The Unorthodox Guide to Math Coaching

What do you notice? What do you wonder?

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 1.09.21 PM

I noticed that I scheduled two events for the exact same time. I wonder if I am ever going to stop over-extending myself and learn how to just say, “no. I am sorry. I cannot do that.” My inability to set boundaries comes from a good place. I want, so badly, to be in as many classrooms, working with as many teachers and students, as I possibly can.  That is great. However, when I overcommit myself, I inevitably end up letting someone down. That is not great. It is not good. It is something I want to change.

First thing Tuesday morning, I canceled my co-planning time with a 6th grade teacher so I could meet with Deb, the Math Interventionist at one of our elementary schools. The 6th grade math teacher didn’t mind. We meet often.  Our next scheduled time was on Wednesday.

Next, I drove out to Mount Vernon Elementary School to tell Deb that I couldn’t make our pre-planning session later that morning because I was scheduled to teach a 7th grade math lesson at the same time. Deb and I just started working with Katie, a kindergarten teacher.  Deb and Katie have taught and planned together a few times.  I have worked extensively with Deb over the years.  Katie and I have a good relationship. Tuesday morning was the first of many monthly planning meetings that we had set up to plan and teach together.

As soon as I told Deb I couldn’t make it to the planning meeting, I noticed she looked totally overwhelmed.  I wondered,  what the hell is wrong with me? Why do I keep over scheduling myself. It is not helpful at all.  I said what I usually say, “It is going to be okay. I have a really good plan.”

Deb, being the amazingly patient, understanding, and trusting colleague that she is, actually listened to the “big plan” I created for her and Katie.

10/24/17 PRE PLANNING MEETING

  • Watch the the Counting Collections video.  15 minutes
  • What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  10 minutes
  • Next steps: 10 minutes
    • What parts of the routine you saw in the video would you want to try to incorporate into your classroom?
    • How do we do that?
  • Read plan for today
  • Look at and discuss the counting and cardinality progress monitoring sheet.
  • If there is time, you can try to use it with some of the kids from the video.

Deb looked a little less uneasy. I asked her, “what do you think?” She said, “I love this. I think I can do this. I just needed you to talk me through it. I panicked when you said you weren’t go to be here.”

Of course she panicked. Why wouldn’t she?  I told her I was going to be here.  Believe it or not, I have actually read books about math coaching. I have gone to conferences and taken classes about how to be a good math coach.  All of these experiences taught me that keeping commitments is essential to being a good math coach. I almost convinced myself that I made up for having to cancel the preplanning meeting by meeting with Deb to go over the preplanning meeting. Then, I reminded myself that Deb could have been doing something else instead of meeting with me from 7:30 – 8:30.  She could have been meeting with kids or teachers.

I left Deb and headed to the middle school to teach a 7th grade math lesson.  I had met with this team of teachers last week and they were struggling to find good lessons for their students. They have a small group of multi-aged students who have some “holes” from prior years. They told me they are struggling to use our district curriculum because the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade standards are “beyond what their students can do right now.”  I was thrilled when they asked to meet with me. They were reflective and asked for help.  I asked if I could come in and teach a lesson so they could observe their students. Then, we could talk about what they noticed.

I chose to do lesson 1 from unit 1 of Open Up Resource’s Illustrative Mathematics  Middle School Math Curriculum because I knew the students were going to start their unit on scale soon and it is one of my favorite lessons to teach.  I also knew they would love the interactive apps that are part of the lesson.

I thought the lesson went great. Some kids got frustrated and shut down, but they came back.  Kids were talking over me most of the time, but it was always about math. Some kids were totally playing with the GeoGebra app instead of drawing scaled versions of the letter F, but that was my bad. I didn’t take 3 minutes to just let them play with the app before I started the activity.  Oh, and they were “playing with math” so who cares? Every kid matched up the pairs of scaled figures correctly and most made mistakes while they were doing it or had to justify their reasoning because their partner made a mistake.

After the lesson, the teachers and I talked. They said,

  • “I can’t believe _______ and ______ volunteered to share their thinking.”
  • “How about ______? He really struggles with math and usually doesn’t talk. “
  • “How cool was it when________ shared________?”

