Sunday, October 23, 2016

5 Reasons To Use Guided Math in the Classroom

If you are used to teaching math in a whole class setting, the thought of implementing guided math groups can be intimidating.  I have been there!!  I have tried many times to use guided math groups, but gave up.  This year, I decided that I was going to use small groups and won’t cave in if it becomes challenging.  There have been many days that I want to throw my hands up and say forget it, but I’m sticking to it.

Here is why… I just finished with Parent/Teacher conferences, and I have to admit that this is the first year that I have felt 100% confident in where my students are and where I KNOW my students are.  My ability to confidently conference with parents about their child’s math ability is a result of using guided math groups in my classroom.  After 14 years of teaching, I am confident that using guided math groups is the reason!

Here are the top five reasons you should be using guided math groups in the upper elementary classroom.  

1.  Engagement

“When a teacher tries to teach something to the entire class at the same time, chances are, one third of the kids already know it, one third will get it, and the remaining third won’t get it. So two thirds of the children are wasting their time.”  ~Lillian Katz 

This is so true and explains a lot!  The thought of two-thirds of my class wasting their time is a huge eye opener!  Why not use the time that we have to engage our students in meaningful math activities that provide opportunities for them to grow as mathematicians?  Using guided math groups provides these opportunities.  

2.  Immediate Feedback

While teaching students in a whole group math setting, it’s merely impossible to provide immediate feedback to every single student.  If using guided math groups, it’s you with a small number of students.  Providing immediate feedback is 100% doable.  One teacher with six students is a lot more manageable than one teacher with 25 students. 

3.   Differentiated Instruction

Reason number three for using guided math groups ties in closely with reason number one, engagement.  If we have students that already know a concept, why do they have to continue practicing it?  Let them move on, provide them with enrichment.  What about the students that will get it quickly?  Let them move on also, provide them with enrichment to meet their needs.  What about the students that don’t get it?  We can’t move on just because two-thirds of the class gets it.  We need to teach it in a way that they will get it.  That’s where small guided math groups come in.  

4.  Students Talk About Math

In a class of 25, providing students with opportunities to talk about math is limited.  So, let’s talk math.  In a class of 25, if you are using a cooperative learning strategy where students turn and talk with a partner, engagement is 50%.  So, 50% of your students had the opportunity to talk about math. In small guided math groups, students are with you for 15-20 minutes every single day.  This provides an ample about of time for those students to turn and talk, ask questions, explain their thinking, etc.  You have just increased talking about math to 100%.  Can’t get much better than that! 

5.   Know your students’ mathematics ability

Implementing small guided math groups will allow you to know exactly where each and every one of your students are.   Honestly, in a class of 25 it is hard to know where every single one of your students are at all times.  You may have an idea, and their individual work to prove it, but knowing each and every one of them as a whole mathematician isn’t always accurate.  Using small guided math groups will help you know exactly where they are at all times.  

Where to Start

So, you may be asking where you should start.  I feel that my guided math groups are always a work in progress, but I have found out that the most important piece for success is consistency.  Be consistent, create a routine, and stick to it.  Stick....To...It!

You can find out specifically how I am implementing guided math HERE, or if you are a third grade teacher you can find Guided Math Made Easy resources HERE.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

6 Strategies to Simplify your Homework Systems

Is homework stressing you out? Here are my top 6 strategies for simplifying your homework systems.

One of the biggest questions I get from teachers is "How do you manage your daily homework system without eating up too much time?"  The struggle is real!  Teachers are already on a time crunch every single day.  Who has time to collect, check, and review homework too, right?  Well, I've got some great strategies that I believe will help you save time and make your homework way more effective than it has ever been before. Let's get started!

Seems obvious, but it needs to be said. Don't wait until you are ready to start your school day to begin your homework routine. If possible, it is best to start your routine the minute your students begin entering your room.  Waiting can cut into some seriously needed teaching time.  That's not good for anyone!  Also, keep an open mind. Depending on your schedule, it may be best to go over homework at the very end of the day.

