TCHERS' VOICE / Math

Four Tips For A Successful Learning Lab

Tch Laureate Team

 

Each time I lead a round of Learning Labs, I reflect on the lessons learned in order to make changes and improve upon the process.

Getting Better TogetherAfter the first round, for instance, I realized one 45-minute period wasn't enough time to plan as a team. So I adjusted the schedule to allow for two consecutive 45-minute periods, a week apart, dedicated to learning and planning before going into the classroom. To help better prepare for these meetings, my colleague Erin and I also designed a Google Form for each grade level team to complete the week prior to the first Learning Lab meeting. As I sat with all of the team’s responses to begin my planning, I was prepared, excited, and thought having all of this information would make my planning more focused and easy to put together.

But I quickly realized that while having information from each team was incredibly helpful, that very same information added more layers to my planning process, which I've listed below. (Also see Learning Labs in Action in this video: Creating a Collaborative Culture of Learning.)

1. Time

It's funny to think that I always felt pressed for time when planning for my 5th grade math class. As I began my Learning Lab planning, I realized I'd overlooked one huge luxury I did have in planning for my 5th graders: the next day's lesson. If I didn't finish a lesson, while aggravating, I still had the next day to pick up where we left off. In planning for Learning Labs, however, that's not the case. I have 45 minutes. No next day, no picking up where we left off. We simply get done what we get done in 45 minutes. That pressure led to the next layer: prioritizing.

2. Prioritizing

After reading each participant's Google form responses, my first question to myself was, What is most important? Naively, I thought the information the teachers provided would help me better focus. That didn't prove to be the case. Instead, all the information actually pushed me to think more about all of the learning that goes into teaching and how overwhelming it can be. Those ideas quickly led me into what felt like a never-ending loop of questions. These questions fell under two big planning umbrellas for me, content and pedagogical structures/practices:

Is it most important to develop content knowledge around this big idea? If so, how?

  • Do we use our time to do math together and reflect on the content?
  • Do we use our time to read the CCSS and connect it to their Investigations curriculum work?
  • Do we use our time to read the Learning Progressions and discuss the trajectory of the content they're currently working on in class? Where are students coming from and where is this content going?
  • Do we use our time to look at student work and think about what misconceptions and misunderstandings occur within this mathematical content and why they're so common among students?

Is it most important to think about pedagogical structures and practices that support this big idea? If so, how?

  • Do we use our time to think about how we use whole group, small group, and individual work time to best support student thinking and learning?
  • Do we use our time to think about ways to support and improve classroom discourse and build a culture of learning?
  • Do we use our time reflecting on how we can structure lessons so the mathematical ideas emerge through the Mathematical Practices?
  • Do we use our time reading and thinking about how to purposefully plan lessons to best meet the mathematical goals?

This is just a subset of the questions that I continue to ask myself. Needless to say, all these questions quickly became overwhelming and led to the third layer: resources.

3. Resources

As I read and reread each grade level response and thought about the questions I had in terms of the focus of my planning, many books, articles, and online resources popped into my mind. Within minutes, my desk became an explosion of books and post-its, and the number of tabs open on my computer was completely insane.

Ideally, I would love the teachers to read full chapters of these books, if not the book in its entirety. But now my job was to think about what's actually readable and digestible within our 45 minutes of planning time. I also had to keep in mind that this planning time, in the middle of their day, after dropping off their students at specials, is not the most ideal circumstance to relax, read, and reflect on a reading in a deep, meaningful way. I then again wrestled with my initial question, What is most important? Within the entirety of these books that I love and appreciate, what is most important for the teachers? This question led me to the final layer, or as final as I could make it: putting it all together.

4. Putting It All Together

This was, by far, the most difficult and time-consuming piece. I attempted to take the team’s area of focus, think about where their students are in this work, find a way to mesh content and pedagogy in there, and pull the resource(s) that I thought best supported their learning. Once I reached this point, you would have thought my desk had exploded because there was stuff everywhere. But I finally got a plan together. Below is the rough sketch of my plan by grade level. I hope you can read through all of my scratchy writing!

Learning Lab notes K-5

 

Learning Lab notes 4-5

 

The abbreviated information and area of focus each team provided is in blue, and the pink writing indicates the resource(s) I chose to use along with some questions to help guide the conversations. While I don't write out all of the information, such as authors of the books and articles, you can find links to these resources at the end of this post.

As you can probably imagine, I haven't really mastered the art of time yet. There's way too much here than we could possibly cover, but I decided to start with content and support that conversation around what's happening pedagogically to support the content.

Through asking questions such as, "How are you approaching this work in your classrooms?" and "What do we see students doing around this work?" I hope to draw out conversations about the classroom structures and practices we're using to support student thinking and learning.

This is still very much a work in progress. I would love and appreciate any suggestions, ideas for planning, or resources you would suggest to help in this work. I look forward to reflecting more after this round, and kicking off 2016 with an even better structure for this work.

Resources referenced in my planning pages:

Kristin Gray is a National Board Certified fifth grade math teacher at Richard A. Shields Elementary School in the Cape Henlopen School District in Lewes, Delaware and a Teaching Channel Laureate. During her 19 years in education, she has taught 5th–8th grade math, as well as spent two years as a K-5 Math Specialist. She feels fortunate to be involved with Illustrative Mathematics and Teaching Channel on projects developing math tasks, facilitating professional development, and blogging about these experiences. She is always excited to share her love of teaching at conferences such as NCTM, NCSM, ISTE, as well as on her blog. Follow her on Twitter: @MathMinds.

4 Comments
Watching Kristin work with the group from Shields Elementary School was educative and rewarding. The quality and depth of the math conversations were exactly what the researchers must have imagined when they promoted the ways that professional learning communities can impact student (and teacher) learning. Thanks for sharing your work and inspiring us all to try harder to develop such a culture.
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Thank you SO Much Val! It is truly so amazing to see such a shift in culture among the teachers! These teachers are just awesome!
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This is great! Thanks Kristin! It seems like Tip 2 is pivotal for this work, that we're always coming back to the question, "What is the priority here?" I feel like I hold in tension what the "ideal" classroom/lesson might look like, where my adult learners are in their own journey, while at the same time honoring their goals and what they hold as a priority. Reflective conversations and neutral third parties like data, literature, etc. help a lot. I went into this world thinking things would be more linear, but have found them to be more dynamic and multi-dimensional. Now it's just navigating those waters! Thanks for sharing your work! It's definitely helped me to focus and refine my own.
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