Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Don't Panic About Pacing

As we quickly shift into the home stretch of the school year, there is considerable anxiety regarding pacing.  Will my class finish all the lessons and units before the end of the year?

Despite the new Everyday Math units being somewhat more manageable in terms of how many lessons are taught and how much goes into each lesson, finishing out the year having covered every lesson is clearly a challenge for many.  This time of year, the lessons are getting more complex and dense, and with all the field trips, fire drills, assemblies and celebrations scheduled, it is easy to fall behind the pacing guides.

Here are a few important things to keep in mind that might help with pacing the rest of this year and next year too.  Before I get to the bullets, though, remember that for most of us, this year is the very first year of a program that is 80% new, so we are still in our learning phase.

  • The unit assessments are long, and are taking multiple days to complete in some cases.  If you feel your students need a little more time than one lesson period to finish the unit assessment, that is understandable.  But think of the unit assessment as a formative tool in addition to a summative one.  If the assessment is taking a long time, it may be best to prioritize items and cut the assessment short.  Learning is most important, and if students are not able to complete every part of an assessment, that is ok.  Remember there are extra practice and readiness activities in the upcoming lessons you can rely on to provide a little extra support for students who might not have been able to demonstrate mastery in certain domains of prior units.  Moving on to the next unit may be more important for your students than every student finishing the assessment.  For 2016/2017, we are looking at abbreviating the unit assessments some in order to focus more on assessing content standards, so the assessment process will hopefully become more efficient in time.  
  • Math boxes are an important part of every lesson, but they are intended to take up no more than 15 minutes of time.  If students are taking longer than 15 minutes to finish math boxes, they are either struggling with the material, which is important formative information for you to know, or they are distracted.  If students are struggling to finish the math boxes, it is ok to modify the assignment, to take one or two of them off their plate. If students are distracted, that is a behavior/disciplinary issue, and should be addressed as such.    
  • Don't be afraid to use a timer when you teach Everyday Math lessons.  When I teach, the danger lies in the warm-up.  There always seem to be so many teachable moments!  If you look in the Teacher's Lesson Guide, most Warm Ups (Mental Math and Fluency) are designed to take only 5 minutes.  These are also formative assessments.  The first part of the lesson is not intended for discussion or correcting students' thinking.  That's what the Math Message is for.  The Warm Up is a quick gauge of where your students are at before you start the lesson, and an opportunity for students to get their brains into a math mindset.  No real teaching is happening. Have them write their answers on their slates and move on.  It is ok, to tell them the answer, and answer a question or two, but beyond that, the Warm Up is not a time for justifying answers, clearing up major misconceptions, or having teachable moments.  It is hard, I know!  But for the lesson to be most effective, save the great mathematical discussions and teachable moments for the Math Message and the rest of the Focus portion of the lesson. 
  • Remember that the math you teach right now is foundational prerequisite knowledge for the math they will be learning later.  When tough decisions need to be made regarding pacing, work with your team to see what strategies your colleagues might be employing, and contact your friendly Math Strategist to help you map out your next lessons and units.  You are working hard to give your students the most meaningful math experience possible to prepare them for future learning and problem solving, so you don't want to misdirect those efforts. Together with your colleagues, you can carve a sensible path forward.
  • Next year your hard work will pay off; not only will your students go to their next year's teachers with a richer mathematical background, but your students will come to you as more capable learners as well.  And you will have a year (or two, in the case of grades K-2) of teaching this new program under your belt.  So have faith that good things are happening, and they are only getting better next year.
This has been (and still is!) a great first year with all grades (K-6) teaching Everyday Math 4.  I am very much looking forward to next year when we can focus even more on deeper understanding of concepts and mathematical thinking.  If your pacing hasn't been perfect this year, it will get better next year.  We'll all be working hard to make that happen.  While it is not necessarily reasonable to expect everyone to be teaching the same lesson on the very same day, it is helpful for teams to be able to collaborate when grade level classrooms are within a few days of each other in the unit.  This way, Open Response lessons can be taught simultaneously.  Wait!  This should be another bullet...
  • Teach Open Response lessons on the same day as your grade level colleagues!  You can teach these lessons out of order if you are not exactly on the same page as your teammates in order to coordinate the days when you will teach Open Response lessons.  The benefit to this is grand. You can teach day 1 of the lesson, and then bring student work with you to review with your colleagues between day 1 and day 2.  Then you collaborate to determine what day 2 of your O.R. lesson will look like.  This helps you to see a wider range of student work, which will not only help you see trends of confusion and misconceptions, but it will also help you determine what to look for when you are scoring Open Response assessments after odd numbered units.  
I hope this has been a helpful bit of information regarding pacing.  Please contact me if you would like to discuss any issues with pacing as they arise.