Let’s Talk Math!

I’ve been reading Kassia Omohundro Wedekind’s book, Math Exchanges, as a tool to help our teachers who are working on a math workshop approach.  Wedekind is blowing my mind as she details how to engage students in deep, meaningful conversations with their peers about the math process, but also, how to assess this talk in terms of math.  She emphasizes the importance of having our students discuss why they made the mathematical decisions they did, and also the role of the other students in the group to be active listeners.

As I reflect I wonder if our students realize that we are giving them multiple strategies so that they can independently decide which to use in a given situation.  The students’ voices echo in my ears, “Am I right?…What’s the right answer?”  Clearly they are engrained to believe there is only one right way and that the answer is the important part-not the process.  So how do we change this mindset?

This week I dabbled in some of this work in a fifth grade class that I already know is engaged in a lot of mindfulness and accountable talk throughout their day.  I immediately felt the rush of excitement as a group compared unlike fractions and each of the students approached solving the problem differently.  Here it was!  Now what would happen when they were asked to explain why they chose that strategy?  Would the other students be able to engage in a conversation about what their peers had done?



Let me start by saying that these students and teacher had clearly built a culture of respect and student-centered learning from day one.  The students presenting their strategy spoke clearly, confidently and comfortably to their peers.  They all were able to explain the process and the steps of what they did.  However, we did notice as they were prompted to explain why they multiplied the denominators this is when the students needed more support.  Could it be they hadn’t internalized the foundational concepts of fractions? Or were they just not equipped with the vocabulary and/or practice to explain the steps with more detail?

With accountable talk as my focus for this session, I was able to fully understand why Wedekind emphasizes the importance of the students doing the talking and the teachers taking a backseat.  Had we made teaching the next strategy the focus we would never have realized where each student’s current understandings and misconceptions were.  From here, this teacher and I hope to further implement this deeper thinking into her  math routine.  Please stay tuned for more on math exchanges in upcoming posts!


She lingered in the hallway before she entered.  She held in her breathe and tightened every ligament from her head to her toes to allow her ears to focus on the important things.  The things they were saying when they thought she wasn’t listening.


“Everything’s paid for except the electric and car.”

“Better than last month.”

“I suppose you’re right…forever the optimist.”

“You have to stand on something when you’ve got nothing.”

“Anyway you can bottle that attitude and sell it?”


She wasn’t sure how long it had been going on, but now that she was older she got the sense her parents had become accustomed to this juggling act.  She began to feel a burning in her chest as she realized she had never felt like she went without.  But maybe they did so she wouldn’t.  Suddenly she hated every material thing she ever had.





Perspective (noun).  A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.

This one word shapes every story that was ever told.  It’s the recount of one single event told with several variations because every witness to the experience comes with their own baggage tags; bullied…bully…orphan…mother…child.  The list is endless and no two versions are the same.  It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

If you had to sum up in one or two words how your experiences have molded your perspective of the world what would your baggage tag read?



SOL Tuesday: Memory Renewed

It’s funny how a memory can be totally lost in the transit of life until a scent, sound, or sensation suddenly wakes it from its slumber, and you can no longer imagine not having always remembered that moment.

My beautiful niece was born yesterday in the same hospital where in the blink of three years ago I gave birth to my daughter.  Since my own special day the hospital has undergone some renovations but I was sure there was no possible way a moment of that day could have gone unremembered.  Now the excitement boiled over as I made this new memory to put in the bag of firsts as I became an aunt.

I enjoyed as the hours went by and the memories of my own baby girl coming into the world rolled over in my mind.  But it wasn’t until that moment of holding this pinky, fleshy, adorable wonder that the purpley, long pointed finger nails creeped out of the blanket and made me cackle out loud.  I immediately was brought back to seeing Avery’s small wrinkly hands for the first time and instantly remembered how I couldn’t stop thinking how terrified I was at the prospect of trying to cut these impressively large talons but the alternative was baby Edward Scissor Hands to the face.  Just another wonder of becoming a mother that was least expected, quickly forgotten, but totally embraced when brought back to the surface.





SOL Tuesday: Just When you Think

Just when you think you’ve got life all figured out it hits ya like a ton of bricks-takes the inner most feelings that have seeped into your skin and just become part of who you are and exposes your fragility.  Life seems to pop up at the most inopportune times too, like right before that big presentation or just as the last crystal of sugar from the birthday cake dissolves on your tongue.

But I suppose this is what reminds you that you’re alive and there’s more than blood that flows through this body of yours.  Perfection, routine and control aren’t going to be the moments that define you and you look back on with pride.  It’s the unexpected and how you handle it that will make you stand taller and breathe a little deeper on just a normal day.



Understanding Text Complexities

We’ve been doing some incredible work with literacy consultant and guru, Barb Golub, (@GolubBarb) this year in all of our elementary schools.  Yesterday, we met with our kindergarten teachers and discussed the delicate dance of moving a student who is working at a level A/B text over the hump of approximation to level C and decoding.  Barb was extremely helpful in explaining how and why texts are leveled across the bands, and how we as teachers need to analyze texts across the levels of complexity.

It became very clear through our discussion that if we hold students in a level too long the texts no longer provide the content and structures that these students need in order to gain exposure and be able to practice new skills.  The key is to give our students extra support when introducing the new level text and explain to them exactly what they will encounter that will be tricky.

Based off of the information Barb provided us we started to realize the importance of tracking what students are doing well within their current independent text levels.  By monitoring this we can make sure we are guiding them towards entrance into a new level at the appropriate time and not inadvertently holding them back.  Here are the checklists I made that explain what the students should be showing independence in within a text band.  With this form you can track which students are currently working within a level text and simply check off or date the box for the skill the student is showing proficiency with.  It also can be used as a guide to anticipate what will come next in this students reading experience.

For me, the biggest take away was that if we don’t provide our students with the challenge and hold them til their achieving 100% success we are doing them a disservice.  We need to provide experiences throughout our students’ educational experiences in which they struggle by doing the work and persevere with our guided support.  This is when the best learning occurs.

SOL Challenge Day 9

She was as tough as nails.  Said it like it was.  Take it or leave it.  No apologies.

Yet somehow my grandmother captivated nearly every person she met.  She came from a Norwegian heritage where you didn’t hug often or spend your time fluffing someone’s ego.  None of this hindered anyone from knowing she loved them-deeply.

She was poised and elegant-refined.  Yet she could party and let loose with the best of them.

As an adult myself now I wish she was around to ask how she did it. How’d she balance the seriousness of life with the perfect splash of pizazz?  How’d she take life with the perfect spritz of critique and humor?

I may never know but I work daily to find my way and maybe someday the answers will appear.