I was so psyched and proud that these comments were all about what the kids knew and could do.  My favorite part was when one of the kids who they said really struggled in math handed in his exit slip:

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 2.44.54 PM.png

After his teachers commented that he didn’t know his multiplication facts, I said, “Yeah, but he reasons multiplicatively! It is so much “easier” to teach a kid like this to learn his facts, then it is to teach a kid who memorized a bunch of facts how to reason multiplicatively.”  At this point in the conversation, I panicked.

“Oh my god,” I said.  “What time is it?”

“11:00”

“Phew. I have to go teach Kindergarten in Mount Vernon. Can I come back?”

“Anytime. That was awesome. We would love to get our kids to talk more.  I loved how you taught that lesson, but if I tried to teach like you, they would just tell me I was trying to act like Mrs. Caban.”

“What do you mean?”

“I love how you kept saying, ‘say more’ and ‘how do you know?'”

At this point, one of her colleagues spoke up.  She said, “You say some of those things. I hear you ask kids to explain their thinking. You just might say it differently.”

They thanked me again and asked me to come back anytime. I asked them if I could email them to set up a time where we could meet to plan. They said, ” You are welcome anytime. It was really cool to see our kids learn today.”

I got in my car and it wasn’t until I was halfway to Mt. Vernon that I realized I forgot my bags of shapes for counting collections routine. I wish I could say that doesn’t happen to me all the time, but I can’t. I forget things a lot. So, I drove back to the middle school, picked up my shapes and headed to Mount Vernon.

When I arrived at Mount Vernon, Deb shared how the pre-planning session went.  She said it went great. She and Katie spent most of the time reflecting. Check out some of their responses:

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 2.14.07 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 2.14.57 PM

Now, it was time to teach Kindergarten.  I am absolutely terrified of teaching Kindergarten.  My wheelhouse is grades 3-8.  Deb and Katie knew that I was scared and they agreed to carry on the lesson if I ended up in the fetal position under a table.

I started the Kindergarten lesson by sharing a few questions that I have been wondering about lately:

  • What makes counting hard?
  • How can we make it easier?

I wish I had a picture of the posters we created. They had some really thoughtful answers to my questions. I will ask Deb to take a picture and I will add it to the post later.

We started the lesson by noticing and wondering about berries (Thanks Number Talk Images):

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 3.00.01 PM

Then, I modeled how I would count my collection of tiling turtles (thanks Christopher Danielson)

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 3.02.32 PM.png

I thought out loud while I counted my turtles. I counted really fast and I did not touch a turtle every time I said a number. I think I counted 39 turtles.  Before I could finish counting, at least three indignant 5 year olds interrupted me:

  • “You’re not doing it right!”
  • “You said too many.”
  • “You’re going to fast!”

I asked them for some advice.  They told me to move the turtles and make sure I touch each one. So, I did. I wish I had a voice recording of the next part because it sounded beautiful.

I started counting more rhythmically, intuitively aligning the cadence of my voice with the slide of my finger:

“one” (sliiiide)

“two” (sliiide)

Right about here, I think, is where a few students started counting with me. I didn’t ask them to. They just did. By the time I got to 5, we were counting together. Then, I started to play.

I slid the sixth turtle reallllllllly slowly and I didn’t say anything. I heard a cacophony of this:

“Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiix”

“six, sev- (pause) six”

“six, seven,”

I kept going. I alternated between speeding up my turtle slide and slowing it back down. I even paused a couple of times. Most of the kids kept the cadence of the count. A few didn’t. Deb noticed it and she intentionally observed those students during the collection count.

After we established that I had 19 tiling turtles, I said, “hmmmm. I would like to record my thinking so Mrs. Reed can see it later.” I wrote 19 on my recording sheet.

Then I continued, “It says that I should show how I counted.”  I started drawing a turtle. “This is going to take me awhile. I don’t really want to draw all 19 turtles. I wonder if there is another way I can show how I counted.”

One girl spoke up right away. She said, “You just have to draw 2 turtles. Draw a 1 in that turtle and a 9 in the other turtle. Then, you have 19.”

