Episode #218: What Standard Should We Focus On Most? – A Math Mentoring Moment

Jan 30, 2023 | Podcast | 0 comments



TL is a 3rd / 4th grade educator from Grove City Pennsylvania. We welcome TL joined us back on Episode 198: Assessing Multiplication Facts. Back then we chatted all about math fact strategies and how we can use assessments to promote growth. 

TL joins us now to fill us in on her continued growth around developing math fact strategies and she also shares her carefully designed math blocks where she’s available to work in small groups. 

Stick around and you’ll hear her current pebble in her shoe: What standards should she focus on to get the “best bang for her buck”?

This is another Math Mentoring Moment episode where we chat with a teacher like you who is working through some problems of practice and together we brainstorm ways to overcome them. 

You’ll Learn

  • How problem strings can give you a wealth of assessment data on your students;
  • How can I structure my intervention time so students grow? 
  • How do we identify which standards are the most important to focus on? 
  • How can I use data to differentiate a learning path for my students?



District Math Leaders: 

How are you ensuring that you support those educators who need a nudge to spark a focus on growing their pedagogical-content knowledge? 


What about opportunities for those who are eager and willing to elevate their practice, but do not have the support? 


Book a call with our District Improvement Program Team to learn how we can not only help you craft, refine and implement your district math learning goals, but also provide all of the professional learning supports your educators need to grow at the speed of their learning. 

Book a short conversation with our team now.

Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


TL Eller: I was having all of these great moments with students where I'd be able to show them like, here's what I observed you doing, and I think this is where I'd like to see you go. With multiplication facts, we were in the groove, and then Christmas break came, and then we came back and we had to do our benchmark testing. So we've been doing that, and we kind of have this curriculum-based assessment that we have to give our mid-year, so we'll be doing that the next couple days. And I feel like time's ticking by, and in the meantime I'm still teaching new content, and now I'm seeing all these other gaps or things that I want to help students on, but I still want to go back to the multiplication, and it just feels like it's compounding, and I have a lot-

Kyle Pearce: Hey there, Math Moment Makers. Today we welcome back TL, a third and fourth-grade teacher from Grove City, Pennsylvania. TL, if you remember, joined us back on episode 198, Assessing Multiplication Facts. Way back then, we chatted all about math fact strategies and how we can use different assessment techniques to promote growth.

Jon Orr: TL joins us now to fill us in on her continued growth around developing math facts strategies, and she also is here to share her carefully designed math blocks, where she's available to work with students in small groups.

Kyle Pearce: Mm-hmm.

Jon Orr: So stick around and you're going to hear her current pebble in her shoe, which is what standards should she focus on to get her best bang for her buck.

Kyle Pearce: This is another Math Mentoring Moments episode, and it's a where are they now? episode where we chat with a teacher just like you who's working through very, very common problems of practice, and together we brainstorm ways to overcome them. Let's go.
Let's do it.
Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce...

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are two math teachers from makemathmoments.com...

Kyle Pearce: Who together, with you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide who want to build and deliver problem-based math lessons that spark curiosity...

Jon Orr: Fuel sense-making...

Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Welcome back Math Moment Makers to another episode-

Jon Orr: Bath back.

Kyle Pearce: ... yes, with another fellow math educator from the Math Moment Maker community just like you. We are so excited to bring back TL who we chatted with at the beginning of this school year. And we've got her back already to give us some updates on her progress based on her concerns for her students and their fact fluency and flexibility with, in particular, we talked about multiplication tables, but just general operational sense. We get an update with her and, Jon, we also dive into what's going on, what Pebble is shaken around in her shoe lately.

Jon Orr: Yeah. And you're going to hear all the insights she has on her own teaching in her classroom. She's doing a dynamite job with thinking about what students need and where students need to go and how she's collecting data to help support that decision-making. She's got a well-oiled machine that's happening in her classroom. You're going to hear all about that, and we're going to help her with that current pebble in her shoe, which is a common one about where should we spend the most amount of our time when we have all of these things piling up over here, we've got assessments that we have to get done... What should we do with this time that we have? Should I be working on this skill even though I need to work on this skill? Where should we do that? So we're going to talk about all of that. So let's not waste any more time. Let's get right to it.

Kyle Pearce: Let's do it.

Jon Orr: Hey there, TL. Thanks for joining us again. We're bringing you back on for the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. How are you doing?

TL Eller: I'm good. It's the busy time of year right now.

Jon Orr: Right.

TL Eller: So we're kind of in, I like to call it, crunch time here, and I feel like it's the time where I've gathered all the information about my students and now we're, I don't know, feeling the pressure, I guess, to start moving students forward a little.

