RUSMP is holding the second session of a 2-day leadership seminar this week. The focus of the seminar is to provide mathematics leaders a framework to effectively support high-quality mathematics instruction and give them an opportunity to reflect and discuss best practices to this aim.

We pose two questions for participants in this course so that the overall RUSMP community can also take part in this critical discussion on how to best support mathematics instruction. We look forward to responses!

*As STAAR testing time approaches, how can leaders help teachers focus on teaching the curriculum and minimizing “test prep?”

*February is the time of year when instructional strategies need renewing in order to keep students engaged as spring break approaches. How might leaders help teachers to employ active learning strategies such as games, centers/stations, and cooperative learning to engage students in learning mathematics?

The institute is being facilitated by Carolyn White, RUSMP Director of Elementary Programs; Susan Troutman, Director of Secondary Programs; and Monica Kendall, former Houston ISD Director of Mathematics.

Below: Liz Goodman, Houston ISD and Elizabeth Bastias, Houston ISD

*As STAAR testing time approaches, how can leaders help teachers focus on teaching the curriculum and minimizing “test prep?”

It is very difficult for teachers to not think about test prep, therefore words of encouragement to assist them in organizing their thoughts as to how to continue to deliver rich lessons with student engagement is the key. The usualy suggestive activities include:

-PLC meetings to dicsuss content: The revised mathemaics teks cannot sometimes be understood in isolation. Having a team of individuals to discuss the related teks to be taught is helpful.

-Know your students: Utilize data from assessments and classroom performance to devise a plan for students to fill in the learning gaps that they need to develop inorder to master concepts.

-Research Based Strategies: Teachers need to know that the strategies needed for success are the research based strategies that they have used all yaear long. Changing to a strategy that someone has advised to be successful for testing that has not been tested to be of educational value is not the key to success.

– Small Group Instruction: Set goals for students being pulled out for small group instruction to clarify or extend mathematics concepts being explored.

-Stress understanding mathematical language: Students need to know and understand the correct language of mathematics. Developing an understanding of the language of mathematics helps students relate verbally to mathematics in real world problems.

In all conversations with teachers, encourage them to understand that they are valuable individuals that are making a positive difference in the lives of the students that they teach.

Leaders can help teachers focus on the curriculum by building their confidence. The test prep anxiety can hinder a teacher’s ability to lead a classroom in a way that is fruitful. Leaders have the opportunity to support teacher efforts in teaching the curriculum.

Leaders are in a position to facilitate teacher growth. Leaders can model those active learning strategies or show a video of a teacher successfully using a strategy. Teachers must buy in to the idea of the strategy before they will ever try it in. Their classroom.

As leaders, we must ensure from the beginning of the school year that students are being taught at the rigor of the EOC exam. With backwards plannning in mind, teachers should analyze TEKS and use released test questions to guide instruction. That way when testing time nears, there is no need to re-teach and do a full EOC review – the TEKS have already been taught.

To help teachers with active learning strategies, leaders should model lessons that incorporate those strategies and even help them create lessons that will hi-lite active learning.

*As STAAR testing time approaches, how can leaders help teachers focus on teaching the curriculum and minimizing “test prep?”

I think it is important to not stress out about STAAR, and to not stress out students about it either. If students are feeling too much pressure to perform, I believe that can lead to a decrease in performance due to test anxiety. This year I am making a conscious efforts to not even mention STAAR to my students. Last year I caught myself telling students that they need to know something especially because it is going to be on the STAAR test. This is a horrible thing to tell students because they do not need to learn something because it is on some test, they need to learn what we teach because it is integral to their education and the development of their mind.

I believe that it is the responsibility of the leadership on a campus to set an expectation that great instruction doesn’t stop to get ready for the test. Great instruction, thoughtfully planned and well executed, will meet all of the needs of your students in regard to state and local testing. Great instructional leaders make sure that teachers have resources and support they need to plan and implement great instruction.

Some of the best teachers are the continual risk-takers who try new ways to engage, challenge, and inspire children. Encourage teachers to try new & different strategies, and be the cheerleader and coach they need.

When teachers feel pressure to begin test prep, one resource I use with them is Relevant Review by Lead4ward. The activities are flexible, encourage high engagement and are novel. Teachers and students can avoid burnout and still review material.

