This week we learned more about money. We started “Trades, Jumps and Stops”, a Context for Learning unit and the first thing students do in that unit is count some money. On the first day, I did a Number Talk, which was definitely not a Number String! I had 50 cents in my pocket and I told the class about the 50 cents. Then I asked, “Can you tell me which coins I have?” We wrote down 5 or 6 different combinations of coins that are equal to 50 cents. Then I told them I had 4 coins and they immediately knew which of the options they’d given was correct. But by “them” and “they” I mean it was only about 3 or 4 students. Granted, we had a lot of students away due to illness but it was clear that we needed some practice with counting money and making amounts in different ways, so we took a pause from the unit and did that for a couple of days. By Friday we were using the piggy bank cards, which we need later in the unit, to count out coins, adding up two different amounts to get a total, and comparing them to our partner. This is a detour from the original content of the unit, but I didn’t feel like we could go forward successfully without solidifying this skill. Or set of skills I guess.

I am happy to report that everyone was counting by 5s and 10s, and many were adding up quarters too! This is because we have progressed as mathematicians! It is also because I only gave each group 5 pennies so they didn’t have the option of counting out a very big amount by ones.

This week I am also reflecting on how well we are collaborating when we need to. For the last several years I have done a lot of work with intentional learning partners. I assign my students to a triad and those people are their partners for the entire month whenever they need partners. In the beginning, I assign them to a partner, or I use a random system for matching students. As the months go by, I start to ask for their input and ask them to do some self-assessment of their ability to be a good partner. By the 5th month of school I would not be doing random assignments anymore.

This year is different. On Thursday I pulled out our partner matching cards and I immediately thought, “Why am I still using these? Why don’t I have partner assignments ready to go?” Intentional learning partners are meant to match students who will be able to actually help each other out and collaborate together. Peter Liljedahl does the opposite and has students work with different students every day. But his work is mostly focused on older students. I believe that in the primary grades the students need different social things than they do in the higher grades. For example, practice putting up with each other’s oddities in order to learn some tolerance, practice noticing someone else’s preferred work style and then trying out some tips from that person, and of course they need to learn how to take turns. They also need to be matched with someone who is close in ability. Maybe not the exact same ability, but in a split grade class I can’t have my most accomplished grade 3 matched with a grade 2 who is really struggling. Or worse, a struggling grade 3 matched with a grade 2 who is sailing along! I take all of this into consideration when making matches.

So, why not this year? Well, I think there are a few reasons. First, we have an attendance problem. I don’t want to say too much about that, but some kids are away a lot. Second, we have a few kids who are really struggling with being told what to do. I’m quite concerned that I will assign them to a partner and they will make such a fuss that it will ruin the class period/day/week/month. Or worse, they will want to be partnered up with someone I do not want them to be partnered up with and I will not partner them up with that person because I am the adult and IT WILL NOT END WELL! It all seems like a better idea to say, “Sorry, not my fault. Talk to Fate! She’s the one who picked your partner.” or, “The cards decided, not me.” (which is what I am most likely to say.) We’re a little behind in some of our executive functioning skills and random partnerships let us work on some of those areas while avoiding some of the more volatile ones. And as I’m writing this I feel like maybe I’m taking the easy way out because I’m exhausted from all the emotional stuff that goes with teaching.

And now I’m going to spend the day thinking about maybe putting some more time into developing the executive skills that will allow everyone to manage frustration in a way that does not make Mrs. Corbett want to cry every day on the way home from school.

But we can all count money, so HOORAY!

Lisa, the partnership part of your post has me coming back to this post a lot. I keep thinking about those kids that struggle with being told “what to do.” Is there a possible stressor at play? If they had some control over this, would they still accomplish the task (even if in a different way)? I think a lot about kindergarten here, and the developmental level of some of our kids. Often in a kindergarten classroom, especially prior to December, you end up with some toddler-like behaviour. These kids find a team approach hard, but sometimes having access to their own materials can allow for some parallel play (or, in this case, some parallel teaming). Not sure if this would work, but curious. Have you seen The ELECT Document? In our Kindergarten Program Document, it gives us permission to go back into this Document if the kindergarten expectations do not fit the child. The ELECT Document actually goes from Birth to the age of 8, and has some great teachable ideas in it, depending on needs. I wonder if it would be useful to you: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/ExcerptsFromELECT.pdf. Good luck! It sounds as though you have a lot at play in your class this year, and academics are only a piece of it.

Aviva

I’ve not seen this document before! But after a quick look I’m reminded that it all comes back to the 5 Domains of Self-Reg. I can go through each one for my students and name their stressors. I can even solve a whole bunch of them, or help them figure out how to solve them. Lots of them are little kids who are still figuring out how to deal with unmet needs that we can’t meet at school.

I know that being told what to do is a stressor. I often have tasks children can choose from so that they can access the learning at an appropriate level. The problem we are having is different though. I can’t quite figure out how to explain while also trying to respect everyone’s privacy. I’ll try this -> I’m not sure what to do about the following: A child loves to read. She only loves to read. She hates everything else. She’s happy to read all day every day, but never, ever, ever wants to do math. Not with the class, not on her own. The only way to get her to do math is to hold her to the routine that the rest of the class is following – during math we do math even if we would rather read. I sound harsh. But the expectations in the curriculum are specific. And if I know this child can actually meet those expectations with some teaching then I have to provide the teaching. And since “later” is a time when we are going to be doing other things – like going home, or doing a science investigation – then math has to happen during math.

You’ve brought me back to another thing I think about a lot after reading your blog posts – when does the rest of the primary curriculum get an update to look more like the kindergarten curriculum? And can it look more like that? I’m clear on how to make this happen in every part of my day except math. At one time I wanted to be a Montessori teacher. I read a lot about Montessori Method and how students are given a lot of choice in their tasks. I can see how early math can be taught and number sense can be developed through play. I’m just not there with things like area and perimeter, division, and a million other things.

AND…after 17 years in split grade classrooms, I still struggle when there’s a lot of space between my most proficient and least proficient students.

Thanks for your reply, Lisa! You continue to give me more to think about here. Your comment about the child that loves to read and only wants to read makes me wonder why she struggles with transitioning to math (for example), especially if she can do it. Again, it probably comes down to Self-Reg and some information that you can’t necessarily share, but it is intriguing to look at the “why.” If she could see the reading in math, would she be more drawn to it, or is it the transition piece that’s key here? Hmmm …

Your comment about the Kindergarten Program Document and when it makes its way into other grades is an interesting one. I think that there are elements that can, but maybe not in exactly the same way. I know that Lori St. Amand (@firstgradelori on Twitter) uses this predominantly play-based approach. Maybe it could be play-based/project-based between subjects with some integration with Science, Social Studies, Art, etc., but some might also come down to teacher comfort with this approach. Even in a Kindergarten model, I know many teacher teams that need more control/structure than Paula and I might have with our classroom program. Knowing the Document helps, but with one Document in Kindergarten this might be easier to do than multiple ones in other grades (with far more expectations, many of which are quite specific). I do love how you’re thinking about this though. I think there’s value in educators connecting to try and figure out what this might mean and look like in other grades. Talking is certainly the start of this.

Aviva

Thanks, Aviva!

I’m finding that not having to write a report card this term has changed my teaching. I feel like I can stretch a unit out for as long as it takes without having finish up for reports. In Social Studies grade 2s study traditions. There are things to talk about all year! I’m more relaxed about doing this.

Thanks for talking this through with me today!