Assuming you teach upper elementary or higher, you should totally be delegating the job of "homework checking" to a responsible student.  As students would walk in my classroom, they knew the first thing they had to do was take out their weekly homework sheet and leave it on their desk.  Then, my "student of the week" or whichever student I felt could handle the job, would go around with my checklist and simply check for completion.  Just a simple "yes, they did it" or "no, they didn't do it".  Done.

Is homework stressing you out? Here are my top 6 strategies for simplifying your homework systems.

I never grade student homework! First, it is WAY too time-consuming to grade.  Second, it really isn't fair.  Being that the work is technically being done at home, each student has different advantages and disadvantages.  Sally shouldn't get punished by a low score because her parents weren't available to assist her, while Jimmy gets a 100% because his parents corrected all of his errors.  See what I mean?
After checking to see who completed their homework, we go over it.  I don't like to waste time writing every problem on the board, solving it, and asking if there are any questions, because that is a waste of time and just not necessary.  However, I do love projecting the answer sheet on the front board.  I allow my students a few minutes to check over their answer.  Then I use maybe 5-8 minutes to answer any questions.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is probably where you are thinking "This can't work! Students aren't going to ask questions".  This couldn't be further from the truth and here is why.  From the first week of school, I establish a few key ideas about homework. 1) Your homework is there is help you understand what you still need to work on.  2) It is okay to get something wrong, as long as you try. 3) You are accountable for your own learning. If you don't understand something, it is your job to ask.

Very quickly my students understand that homework review time is purely for their own benefit. There isn't any pressure and there are no hard feelings about not understanding something because that is the whole point of this time.

I love using the homework sheets during small group instruction time.  THIS is the time where I actually go deeper into the problems my students may have struggled with and I use it to guide my instruction.  By doing this, I have turned my homework into an instructional resource for myself and my students.

This is really the MOST important strategy (save the best for last). Keep your nightly homework simple.  If you don't want to spend hours going over homework each day, don't give hours of homework.  Find an effective homework system that gives just a handful of practice problems per night. You can Click Here to learn about my favorite homework system! You can also grab a FREE sample to try out in your classroom HERE!

Is homework stressing you out? Here are my top 6 strategies for simplifying your homework systems.
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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Focusing on Fluency in the Upper Elementary Classroom

Ask your students what it means to be a fluent reader. You’re likely to get a wide variety of answers. Chances are good that your students will provide correct answers… partially correct, anyway. As we teachers know, when it comes down to it, reading fluency involves multiple components.
Activities to help build reading fluency in your upper elementary classroom! Multiple FREE printables, including posters, bookmarks, partner plays, and more!


First, there’s accuracy. It is easy to recognize how accuracy is related to reading comprehension. If students are failing to read several words accurately, the meaning of the text will be changed or lost. Knowing your students’ accuracy rate is critical because it will help you provide the correct reading materials for them.

You can identify a student’s accuracy rate by finding the percentage of words in a text read correctly. A fellow reading teacher once shared this simple recording sheet with me, and explained how she used it to track her students’ accuracy. As you can see, each recording sheet contains a section with 100 small boxes. Ask a student to read aloud to you. Draw a tick in a box for each word your student reads correctly. When your student misreads a word, draw a line across the middle of the box. Above the line, write the word they said. Below the line, write the word that was printed in the text. When you run out of boxes, you have hit 100 words, and you can easily calculate your student’s accuracy percentage.

FREE Recording Sheet you can use to assess your upper elementary students' reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. What a great addition to your reading binder.

Guided reading gurus Fountas & Pinnell have set the following accuracy rate guidelines for students reading at a Level L (end of second grade) or higher:
  • A student reading with 98%-100% accuracy with satisfactory comprehension is reading at his or her independent level.
  • A student reading with 98%-100% accuracy with limited comprehension is reading at his or her instructional level.
  • A student reading with 95%-97% accuracy with satisfactory comprehension is reading at his or her instructional level.
  • A student reading with an accuracy rate of 94% or below is reading at his or her frustration level.
    FREE Recording Sheet you can use to assess your upper elementary students' reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. This is a great addition to your reading binder.
    Click HERE to access this recording sheet.