The month of February is critical. Teachers are ready for break, students are ready. They same ol’ same ol’ isn’t going to work. This is the time to spread your wings and try new ideas. Communication and centers build vocabulary that the students are teaching each other. You take on the role of facilitator as opposed to just teacher, holder of all knowledge.

It is difficult to calm teachers down once testing time approaches, especially new teachers. As a leader though you have to keep the end result in the minds our your teachers. Yes we want our students to pass the test, but we also want them to take the skills that they need from this year to follow them throughout their whole mathematical careers.

As STAAR approaches, provide teachers new examples for engaging activities that allows students to discuss and share ideas for learning. This helps build the support for communicating their ideas and solutions rather than packets of worksheets.

Being a cheer leader and giving them the tools to communicate to each other and focus on the teks. If you teach the teks you will be fine on the staar. Reassurance

Leaders can continue to meet regularly with teachers, discuss lesson planning, implementation, instructional practice,student outcomes, and responses-to-student-learning based on the TEKS. Remaining focused on the curriculum clarifies for colleagues what our priorities SHOULD be on campus.

Also, leaders can look at other measures of student learning (formative assessments, PBL, portfolios, student reflections and questions, etc.)

TEACH THE TEKS, AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW!

February is the time of year when instructional strategies need renewing in order to keep students engaged as spring break approaches. How might leaders help teachers to employ active learning strategies such as games, centers/stations, and cooperative learning to engage students in learning mathematics?

We are trying with one 6th grade math teacher to have “Fun Fridays”. The teacher was encouraged to use games like I have who has, jeopardy, and has had positive feedback from students. After 2 weeks, they are still talking about it.

As challenging as it is , having stations, games, foldable days, etc as fun days helps the students to work more for us with STAAR test lurking around the corner. I will update this blog as we hit more successes in the month of February 🙂

Leaders can help teachers but giving the necessary support and resources to address the curriculum. They can also reiterate to teachers to focus on engaging students in the lesson by creating work products and exit tickets that will demonstrate student mastery.

As STAAR approaches, the best thing to remain focused on the TEKS, and not worry about the test. If you are teaching the TEKS, your students will be prepared for the STAAR.

The months leading up to STAAR testing can be rough for teachers and students. Here are some recommendations to teachers for reducing stress and making the most of this critical time in the school year:

–Encourage engagement in the magic ingredients for success in mathematics: Healthy brain development requires sleep, nutrition, physical activity, involvement in fine arts, learning a language, and curling up with a favorite book! Ask students how they are engaging and developing their whole brains to better learn, apply, and retain mathematics.

–Keep teaching the curriculum to the very end: Align your instruction to the standards, have students communicate and apply their new learning in rigorous and creative problem situations, and then use an assessment item to show students how what they have learned will be tested.

–Frequently check for understanding: Giving students immediate and specific feedback on their learning motivates students and takes care of minor misconceptions before they become major barriers to learning.

–Utilize cooperative learning: Students teaching each other in cooperative groups is a highly effective strategy, so teach them how to ask and answer high-level questions such as “why,” “how,” “what if,” “how are these the same/different,” “is there a better way,” and “what was your thinking on that answer.”

–Empower students’ metacognition: Help students to look for connections between and among concepts, and have them log their thinking in a journal with examples, vocabulary, and important things to remember. Graphic organizers and thinking maps are excellent tools to help students represent and reflect upon these connections in multiple ways.

–Develop and apply literacy skills: Ensure that every lesson includes the opportunity for students to actively read, write, listen to, and discuss mathematics. The application of these literacy skills will help students’ brains to solidify their learning.

–Apply findings from brain research: Engage students in brief kinesthetic activities from time to time, utilize cooperative learning and other active learning strategies at 12 – 15 minute intervals, give students choices or allow them to recommend choices for your approval, and ensure that students have a few moments of silent reflection upon their thinking during each lesson.

–Interview your students to determine what works best for them: Ask your students to describe to you how they like to learn and which methods or techniques you use that they find most effective, and then use this information to personalize their experience in your class. Many students report that their teachers rarely ask them for their thoughts on tailoring their experience to fit their needs. Just the act of asking them will endear you to them!

Hang in there and remember those skills you learned in kindergarten: always do the right thing, get rest when you need it, treat everyone with kindness, and smile…teaching and learning mathematics is FUN!