I suppose I should start by pointing out that I meant to write this yesterday, but the day got busier than anticipated, which is why you get it today, instead. Of course, I suppose I should also acknowledge that I still, even after all this time, have no idea how many people actually read my blog, nor how many read my posts as they go up. (To those reading this in the future, I am writing this on a Tuesday.)
My students are about to start module 3 in the Eureka Math program (their fourth module because I started the year with module 4 and then jumped back to 1). This unit is all about the multiplication and division of multi-digit whole numbers. We could have started the unit yesterday, but I wanted to take some time to establish a firm foundation of basic multiplication facts before moving into the actual arithmetic.
To accomplish this, I introduced a new (to them) part of our weekly schedule: Multiplication Mondays. Every Monday, before we get into our regular math lessons, each student will complete an online 20-question multiplication quiz that I found during my first year of teaching here at Wiley. Each quiz is randomly generated, which means that no two students will have the same questions in the same place. For the first quiz, I gave the students as much time as they needed. For the second quiz (this coming Monday), they will have three minutes. Every Monday after that, the students will have just one minute to answer the 20 questions.
Why just one minute? Several of my students still rely on alternative strategies to figure out single-digit multiplication facts, whether it is using a times table chart, counting on fingers, or drawing a picture. None of these strategies are bad or wrong; they are just time consuming! I want my students to be able to quickly recall these basic facts so that they can more successfully solve complex problems.
The goal, of course, is not to focus on rote memorisation. The goal is for students to have a solid foundation of basic facts that they can apply in multiple settings. For example, if a student has a problem that requires multiple steps and mixed operations (a real-to-life scenario that we as adults regularly encounter when shopping and trying to determine how many items to buy, how much they will cost in all, and whether or not we have enough money to purchase them), I do not want him or her to get bogged down in the basic fact computation and forget the actual problem! Automaticity of basic math facts, then, is one of the few instances for which memorisation is key.
For the rest of this week, the students will continue to practice their multiplication facts, working on improving both speed and fluency. We will dive into the actual math module next Monday. Then we will have about ten days to work before we have a two-week winter break and then back to it in January. Module 3 is one of the longest we have this year, so we will be working on it until probably February.
There is a movie I have seen more times that I count that was one of my dad’s favourites, probably because it was about fishing and about a father’s relationships with his sons. (It didn’t seem to matter that the type of fishing was fly fishing, which is something my dad never, to my knowledge, did.) The movie is A River Runs Through It and it is a favourite of mine because it was a favourite of my dad’s.
There is one scene that has always stuck with me. It is when Paul is working on writing an essay for his father. Here is a clip with that scene:
What I love about these scene with the writing is that the father doesn’t care about the actual final product. What he cares about is his son taking time to write well, which involves writing, revising, editing, and rewriting until the piece is clean and polished. Paul gets frustrated at times but he perseveres in making corrections until the work is satisfactory. (And, of course, once it is, he is able to go off to do something he considers much more fun, namely, fishing with his brother!)
I was thinking about this movie this afternoon as my students were doing a math review assignment. I gave them five addition problems, five subtraction problems, and five problems that required rounding to the nearest hundred or thousand. Students were given the option of working on their own or working with a partner. As they completed the assignment, they would bring it to me check. If there were errors, I would mark which ones and then send them back to make corrections.
Some students completed the entire assignment the first time without errors. They voluntarily sought out those who were experiencing challenges and helped by explaining (not doing for them). Others needed to make corrections several times. All students were given as much time as they needed to successfully complete the assignment. Once they completed, they were permitted to either help others or use their Chromebooks to do more math on Front Row, Zearn, or Prodigy.
What I found amazing was that not a single student complained if sent back to make corrections. Nobody complained that it wasn’t fair that some got to use Chromebooks for longer than others. All students focused on doing the work they needed to do without worrying about what others were doing.
I’ve mentioned before that my goal for this year is to have a peaceful classroom that is a community of learners helping one another. Some days are better than others. But I can honestly say that this afternoon during Mathing Workshop was a time when I felt so proud of my students because they were working together, helping each other, and contributing to a peaceful classroom.
As we go on a five-day break for Thanksgiving, I am grateful today for the opportunity to work with these wonderful fourth graders who constantly challenge me to be a better teacher!
As it may be apparent from the majority of my blog posts this academic year, I have been focusing a lot on positive social skills that promote restorative practices and changes to my classroom management approach that will help students be more successful members of a community of learners. One phrase that has often come to mind has been that of the peaceful classroom. (If you have the time and are interested in going down a rabbit hole of articles and suggested books, just Google that phrase and check out any one of the 30,500,000 results that appear in 0.54 seconds! Two I found particularly relevant were this blog post and this PDF. )
What is the peaceful classroom? While there are many different ideas about the nuts and bolts of it, I think all can agree that the peaceful classroom is both one where others feel peace and also promote peace. I will be honest and admit that this is still a lofty goal for me; Room 31 is not the epitome of the peaceful classroom yet.
That “yet” is an important caveat, though. We have had moments of peace throughout each day; today I saw a particularly astounding example, which is what I am going to focus on for the rest of this particular post.
During Reading Workshop, many of my students seemed to momentarily forgot our mutually designed expectations for literacy rotations (stay in assigned spot, use appropriate voice levels, respect others by letting them work without distraction, and work the entire time). When our reading workshop block ended, I realised that we didn’t have enough time to start a new task, but, at the same time, there was still a large enough chunk of time remaining before lunch that we needed to do something worthwhile.
I led a brief discussion with students about how well the class had done at meeting the expectations they had established for literacy and they concluded that only about half of the students were fully focused and attentive on their tasks as expected. I observed that I knew that my students could successfully do this, and I knew that they knew this, but they had forgotten. I then suggested that everyone in the classroom read independently for fifteen minutes. I emphasised that “everyone” included both myself and my student teacher.
I turned off half of the lights in the classroom and allowed the natural light streaming through the windows do its job of providing illumination. As soon as every student was reading, I started the timer and sat down and began reading, as well. What happened next has not happened since my second year of teaching. For fifteen minutes, every single person in the room was reading to him- or herself. When the timer went off, nearly every student quietly sighed and asked if we could continue; I gratefully obliged.
When we finished, and just before going to lunch, I asked the students to think about how they felt right then. Words I heard included calm, relaxed, happy, and peaceful. I observed that much of the tension in the room had gone away and that it seemed like everyone felt comfortable and at peace and asked the students to think about how they could keep that going through the rest of the day.
That didn’t happen.
After lunch, some students were agitated about a disagreement during recess, others were agitated about wanting drinks or needing to use the restroom, and others were just not ready to stay fully on task for the afternoon. But we are still working on it and I am confident that my students can indeed learn the skills necessary to be peacemakers and positive contributors to a community of learners. It starts with the desire to do so and builds from there.
I am grateful that today we saw a brief glimpse of this truth and I hope that we can indeed build from here to becoming a truly peaceful classroom.