s an anchor chart that now hangs in our room (made based on our knowledge of how to solve multiplication problems):

Classroom anchor chart for multiplication strategies

Classroom anchor chart for multiplication strategies

While I don’t have any pictures of the math warm-ups we’re doing right now, this is where many of our opportunities come to try out this thinking.  The problem today, for example looked like this:

Math Warm-Up for October 14

Math Warm-Up for October 14

There are obviously (based on the chart) multiple ways to do this problem.  But based on the numbers (which were chosen on purpose), the strategy that makes the most sense is to either use splitting or a close 10 to solve the problem.  That way, you can solve 75 X 20 and 75 X 3 and then add them together, which can easily be done in your head–without paper.  If you chose to use the algorithm (which most would do–even most adults!) you’d have to do 5 X 3, then 70 X 3, 5 X 2 and then 70 X 2 and add it all together–many more steps than the other strategy.

So while this is still a little tricky for some friends, it will get easier with time.   We just need some more practice. 🙂

What strategy would you have used to solve 75 X 23?  Do you know more than one strategy to multiply?  Is the traditional algorithm your “go to” strategy?  I know my 5th grade mathematicians would love to hear your answers!



Headbandz: Part 2

I know.  It’s been FOREVER since I was here.  And even after a blogging challenge. 😦

Oh well, I’m here now, right?  That’s gotta be worth something.  Here’s to a FABULOUS October on the blog.

Remember when I told you about how we played 5th Grade Headbandz?  Well, I didn’t get to tell you about what we did next.

After everyone had figured out whose name they had on their head, we were ready for step 2, which was really the fun part.  Each student had a picture (that we had taken on the first day) that was put in the middle of a 12 x 18 poster.  They got to write their name under it, and then we all got to write on it, too.  We rotated around to each others’ posters and wrote the things we like about them.  Especially now that we’ve been doing 3 Things, we know each other in better ways, and had more personal comments to make.  I do a version of this right at the end of the year, but have never thought of doing it at the beginning.  I’m really excited to see how differently we’ll be able to talk about each others’ strengths by the time we’ve spent the whole year getting to know each other!

Check out pics of our posters!

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