I did what she said. Inside, I started to squirm.  “Okay. Does anyone have any other ideas?”

“You could draw a person with a long arm and then draw a turtle in the hand.”

I said, “I could do that.” I thought, where is the nearest table to crawl under?  I asked, “Is there anything else I could do?”

“You could draw a speech bubble that says ’19′”

“You could draw unicorns!”

“I could draw unicorns. That seems like it might be harder than turtles.”  Mrs. Hatt and Mrs Reed were smiling at me. I was sending subliminal cries for help.

“You could draw horses!”

“Unicorns can turn into turtles.”

I said, “that is true.”  Seriously. That is how I responded to the comment about unicorns turning into turtles. I said, “that is true.” I didn’t even realize I said it. I was looking for the nearest table. Deb told me after the lesson. Apparently, she wrote it in her notes.

I was stuck. None of these children were telling me anything that I had hoped I would hear. So, I asked again, probably louder and slower this time,  “I wonder how I could show my thinking without drawing all of the turtles.”

The five-year olds wiggled and squirmed. We had been sitting for what felt like at least three days. There was no more criss-cross-apple-saucing. Nobody’s hands were in their cookie jar anymore.

Out of nowhere, I heard “We could use tally marks.”

“YES! YES WE CAN,” I said in my not-so-neutral voice. “We can definitely use tally marks!” I drew 19 tally marks and decided to move on.  Deb, Katie, and I had talked previously about how we don’t want to force tally marks, circles, or ten frames on kids as a recording strategy.  It is October. We have plenty of time to let recording strategies evolve. We agreed that if it came up, we would highlight it, but we didn’t want to force it. I highlighted the bejeezus out of it.

I asked, “Who wants to help me count my shape collection?”

A resounding, “me!”

Phew.  I handed each child a bag of shapes and a recording sheet.  They scattered.

Deb, Katie and I circulated and conferenced. I intentionally gave the students more than twenty objects. I was hoping for the counting to be hard. I was hoping they would have to count their collection multiple times.  I was hoping to challenge them. The truth is I don’t know how to “teach” 5 year olds how to record their thinking.  All I know is that Deb, Katie, and I are all really interested in figuring it out together. Here is some of the work we collected from the lesson.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We plan to go over the work and talk about next steps at our next meeting, which is November 7th.  In the meantime, I had an awesome email exchange with Deb and Katie.  It went like this:

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 3.40.29 PM

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 3.41.48 PM

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 3.43.52 PM

Yup. It’s true. I told Katie I love her. In fact, I tell teachers I love them all the time. Sometimes, I hug people, without asking first. Today, I spontaneously told a student I love her. Yikes. Not the kind of behavior you read about in math coaching books. I am not your typical math coach. I really struggle with:

  • being on time
  • finishing what I start
  • filtering my emotions
  • listening without interrupting
  • overcommiting myself
  • drying my hair before I go to work
  • wearing my name badge
  • keeping track of my belongings
  • blurting out ideas

BUT

Here is what I do really well:

  • build relationships
  • advocate for kids
  • take risks
  • share my mistakes
  • ask questions
  • pay attention to the positive
  • think big
  • think mathematically
  • love, love, love my job
  • learn
  • try to be a better math coach

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “The Unorthodox Guide to Math Coaching

  1. Sarah, I love this entry! The First Class calendar got my attention right away. I was so impressed with the plan for planning you shared with Deb for Katie and her. What a good coach! I wonder if your faith in them and the examples you shared with them might have actually inspired them to “own” the lesson and take more pride in their observations? I was also amazed at Katie’s kindergarteners’ thinking about the possible combinations to build a number!

    Like

  2. I love your description! I so love that moment of wanting to crawl under a table. I had one of those last week 🙂 Yikes! Thanks for sharing your work and the struggles. It’s nice to remember that we are not alone in our imperfection.

    Like

  3. I was exhausted reading it 🙂 Okay, I was exhausted b/c I was having similar experience with older learners…. striving to coach the right kind of thinking and being just. not. on. the. wavelength….

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s