From the Desk of Kelly Harmon

May 2018

Dear Educators,

Woo hoo! It's almost summer! This month we are bringing you ideas to keep your instruction innovative and full of energy right up to the very end. We have ideas on guided math, end-of-year projects, and scaffolding up. Also, don't forget to check out our summer workshop offerings. We are offering in-person and virtual trainings. We hope everyone has a fabulous end of the year and that we see you this summer!

Happy Teaching!

-Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson

Guided Math is All About Problem Solving

Do you have a "just right" problem for your students to solve during guided math? There are many misconceptions about guided math. The biggest one is that students are pulled to small group to practice computation using manipulatives or algorithms learned during whole group. But really guided math is similar to guided reading in that it's all about using all of the math processes. This means the first step to guided math is selecting a problem in which students will engage in a productive struggle using all of their new learning and prior knowledge to solve.

Read for Meaning 1st

In every guided math session, a word problem with a real world situation must be used. Students work first to understand the meaning of the text. If a student does not understand what is going on in the text, they will not be able to understand what the question is asking of them. This is one of the main reason students do poorly on standardized tests. They are not processing and understanding the situation in the problem. Math and reading should be integrated. It takes reading and understanding to accurately solve problems. You can do the most accurate computation, but it won't matter if you don't solve the correct problem.

Take the Question Out

If students are struggling to understand what is happening in the word problem, try taking the question out of the text. Give students only the information and have them act it out or draw a picture to represent their thinking about the situation described. Sometimes when a question is removed, it takes the anxiety out of the word problem.

Identify What is Known

Teach students that problems are like stories. Word problems have a beginning, called a "start," a middle, called a "change," and an end, called a "result." Small group practice is the best time to monitor students' processing. Can they identify the situation in the problem? Can they identify the start, change, and result? All of this (and more!) has to happen before they pick up the pencil and start to solve.


Students need to talk a lot during math. Guided math provides a perfect opportunity for the teacher to listen in and monitor students' thinking and rationales about the problems they are solving. Students need to do math out loud before math inner speech is developed.

For more problem solving ideas and tips, join us for our virtual workshop on Problem Solving during Guided Math!

End-of-the-Year Reading/Writing Ideas

The end of the year is upon us! Just in case you are running out of steam, here are some ideas for May/June to keep students engaged in reading and writing.

1. Research Projects

Projects are a great way for students to be reading for a purpose and for meaning!

Start with an investigation question. What topic does the student want to know more about? Let students get creative and choose their topics and presentation types. Students will conduct research and write a short speech for their living museum debut. Be sure to have students generate a hypothesis about the topic question. Decide how students will present their findings. Some ideas for this might be to do a unit on famous Americans and end the unit with a Living Museum.

Idea for Research Units

  • Famous Americans
  • People of Science (inventors, doctors, nurses, scientists)
  • Literary Genius' (Poets, Authors, Song Writers, Journalists, Playwrights)
  • Animals from Specific Habitats (The Arctic, The Rainforest, The Desert)

2. Book Clubs / Book Trailers

Students can participate in book clubs. Each student will complete a specific role or job to contribute their perspective to the group. This is a great opportunity for students to discuss their reading. Each student or club can create a book trailer to get others excited about the book they read. Have students each complete a role to contribute to the movie making. See an example of a book trailer here!

3. The Classroom News

Turn your classroom into a news room. Have students work in news room jobs (i.e. journalists, producer, film crew, weather crew, editor, reporter, etc.) Watch videos of the news to get ideas for what type of stories the students can write about. Get students writing and presenting their stories just like a real newsroom would. Have students choose the stories they want to report on. Film the official class news and broadcast it to parents. Consider using a green screen so that a picture of the topic can be projected behind the reporter.

4. Reader's Theater

Have students read dramas and act them out on stage. Spend a week reading and preparing for a performance. Have students get into discussion circles to discuss the meaning and inferences made about each drama. Invite others to come see your kids in action! Find free scripts here!

Productive Struggle

Did you know that the first antibiotic, Penicillin, was discovered from a productive struggle that Dr. Alexander Fleming was in? Yes, a productive struggle is what lead to the discovery of the life saving drug in 1928! Dr. Fleming discovered mold growing in petri dishes after returning from summer vacation and said that the mold had contaminated his study. He later discovered that the mold actually stopped bacteria from growing.

When students are comfortable, they aren't spurred on to change or learn. The best learning takes place when students think they have made a mistake or are annoyed by an obstacle that they must overcome. Mistakes are welcomed, because learning takes place when students have to revise their thinking and add to their schema. Just like Dr. Fleming did back in 1928. He encountered a struggle where he had to revise his thinking.

My good friend Ryan Doetch says "Mistakes are expected, inspected, and respected!" Piaget tells us that mistakes are how we add to our schema. Basically, we learn more when we make mistakes! Educators should make mistakes and discuss past mistakes in front of their students. This will show that we are all constant learners and making a mistake is not a negative thing. Mistakes show the ability to learn and humility (and humility looks good on everyone).

The Association for Psychological Science says "For individuals with a growth mind-set, who believe intelligence develops through effort, mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn and improve. For individuals with a fixed mind-set, who believe intelligence is a stable characteristic, mistakes indicate lack of ability."

Don't be afraid to let students take the learning reigns and struggle through and make mistakes. Refer students to resources such as the success criteria so that they have the tools to figure out the situation. Allowing students to examine their errors is a crucial instructional strategy that promotes growth. This is also a real world tool everyone needs. We are constantly evolving and learning and it is through mistakes and failures that we do the most learning!

Scaffolding Up

Tier one classroom instruction is always about learning grade level standards. But what about the kids that aren't quite there yet? How do we scaffold them up to achieve those standards? Here are a few ways to make accommodations that get kids where they need to be.

Record the Reading

Record the reading and create a QR code so that students can listen to something read aloud and then do the work they need to do. Click here for directions on how to create a QR code.


Put students on teams with others who are slightly more/less proficient than them. Assign a reader to the group to ensure that everybody knows what the problem or task says.

Discussion Time

Give teams time to discuss the learning target, success criteria, and the task BEFORE they begin to do any independent work. This will help everyone start off with the information they need to successfully achieve the goal.


Make sure every team member has a specific role so that they stay engaged in thinking through the task with their team. The roles should allow for each student to demonstrate the learning target and success criteria. If the task is working a complex word problem, roles might be the summarizer, organizer, planner, computation checker, and justifier.

Manipulatives & Resources

Make sure students have immediate access to resources and manipulatives they can use when they get stuck or to justify their thinking. This includes anchor charts with information about the thinking it takes to be successful.

Bridging gaps will accelerate learning much faster than trying to fill gaps. We need to scaffold up, not down, to help all children achieve grade level standards. All learners need to work on challenging, grade level tasks that create opportunities to make sense of the concepts and procedures in order for learning to stick. If this isn't part of the Tier One focus for all students, the gaps are going to widen.

Summer Virtual Workshops

Setting Up Your Classroom to Thrive!

3 Hour Online Seminar

August 3rd

9:30am -12:30pm

Join Randi Anderson for an interactive webinar all about setting up your classroom to thrive this year! Classroom space is limited, so every inch must be planned. Learn setup ideas for classroom libraries, wall spaces, student work spaces, whole group meeting areas and much more! 3 hours of professional learning credit will be awarded. For more information, click here!

Bring One of Our Trainings to Your Campus!

We provide onsite seminars. Our trainings can be customized to meet the specific needs of your students and staff. Contact our us for more information on the trainings and rates! (817) 583-1290.