Jon Orr: Right.

TL Eller: And also, I coach a little bit of basketball, so it's also busy time-

Jon Orr: That's right up my alley.

TL Eller: ... inaudible with that right now too. So busy, but good.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Awesome. Yeah, you know what, it's interesting because those busy times of the year, I know that I'm not in the classroom right now, but I do remember it was like once the busy time got going and you got into that sync, next thing you know, the school year's over. So...

TL Eller: Yeah.

Kyle Pearce: ... there is some positive that goes along with the chaos. TL, you joined us back on episode 198, and we were doing all kinds of chatting. We were talking about different ideas about what are we looking for students in terms of proficiency. We specifically talked about math facts and some of those, I guess, wonders that we have as educators, right? We come into the classroom... I think something that we realized in that episode is that all educators want students to feel fluent and flexible with math facts. And I guess the big question, the big wonder we had to sort of chew on together was how do we do that? What does that look like in the classroom? And how do we actually assess that student growth? So I'm wondering, can you give us a little bit of an update? How are things going in the classroom since we last spoke? Are there any pebbles that have been removed from the shoe? Are there new pebbles added? Give us an update so friends can get a sense of where you are now in the school year.

TL Eller: Yeah. Sounds good. So I think my biggest takeaway when I left the last episode was I think I was wanting some nice, packaged with a bow, so when they do this, I know that they've mastered math facts, this is going to be the thing that shows me that. And I think what I realized after talking with you is that there were a lot of, with Problem Strings, different types of activities and things that I were doing that were just providing real-time, meaningful assessment in the classroom, and it was just kind of organizing a way of observing my students doing those things. So when I'm doing Problem Strings, even sometimes when I put a quick warmup on the board when the students come in, I'm doing a lot more of just real-time... I have just a quick reflection sheet that I write kind of the standard or the skill at the top on...

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

TL Eller: And I'm recording that information in our standards-based grade book that we have now, just all the time. Right at the end of the podcast the last time, you had mentioned the Problem Strings and how those can be so gather such meaningful information. And I guess I had been looking at those as instructional tools, but I hadn't thought about the fact that I am gathering a lot of meaningful data on my students when I'm observing them do that. So I think that a big part of what I've been doing is just coming up with better ways to organize the things that I'm observing so that I can look back on that and have that as information for my students. I did kind of put together a multiplication chart with strategies that, when I meet with students one-on-one or in small group, I'm kind of keeping track of what I see. And I feel like, especially in the first nine weeks when we were really focused on multiplication facts...
And then our first unit is on basic multiplication and division and relating the two, and then our next unit is multi-digit multiplication, it kind of moves into that. And then this third unit is fractions. And so I felt like I was doing all the things that I wanted and gathering all this great data, and I know that I have students that hadn't mastered those facts yet and some of those strategies. I'm still doing it. We have intervention time. Still working in small groups and some centers on that, but as the hustle and bustle of the year is going on now and trying to get the content in and feeling pressure of state tests coming and all of the things that I know I shouldn't do but I still do, I feel myself kind of getting away from it, or I feel like there's just so much content that I'm trying to get in that it's like how do I continue to be true to I have all this data and kind of intervening in the way that I need with the students that I need to intervene with.

Jon Orr: Gotcha. Gotcha. You're like getting sucked back in.

TL Eller: Yeah. Well, and it's just like it compounds, because it's like, okay, I know these students need to still work on these strategies, or maybe some students that I want to move towards more efficient strategies with multiplication facts. And then we start working on fractions, and I see some of those same students who maybe need some foundational work there where they're not decomposing fractions yet so that next skill that we're going to work on. So now it's like I have multiple interventions for multiple kids, and it's kind of trying to decide what to prioritize, I guess.

Jon Orr: Gotcha. I appreciate you kind of telling us where your headspace was after our chat or before our chat on thinking about trying to get these kids to master math facts, and specifically multiplication, and then realizing that you had this whole set of power that you weren't seeing originally and now it's like, ah, I can use this to do all these things, to gather this information that helps them steer in the right way. What are you seeing when you think about those math strings and sequences of questions you're giving your students and you're kind of capturing this data, you're kind of seeing what they can and what they can't do... And I think we get a lot of information from watching and listening to our students do those and participate in and engage in those. When you have that data and then you use it, what are you seeing in terms of student growth? Are you seeing any kind of growth? Are you seeing this change happening with your students by using and utilizing this approach that we were chatting about last time?

TL Eller: Yeah, absolutely. Just a quick example I can think of is at the beginning of the year, I was really focusing on foundational facts with twos and fives and tens.

