Friday, July 6, 2012

Changing Teacher Practice

Thanks to April for the opportunity to be a guest blogger at her site. Since I am considering a new job as district coordinator to support teachers and vulnerable students, I have been thinking about how we change teacher practice. This is something that I am passionate about for all teachers. I decided to write about my personal experience with my Kindergarten math program.

Last summer I wanted to add rigor to my math program while still ensuring that it was developmentally appropriate. This did not mean adding more student work instead I wanted to ensure that the work was both meaningful and challenging. I began with reading some professional books and then chose Debbie Diller's excellent book, Math Work Stations as a guide for my program change.
Then I went and sat in my room so that I could imagine a learning environment that supported my new goals; small group, whole group, partner work. Over the past year I tweaked the physical environment a little bit, but investing the time last summer meant that start up went smoothly and by October the routines for math work stations were well established and I was free to work with guided math groups. Here are some tips that worked for me.

1. Choose wall space that is at eye level for your students to display your organizing board. I lowered a magnetic white board to their level and used a pocket chart to organize partners and tub numbers. I also lowered the shelving where the math stations would be stored and placed my whole group teaching area beside the shelving. This made student access easy.

2. Choose a simple system to inform students about their groupings and stations. I put their names on tag board and made two sets of numbers for each math station. Each student had one permanent partner. Then each day I moved the number down the pocket chart. I never had to tell them who their partner was or what station they were using (see picture below).  This helped them be independent while leaving me free to work with small groups.

3. Be clear about your expectations. I told my students that they would do one math station each day with the same partner. I had high expectations, gave them responsibility to manage themselves and made sure that before a station was added that it had been introduced during a mini-lesson and practiced together. I also told them that this was important work and they would be playing and learning math at the same time. I also regularly gave them clear and specific feedback " you sorted those using two attributes size and colour"

4. Choose your stations thoughtfully. I wanted my students to work hard at developmentally appropriate tasks. I knew that sometimes they just wanted to play so I made sure that some of the stations were simple games that they would enjoy but still practice counting, one-to-one correspondence or matching. Only sometimes was there a product. They enjoyed making a product just as much as they enjoyed the activities that did not.

5. Plan your math stations so that they are independent, challenging and motivating. I had eighteen students so I made nine tubs. Each tub was numbered. I looked through my classroom resources, created resources over the summer and purchased some new resources with school funds. I used Debbie's book as a source for a materials list and created many of the stations that she recommended. I also used purchased math activities like go fish, board games and matching games. Before school began I had stations for each concept I planned to teach. During the school year I added and changed the tasks.

6. Include regular assessment as part of your program. I designed a matrix with a box for every student and kept it on a clipboard in the large group area. Then I collected ongoing assessment to determine if the math program was effective using photos, student conferences and work samples. I also recorded their conversations while they were completing tasks at math stations when I wasn't working with small groups. I noticed that many of the stations were chosen during free play and was able to do lots of observations during those times. I used the assessment to adjust the math stations, reteach mini-lessons or complete interventions with students as needed.

7. Collect and use reflectionsI kept a journal for the first two months so that I would notice what was working, what I had changed and what I wanted to do. I used this information to help with programing, gathering resources and asking advice from peers. Later I stopped journaling and just made notes on my clipboard about what was or not working so that I could make changes.

I loved math work stations and more importantly so did my Kindergartners. I put it just before a transition so that it naturally ended after ten minutes. They tidied up and then lined up for music. If a piece needed to be marked they left it in the tub for me and I marked and sent it home the same day. How was their end of year math assessment----awesome!

Math Organizing Board, Math Tubs and Math Stations

Math Station: Turn Over a dot card and add that number of blocks to the math mat

Math Station: Attribute sort on a class made sorting circle



  1. These are all such great tips and important to remember-thank you for sharing!

  2. I love Debbie Diller's book. I have had great success with centers in my classroom.

    I have nominated for the Leibster Award! Come by my blog to grab it and pass it on!

    Teaching with Moxie

  3. Great post! This will be so helpful for math teachers just starting out with work stations and even those "old pros". :)

    Math Coach’s Corner
    Math Coach’s Corner on FB

  4. Hi there! I love your colorful blog and am posting something about it at noon today. Check it out!

    Heather at TeachItToday

  5. Great post Liz!! Thanks so much for being a guest blogger!!