Teacher Observation #5- Empowering First Grade Mathematicians to Utilize Tools and Prior Knowledge to Grow

Recently I had the opportunity to observe a teacher in my mentor team band deliver a first grade math lesson.  She taught the Bridges Math Curriculum that we have been collaborating on adapting to both her first grade math group and my mentor math group over the past academic year.

The teacher opened the class by calling the students to gather for the daily calendar activities.  She rang her chime attention signal, and students quickly found their assigned places on the rug.  It is clear from how quickly the students become focused on the teacher that the students are accustomed to this daily activity.  The calendar collector activity for this month is collecting a quarter a day, and exchanging four quarters for a dollar when that quota is met.

When questioning students, she provides plenty of wait time to allow reluctant sharers to listen to her explaining the concept of breaking a dollar into fractions in various ways.  She relates the concept of one hundred pennies in a dollar to prior learning by explaining that, “it’s like our one-hundred days in school grid we made.  You can see that it’s divided into four parts.  Each part is twenty-five days.  Just like there are four quarters in a dollar.  Each quarter is worth twenty-five.  So, how many pennies, or one cents are in a dollar?”  After she provides this support, three students who have appeared to be lost suddenly raise their thumbs to share the correct answer.  By relating new learning back to a concept that the students have been working on since the beginning of the year; the teacher provides an entry point for all students.  She does not call on all of the students during this short calendar activity.  However, she does facilitate a couple of opportunities for students to discuss calendar observations with a shoulder partner.

The teacher’s classroom management style is founded in facilitating a structured, organized, predictable learning environment.  It is evident that her response to individual students is informed by consideration of each child’s temperament and learning profile.  She has a great and kind sense of humor that she infuses into her instruction to help create a learner-friendly culture.

There is a partner activity that involves creating a number line to one hundred and twenty.  The teacher has thoughtfully assigned partners that compliment one another in temperament and skill.  As the partners work together to cut out, glue, and write numbers on their number line, the teacher encourages students to work independently by reminding them to check one another’s work before they decide they are finished.  The students have no problem staying on task, and doing the work.  They know there is a game to play with the number line when they finish.  She does not helicopter, but is scanning the room to check for understanding.  She reminds the students of the many tools that are available in the class, i.e. the number line above the class whiteboard and the 120 number grid, if they need help remembering the numbers.  I appreciate the visual aids in her room.  They are clearly labeled with words and pictures.  Each visual in the room has as purpose to support student learning, and is easily accessible.  She consistently reminds students of the tools they have as a means of cultivating independence.  This teacher communicates high expectations for independence, within developmentally appropriate scaffolding.  It is clear by watching students work confidently without seeking out teacher support unless needed that her approach is empowering.

After the students complete their number line, the teacher prompts students to gather back at the rug to review the math game that correlates with their new tool.  She instructs students to gather a whiteboard, paper towel, and a marker.  She prompts the students to recall what the process for playing the game was when they played it with the numbers one through sixty the previous day.

The teacher demonstrates various strategies for adding up by 10’s, 20’s, and 30’s that are not counting up by 1’s on her whiteboard.  She communicates clear expectations for when the students will use their whiteboards, and when it is time to pay attention to her words and demonstration.  I appreciate that she always gives reasons for her instructions.  For example, when several students begin to doodle on their whiteboards rather than focus on the lesson, she says, “I want to be sure your learning this new strategy, and not writing.”

The teacher closes math workshop by having the class play the Race to One-Hundred game with partners.  As the students work to add using some of the new strategies they have learned for counting up by 10’s, 20’s, and 30’s, the teacher checks in with each team to support their new learning.  She prompts students to share their process for adding.  The atmosphere is lively, friendly, and engaged.   It is clear that this teachers preparation and reflection prior to teaching Math Workshop has created a learner-friendly culture where students feel supported to continually grow as mathematicians.


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