The Core Smore

Getting to the 'Core' of Reading and Math in Region 1

December 2015 - Volume 2, Issue 2

Last year, we shared information with you around strengthening your universal core instruction in very broad terms - the Portrait of a Literate Student, and the Standards of Mathematical Practice. This year, we plan to give you more resources and tools for implementing best practices in your classrooms.

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Thank you for reading!

Intensifying Instruction

Wow! How can it be December already?! The end of the year is sneaking right up on us. I'm sure many of you are feeling an intense sense of urgency right now as we inch closer to our next assessment period. Around this time, I always start looking for ways to beef up my instruction to scoot kids into "appropriately progressing" territory. If you'd like a few ideas yourself, read on!

These kids are making growth - Just not enough!

Do you have students who are hugging their goal line in their progress monitoring graphs, but you're afraid they may not quite make it to the Winter goal?

When we intensify instruction, we can do the following things with the whole group, a small group, or even an individual student. For kids who are making growth but aren't quite hitting the benchmark on a regular basis, choose one or two of these strategies.


  1. Explicit instruction - Give students a clear expectation, focus only on the most critical content, break skills down into individual steps, and provide examples and non-examples of what you'd like to see from them.
  2. Systematic instruction - Ensure that lessons are organized and skills follow a logical sequence, regulate the difficulty of the task if it's too hard, and provide extensive background knowledge.
  3. Modeling - Explain and demonstrate exactly what you would like to see them do, and talk through your thinking to make it visible. (Think-alouds during reading, etc.)
  4. Opportunities to Respond - Require frequent responses from your students to engage them in the discussion, ensure a high success rate for their responses, and give them the opportunity to respond orally, via actions, or in writing.
  5. Feedback - Monitor responses closely and provide immediate corrective feedback - Don't let students practice the incorrect answer! Require individual AND group feedback, and adjust instruction as necessary.
  6. Judicious Review - Review previous skills and learning before new learning, practice over time (distributive), and practice cumulatively (both new and old skills).

For kids who are thisclose to meeting their goal, these steps might be the boost they need!

What about the kids who aren't even CLOSE to their goal?

The "secret" to helping kids reach proficiency in any skill at all is fluency. Not necessarily how quickly one can do something, but how automatically they do it, whether that's reading, answering math facts, or playing the piano. And what is the key to fluency? Practice, practice, practice. Our lowest performing students have not been exposed to the desired skill (word reading, answering math facts, etc.) nearly as often as our highest performing students.

Practice isn't always fun. It's repetitive, and it can seem boring to teachers and students alike. But if we truly want our kids to attain these goals, we need to make skill practice a dedicated, consistent, daily focus for those who need it most. As tempting as it is, DON'T change up their routine. Consistency is the key. If they leave your classroom for Title 1 or Special Education services, or work with a tutor, have a discussion with those teachers and find a way to ensure that the student in need is hearing the same language and getting the same basic routine throughout their day. These are OUR students, and every one of us has an impact and a chance to make a difference in their day - How powerful would it be to coordinate those efforts daily?!

Our 'typical' learners need to read a word 4-12 times to be able to learn it automatically.

'At-Risk' students need to read a word 12-42 times, meaningfully, to learn it automatically.

Students with serious reading difficulties - those who struggle to make any growth at all - may need to read a word meaningfully (not in isolation) up to 1,400 times to learn it automatically. If you have school for 180 days, that's a meaningful interaction with a particular word (or sound, or math fact, etc.) 7-8 times every. single. day.

Practicing over and over and over isn't fun unless you MAKE it fun. Check this guy out... He's pretty intense, but those boys are getting it. He's explicit, systematic, modeling his expectations, giving them judicious review time... This is intense reading instruction. You might be a little more reserved (or a little more crazy!) in your delivery, but this kind of instruction is what those most intensive students need in order to succeed:

012 Building Words
Do you think those kids are getting effective, efficient instruction? I sure do! :) This lesson is targeted, intensive, and explicit. Imagine the impact if we could give this kind of instruction to all of our most struggling kids, multiple times throughout the day.

We know time is getting tight before the end of the year, and we also know that you've been giving those kids everything you've got this year. I so admire every one of you - you make the biggest difference in the world for students. If there's ever anything I can do to support you in that work, please don't hesitate to let me know!

Have a great day!

- Kelly

Impacting Student Learning

Mathematical Teaching Practice (MTP) 2. Implement Tasks That Promote Reasoning and Problem Solving

In this issue, we continue our focus on the Mathematical Teaching Practices to strengthen the teaching and learning of mathematics. The focus this month is on rich mathematical tasks.

Mathematical Teaching Practice (MTP) 2: Implement Tasks That Promote Reasoning and Problem Solving

Effective teaching of mathematics engages students in solving and discussing tasks that promote mathematical reasoning and problem solving and allow multiple entry points and varied solution strategies.

As you can imagine, not all tasks are created equal. Over the past two decades, research finds:

  • Not all tasks provide the same opportunities for student thinking and learning.
  • Student learning is greatest in classrooms where the tasks consistently encourage high-level student thinking and reasoning, and least in classrooms where the tasks are routinely procedural in nature.
  • Tasks with high cognitive demands are the most difficult to implement well are often transformed into less demanding tasks during instruction.

Consider this: What if I ask a student:

“What is the rule for multiplying fractions?”

I would expect a student to respond with “You multiply the numerator times the numerator, and the denominator times the denominator”. This is a low level task.

What if I changed this to:

“Find 1/6 of 1/2 . Use pattern blocks. Draw your answer and explain your solution.”

Now I expect a student to use pattern blocks (most likely two hexagon blocks touching each other) and draw in six triangles on each block. Next I would expect a student to shade in six of the twelve triangles to indicate one half. Finally, I would expect to see additional marking/shading on one of the shaded triangles to indicate one-twelfth. Then, perhaps the student would write: “First you take half of the whole shape, which would be one hexagon, then take one-sixth of that half. I divided the hexagons into six pieces each, but I only needed one-sixth, so that would be one triangle. I needed to figure out what part of the two hexagons that one triangle was-- it was one out of twelve, so 1/6 of 1/2 equals 1/12.” This is a higher cognitive demand for the student.

Mathematical tasks with higher-level cognitive demands let students engage in activity inquiry and exploration, and connect procedures to concepts. On the flipside, low-level cognitive demands use algorithms and formulas without linking them to a purpose.

A task does not have to consume an entire class period or multiple days. The critical component of a rich mathematical task is the opportunity for students to actively engage in reasoning, sense making, and problem solving. The goal should always be to deepen a student’s understanding of mathematics, no matter the grade level of the student.

Here are a few online resources for rich mathematical tasks; I encourage you to investigate these sites and begin implementing rich mathematical tasks into your classroom. Drop me a line and let me know how you are using rich mathematical tasks in your classroom. (K-12. Click on Ideas and Tasks) (6-12) (upper elementary – grade 12) (K-12) (6-12) (K-12. Click on a grade, then click view all tasks for that grade)

- Diane