Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Guided Math in Action Book Study - Chapters 1 & 2

Today is the day we dig in deep with our book study of Guided Math in Action by Dr. Nicki Newton. I am looking forward to reading the other posts and readers' comments.  Because I am planning to implement guided math this year, this is probably going to be one of the most informative interactions that I will have this summer.
 Chapter One:

The book begins with a quote I have heard a lot in teaching career - especially when dealing with differentiated instruction.

"If kids don't learn the way you teach, then teach the way they learn."

This quote makes so much sense, but it is not always followed.  Many times, students are expected to learn they way we teach content.  So sad!  I whole-heartedly believe that through guided math, that I will better be able to fulfill the truth in this quote.

This chapter takes us through a guided math lesson with Mrs. Johnson covering subtraction with regrouping!!!  Wow!!  This seems to be such a nemesis for many of our students.  I had students who could fluently learn their multiplication facts, but when we went back to subtraction with grouping - OUCH!!!

Mrs. Johnson introduces the concept with a mini-lesson that activates students' prior knowledge.  She begins where the students are and proceeds in a concrete manner.  Something I really appreciate about the lesson is the fact that appropriate content vocabulary is used.  Too many times I have seen a watered down version when approaching lower level groups.  If we don't start with the correct vocabulary, it just makes it harder on these students later.

After the mini-lesson, Mrs. Johnson provides students with a couple of problems to complete during the student work period.  During this time, she is making notes, asking questions, and guiding students where needed.  This then leads into a share period where students must explain their solutions.  This is such a vital step in the process.  This allows the teacher to see if the student truly understands or if there is any misconceptions that need addressed.  This also allows students to have a voice.

Before Mrs. Johnson dismisses the group, she explains any follow-up centers they will visit along with the homework they will have to have further practice on the given concept.  I like the idea of differentiated homework (and the centers).  This makes the homework more meaningful, and there is a better chance that the students will complete it.

Mrs. Johnson now circulates the classroom observing the centers, taking anecdotal notes. and intervening where needed.  She then gives a signal for wrap-up.

All of this is based on on-going assessments.  Groups are based on prior quizzes or tests, the teacher is constantly taking notes, making observations, students are working through various assignments that are differentiated to meet their needs, and then follow-up assessments may be given.  Based on all of this assessment, students may fluidly move into another group based on need.

I find myself thinking how engaging all of this is for the students (and the teacher).  Students are given meaningful/respectful activities.  They feel like someone is listening to them and helping them. Different approaches are accepted and appreciated.  Students are building self-confidence in math.
That last statement gives me all the more reason to continue with my goal of implementing guided math this year.

Question One:  I feel that my background in special education makes stretching my pedagogy easy.  I have been trained and trained in differentiating.  Trying different approaches, and looking at individual student needs comes second nature to me even now that I am in a third grade classroom.  My youngest daughter struggles so much in math, and I often try to look at what I am teaching through her eyes.  

Question Two:  Spending the a lot of time at the beginning of the year establishing a safe classroom is the beginning of encouraging perseverance.  Students need to be willing to take challenges and make mistakes before they will be willing to push through difficulties.  I also share the struggles my daughter has had in school.  They need to know that they are not alone.  Then there are individual conferences.  I try to touch base with all of my students at least once a week during conferencing.

Chapter Two

This chapter is all about the components of a Math Workshop.  Guided math can take place in other contexts, but the author is very enthusiastic about math workshop.  I must say that math workshop is what I have envisioned in my implementation of guided math.  I think this format will just fit the structure of my classroom better.

Building on chapter one, the author reemphasizes the idea of a safe environment where students are able to share, and that they are comfortable in reasoning through the math out loud, that they are comfortable, and not intimidated when you ask them to "prove it".  

I must say that when I first started reading this chapter and the discussion was on asking students to prove it, my thoughts went to those students who are less confident or shy about sharing.  However, as I read through the whole chapter, things all came together.  I cannot emphasize enough the need of creating that community at the beginning of the year.  But it is not enough to just address it at the beginning of the year, it has to be reinforced throughout.  Using anchor charts (the author calls them "prove it posters" in one of the captions), as well as thinking prompts help students find some confidence in responding.  

The main elements of math workshop include:
  • calendar (the author feels it is very important at all grade levels)
  • number/problem of the day (you should incorporate some vocabulary each day)
  • whole class mini-lesson
  • guided math groups/math centers/conferencing (this is where most of the time is spent)
  • number talks / math energizers (only about 5 - 10 minutes)
  • Share (sharing should never be left out - very crucial part of the workshop)
When beginning math workshop, it is very important to teach what you want at each part.  This should be done as part of the beginning of the school year routine building.  If you leave this out, you are setting everyone up for failure.

The author has provided so many ideas in this chapter, I will be referring back to it, I am sure.  One such idea is the Mathematician's Chair as an option during share time.  It is compared to the Author's Chair - used in Writing Workshop.  I really like this idea, and I know I will be including this idea.  

I really had to think about this question, but realized I am doing quite a bit of things to encourage a numerate environment.  
  • number talks - I started this last year, and my students loved them.
  • math mentor texts - I use picture books to teach everything!!!
  • group discussions - We really worked on how to hold discussions last year, and I look forward to continuing this in the coming year.
  • exit slips - I was amazed at the information that I gained from the exit slips, and in such a short period of time.  
Wow!  This is a huge post!!!!!  It was worth it though.  I am really enjoying the text.  I am learning so much.  By taking part in this book study, I am "forced" to think deeper than I usually would have.  I find I need that extra pressure sometimes - especially in a busy time like the summer.

It is not too late to join in.  If you have not yet purchased the book, I recommend you look at Amazon.  They have both the actual book and the kindle version.  

Don't forget to visit all the other blogs taking part in this book study.  It is always nice to see the various points of view.


  1. I love the fact that the elements of math workshop can be included all throughout the day, not just in a given block of time. I was "surprised" to see how many of them I already do in my own classroom, without even realizing they were a part of Math Workshop. I think it is important for us to figure out what works best for our particular context and build from there. I enjoyed reading your post.

  2. You are so right. I too have been implementing so many of the components throughout the day in those little bits of time we seek out.

  3. I also liked the idea of getting students comfortable 'proving it.' I'm definitely going to work on that this year! I'm really enjoying the book--and the posts--and so excited about how this is going to transform my math teaching!

    Teaching Little Miracles

    1. I am excited about the upcoming year. I think my math instruction is going to soar.

  4. I also have a special education background, so differentiating is second nature for me. However, you made a good point when you said you try to see things through your daughter's eyes. It is really important to remember to see through our students' eyes when we teach.

    1. Yep. I think we all need to do more of that. I need to remind myself to do so every once in a while. It makes a huge difference in how we deal with everything.

  5. I look forward to reading about your journey as you begin guided math this year (in future posts on your blog). I'm glad the book study has already helped you to "think deeper", as you mentioned. So important to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of our students---I was that child, like your daughter, who struggled in math. I share my own experiences, and the kids are so surprised by the challenges I faced and how far I came. :0) "See' you Sunday!


    1. Thanks again for hosting the book study. I really enjoy and need these experiences. I find they make me a better teacher. This one came at just the right time - just what I was looking for.