K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

January 2022

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Productive Struggle In Math: Why Getting Stuck is Important

No teacher likes to see their students struggle in any subject but it can be especially difficult to watch a student struggle through a tough math problem. Although it is difficult to watch students as they grapple with problems, the only way for students to continue to grow in mathematics is to give them “just right” problems.

Just as in reading, the “just right” level of a book is important for helping students learn to read. If a book is too easy, students will not be able to practice and learn new reading strategies. If the book is too hard, students will get frustrated and not be interested in reading the book. The same is true for math. Giving students problems that are not too easy or too hard is the best way to help students grow their problem-solving skills.

When students have to get stuck and then think, experiment, try and fail, and apply their knowledge in novel ways to get unstuck, students will learn new strategies to solve problems. This is called productive struggle. This process of asking students to draw on what they already know and also work to extend it builds skills and confidence. The teacher’s job is to help students work through the struggle by reminding students of strategies they have learned. Using performance task problems such as the ones in the Exemplars Library is a great resource for finding problems that are differentiated for students in the class. Students can access quality, engaging problems and practice their productive struggle while gaining confidence in their ability to solve problems.

One of the most important things for teachers to remember is that they should not jump in and “save” the student by going over the answers or showing the students how to answer the problem. Asking students questions and helping them see connections between problems they have solved before will help students work through the difficult problems. If the students are still not able to work through the problem after prompting and questioning, it may mean the problem is too hard. An easier problem or version of the problem can be given until the” just right” level has been reached. It is exciting to watch students when they are engaged in a problem with just the right amount of difficulty and finally get the answer. It is a time to celebrate for both students and teachers alike.

Enhancing Equality in Writing

All too often students are found sitting at their desks with their pencils resting on their notebooks or cursor blinking on a blank page of their screen. The response when asked what is wrong is, “I don’t know what to write”. How frequently does this comment come from our students? One reason we may get his response could be a lack of personal experiences which highlights the inequalities of our students and possibly increase the performance gap.

An approach that has shown to be successful is to fuse reading and writing by building the knowledge prior to the writing assignment. For example, if completing a narrative writing assignment, choose a moment in history they read about of research as prior knowledge for their narrative. Choose books that support this period in time or personal perspective. Enlisting the help of the librarian to help choose various genres that support the topic at hand. Read these books aloud, during independent reading, small groups, etc. This approach is building knowledge and will level the playing field when it comes to the writing assignment.

Suggestions for adapting this method:

  1. Pick a topic that is covered in other subjects to enhance cross-curricular learning.

  2. Find the on-level text that supports the topic. If possible, choose award-winning texts. (Librarians are a wealth of information and can surely assist)

  3. Include various sources; fiction, non-fiction, magazines, audio, videos, art, and music.

  4. Sharing this information with special teachers such as art and music so they could teach a song or possibly art pieces from the era chosen.

  5. Touch base with the students during conferences so you can make sure they are using evidence from the texts read in their writing. Take this time to enhance the understanding of the perspective they are being asked to embrace.

Short Texts from SchoolWide (be sure to filter by selecting short text then the grade level)

Mackin - Utilize the district's online library for a variety of books.

Parental Engagement of ELLs

A strong parental involvement is not only important for the success of all students but also plays a key role in the culture of a school and district. As far as ELLs, strong parental involvement can help in acclimating students to the school and culture quicker. Engaged families will often contribute key information that is useful to helping educate their students. The involvement of ELL families depends on what the schools do but the engagement depends on what the parents’ interests are. One way to engage parents more is getting to know their needs which can be done by building relationships with families and/or surveying current needs and interests. Make sure to build on the families’ strengths to make them feel valued and connected to the school community.

Dear Data Guy

Dear Data Guy,

I have a student who is a great student. She does all her homework, raises her hand in class to answer questions, and always knows the material. The problem is when she takes tests, she doesn’t do very well. What can I do to help my student?

Test anxiety can happen with any student. To help your student, here are a couple of tips.

  1. Set up a time for the student to check in with you to review his/her notes or study guide before the assessment/test.

  2. Praise the student for his/her successes during class.

  3. Contact the parents to ensure that they are reassuring their child prior to the assessment.

  4. If appropriate, allow for a retake of the portions of the assessment the student got incorrect for partial credit.

  5. Refer the student to the guidance counselor to discuss specific strategies to help calm the student before the assessment.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

Our department recently launched a Sheltered English Instruction (SEI) Mini Series. The goal of this mini-series is to provide classroom teachers with additional tools when designing lessons, instructing, and grading English Language Learners.

Specific topics are as follows:

  • What Is SEI? Why Is It Important?
  • Lesson Preparation Using SEI Strategies
  • Strategies to Strengthen Interactions w/ ELLs
  • Strategies to Build Background w/ ELLs
  • Practice & Application of Strategies
  • Strategies Using Comprehensible Input w/ ELLs
  • Lesson Delivery Using SEI
  • Strategies Using Review & Assessment
  • Additional SEI Strategies
  • Cross Curricular Implementation, Reflection, & Sharing

All sessions are voluntary and are virtual; feel free to join a cohort even if you cannot attend all 10 sessions.

HTSD Curriculum Department

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Supervisors of K-5 Staff

Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Sandra Jacome, ESL K-12, ESSER Pre-K

Danielle Tan, Art and Music

Dereth Sanchez-Ahmed, Interim K-5 ELA and Social Studies

Katie Mallon, K-5 Math and Science & ESSA Grant