Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Back to School with a Home Run!

By Cassandra Hatfield, RME Assessment Coordinator

This summer I attended two trainings. Each training was aligned to different standards: (1) the newly revised Texas TEKS to be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year and (2) the Common Core State Standards. Although aligned to different standards, both of these trainings highlighted the math Process Standards in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 2000) and the National Research Council’s Strands of Mathematical Proficiency discussed in Adding It Up. A common theme exemplified through the trainings was that it is essential for mathematics instruction to move beyond rote procedural knowledge and for instruction to be grounded in conceptual understanding and mathematical reasoning.

While attending these trainings I heard teachers, specialists, and administrators grappling with when and how to make this shift in instruction. Sherry Parrish’s resource Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies is an incredible learning adventure that enables an individual teacher, a team of teachers, or a teacher leader to make changes in classroom instruction and build students repertoire of computational strategies in just five to fifteen minutes a day! By using this resource teachers are given the opportunity to “hit it out of the park” by:
  1. Promoting environment and community
  2. Facilitating classroom discussion
  3. Developing the role of mental math
  4. Providing purposeful computation problems
I’ve implemented this resource in more than 25 classrooms over the past three years and have seen the joy from students as they move from being told how to compute to telling how they computed and seen the confidence they have build as they have moved from counting on their fingers to using flexible mental math strategies. In addition, many teachers I’ve worked with have used this resource to help them shift their teaching style into being a facilitator. In the beginning it can be overwhelming, but start with the basic fact problem sets and enjoy the journey with your students.

Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). 2010. Common Core State Standards for mathematical practice. Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM.

Kilpatrick, J., Swafford, J. & Findell, B. (Eds.). (2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Parrish, Sherry D (2010). Number talks: Helping children build mental math and computations strategies. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.

Parrish, Sherry D (2011). Number talks build numerical reasoning. Teaching Children Mathematics, 18(3). 198–206.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Teacher Time Allocation in the Classroom

By Saler Axel, RME Research Assistant 

Research has shown that a strong positive relationship exists between on-task learning time and student achievement (Codding & Smyth, 2008). The basic components of learning time include time allocated to instruction, time engaged in the learning process, and academic productivity (Codding & Smyth, 2008). In many classrooms, lost time occurs despite the fact that most school professionals are aware of the strong relationship that exists between on task learning and academic success (Codding & Smyth, 2008). As educators, we often worry that there is not enough time to complete all of our goals. With the new, heightened standards in mathematics, it is even more important that we take advantage of instructional time. Just think: If you reallocate the time you already have in your classroom toward more mathematics instruction, students’ academic success and understanding of mathematics concepts may increase!

As suggested by Engelmann and Carnine (1982), it is important to consider your instructional environment when planning ways to improve students’ academic performance. Gagne and Dick (1983) assert that it is necessary to separate the external and internal influences on instruction when trying to change a behavior (or in our case change how time is appropriated in the classroom). This means that, when you try to reallocate time in your classroom for additional mathematics instruction, concentrate on the things you can see and do (such as enhancing your classroom management skills or timing how long it takes to transitioning from one activity to another).

Studies have shown that students can spend up to one-half of instructional time engaged in tasks not related to learning (Codding & Smyth, 2008). Information like this highlights the importance of making goals to increase instructional time and discourage tasks unrelated to instruction. Lee (2006) suggests that decreasing transitions between activities is a primary way to increase instructional time (and in our case, increase mathematics instruction!). Lee (2006) identifies two types of transitions that can be decreased within the classroom: (1) transitions between programs and (2) transitions between classroom routines.

Consider your most recent mathematics lesson. How did it end? Did you have the opportunity to conclude as you had planned? Did you run out of time? How was your instructional time allocated? Were students engaged in instructional activities for most of the time dedicated to your lesson? As many of us have experienced during an instructional “groove,” when transitions happen, the classroom momentum can be stymied. By reducing the transitions between subjects or programs, we can increase academic learning time (Lee, 2006). This may help increase the potential of accomplishing increased academic success. Furthermore, by reducing transitions between classroom routines, potential opportunities for students to misbehave and waste educational time are lessened (Codding & Smyth, 2008). If you use classroom time gained in a positive way, just think how much you can favorably impact your students’ academic outcomes.

So, what are some successes you can look forward to if transitions in your classroom are reduced and classroom time is allocated more toward additional mathematics instruction? If you enhance your ability to allocate more classroom time toward more mathematics instruction, you can further
  • utilize gained time effectively, 
  • utilize gained time to implement more detailed lessons, 
  • utilize gained time to increase interactions with students, and 
  • utilize gained time to improve instructional quality. 
The good news? When teachers enhance these things, studies have shown that teachers can increase academic outcomes in students (Codding & Smyth, 2008; Lee, 2006). In addition, if you help enhance your students ability to
  • utilize gained time effectively, 
  • utilize gained time to increase interactions with teachers, and 
  • utilize gained time to complete assignments, studies have demonstrated that their academic successes can also grow (Codding & Smyth, 2008; Lee, 2006).
Think about how you approach mathematics teaching. How do you allocate instructional time in your classroom? What are some ways you can enhance your transitions and increase the opportunity to provide more instruction to your students and enhance the likelihood of furthering the goals above? Share your thoughts by responding to this blog.

Codding, R. S. & Smyth, C. A. (2008). Using performance feedback to decrease classroom transition time and examine collateral effects on academic engagement. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 18, 325-345. 

Engelmann, S. & Carnine, D. (1982). Theory of instruction: Principles and applications. Manchester, NH: Irvington Publishers. 

Gagne, R. M. & Dick, W. (1983). Instructional psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 34, 261-295. 

Lee, D. L. (2006). Facilitating transitions between and within academic tasks: An application of behavioral momentum. Remedial and Special Education, 27(5), 312-317.