Another significant element to consider is rate. Is your student reading too fast? Too slow? I have found that many students think that the faster you read, the more fluent you are. We teachers know that this is not the case. When I find a student who reads too fast, I will say, “Whoa! My brain just cannot process what is being read when you read that fast! Would you please start over, and this time read a bit more slowly so that I can process what you’re reading to me?” I’ve also done a comparison reading with students: I read aloud a nonfiction passage super-fast and then ask them a few questions about what I read to them. When they are not able to answer my questions, I read at an appropriate rate. After they are able to answer the same questions I asked before, we discuss the connection between reading rate and comprehension.

When I work with students who read too slow, I find texts at their independent reading level and have them read the same text multiple times, increasing the speed with each reading.


Prosody is reading aloud with expression, smoothness, and stress. Prosodic readers pay attention to punctuation and italics. It is evident that they are comprehending the text because they know how to match their tone and pitch to what is being read. I tell my students that when a prosodic reader is reading, it is fun to listen to him or her.


I have used several materials to teach fluency tips to upper elementary students. First, I use the posters and the interactive notebook foldable shown below. After I have introduced the posters, students create the foldable to glue into their notebooks. Behind each flap, they write their own notes to help them remember how each word is related to fluency. (Click on either of the images to download these free printables.)
FREE Fluency Posters! This blog post also lists multiple activities to help build reading fluency in your upper elementary classroom!

FREE Fluency foldable for your students' interactive notebooks...with matching posters! This blog post also lists multiple activities to enhance the reading fluency in your upper elementary classroom!

I also have bookmarks for students use as they are reading. Occasionally I hand students a sticky note, and ask them to jot down a note explaining how reading fluently helped them comprehend the text. I expect them to address at least one of the fluency components in their explanation.
Would your students benefit from fluency self-assessment? This blog post also includes several free printables to help build fluency for the readers in your upper elementary classroom!


I LOVE helping students work toward becoming fluent readers! My favorite method is to use partner plays. These are great reading center options. Students can read the script with a partner while the teacher is working with small guided reading groups. These scripts require exactly two readers, allowing students plenty of opportunities to read. I recently added a comprehension worksheet to each of my 4th and 5th grade partner play sets, so students can respond to questions about the scripts they read.

I also find partner plays to be powerful intervention tools. When I work with individual students as part of an intervention, I take one part, and my student takes the other part. Then, the student can hear me model fluent reading, and try to emulate that himself or herself. Plus, the students love partner plays!! If you want to try out one of my free scripts, click on the image below.
FREE partner plays for multiple grade levels! Enhance the reading fluency in your 2nd-5th grade classroom!

The following image shows some of my favorite published books that can be used as fluency-building activities! Students love the wacky lyrics found in the Alan Katz books! Whenever I have used these books with students, they beg to read their favorite pages again and again, and don't even realize that they are building fluency as they do the repeated readings. The You Read to Me, I'll Read to You books are great for students who are working to improve their phrasing while reading.
Activities to help build reading fluency in your upper elementary classroom! Multiple FREE printables, including posters, bookmarks, partner plays, and more!

Using italic strips is another favorite activity. When I first became a reading teacher, I was surprised to discover that the majority of my 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students plowed through words in italics with no change in intonation whatsoever. I created italics strips to address this issue. 
Do your students understand the importance of italics in reading? These italics strips will provide students with many opportunities to interact withto interact with italicized words.
Each set contains 100 strips. Set 1 features the first hundred Fry words, set 2 features the second hundred Fry words, etc. Therefore, the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth set are the ones geared more toward upper elementary.

Thanks for stopping by today! I hope you'll be able to use a few of these fluency-building ideas with your upper elementary students!