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm.

TL Eller: And one thing that I was really looking for is that I didn't want moving forward to become more efficient if they're still in the counting phase and kind of skip counting by twos or... with their twos, that would be the big one, that I would kind of intervene and talk to them about how their twos are their doubles. And so yes, you can skip count by twos, but you could also think of two times eight as eight plus eight and doubling it. And a lot of my students, it was funny, I just assumed that maybe it was an addition thing, like if I went back that they just didn't have their doubles facts memorized yet, and I started realizing that they did in fact. And once we did some different, I used Math Flips and some different interventions to just remind them of that and kind of push them to be more efficient, I realized they didn't need to skip count by twos. They did in fact have that doubles fact memorized-

Kyle Pearce: Oh, that's great.

TL Eller: ... they just didn't make the connection between their twos and that. So that's the kind of thing that I've seen, where I'm moving them from skip counting by twos to now they see eight times two, they know it's eight doubled, and they can do 16, that kind of thing. So definitely using more sophisticated and efficient strategies. Students that seven times eight, I would see them writing eight plus eight plus eight plus eight plus eight on their page and kind of carrying together like 16 plus 16 plus another eight...

Kyle Pearce: Right. Right.

TL Eller: ... or whatever, and then eventually them being able to say, well, eight times five is 40, two more eights is 16... Just seeing those more sophisticated strategies developing. And it's nice because the way I'm recording it, I see it right there. I see what strategies they were using and where they're kind of going. So seeing that growth and knowing that they're definitely starting to think multiplicatively instead of maybe in that counting phase or...

Kyle Pearce: I love inaudible.

TL Eller: ... additive phase.

Kyle Pearce: Well, and something I can hear in your description just now, since being on the episode is I think something that you already articulated that you've realized, is that you have quite a wealth of data in front of you, quite a bit of assessment information. And I think sometimes it's hard for us because, as you had mentioned earlier, we sort of want it to be in this nice package, it's almost like everything's perfectly done and we've checked all the boxes and everything is perfect. But in reality, oftentimes, we know a lot about what students can do, what they know, understand, and can do. But then other times though, there's things that we don't know. We make certain assumptions based on what we know they've done or haven't done. And that realization about your doubles, and then I'm going to guess maybe near doubles, might be very helpful as well...

TL Eller: Mm-hmm.

Kyle Pearce: ... is this opportunity for you to start looking at the math more multiplicatively, which is great. So it sounds like there's a progression there, which is awesome to hear. So it sounds like some students are making some gains, which is great. You're documenting, which is awesome.

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Kyle Pearce: Something else I heard that I jotted down for myself on this end was just even the idea of pulling small groups, sometimes one-on-one, to be able to work with those students more. And it sounds like you're documenting what students are doing and maybe some of the things you're not seeing. All of this work is so helpful not only for you, but for students to get a sense of, Hey, where am I, and where do we want to go to next?

TL Eller: Mm-hmm.

Kyle Pearce: So that is so awesome that you're making these moves. And in reality, that was the beginning of the school year, essentially, when we spoke to you...

TL Eller: Right.

Kyle Pearce: ... and we're in the midpoint of the school year now. So I mean, within a very short period of time, it sounds like you've got a really good thing going there. So I'm wondering, I'm wondering, it sounded like there's a new pebble or maybe a pebble that has reemerged, which I think we all have, and it sounds like you're going, okay, we're working on math facts, we're doing this work over here, and that's great, and I think over the long run, there's a ton of benefit that's going to come. So if nothing else, students are going to be more fluent and flexible with number. Oh, there was one other thing I wanted to mention too. You mentioned about this idea of students making the connection or not making the connection about this idea of instead of skip counting by twos, actually seeing it as two eights and them knowing what eight doubled really is.
For us to be explicit, taking that time to help make those connections with students and make sure. Even if you think they know, oftentimes it's really helpful for us to reiterate or be very, very explicit, because oftentimes what seems obvious to us is actually not obvious to students. So those Problem Strings oftentimes almost feel very obvious in how they're crafted that you almost know what's coming next. For some students, they're treating each of those problems as completely separate or independent problems, which means they're going to miss the total point of the string. So that's great that you're seeing this need to help students see and make those connections so that you're not letting them sort of just assume that they're going to pick up on it. Because I think some of the students that have the greatest needs, some of the greatest struggles and often are maybe not achieving at the same level as other students in the classroom, those are likely those students who didn't make some of those connections that we thought as educators that were maybe obvious to the group. So bravo to you for all of that work.

TL Eller: Thank you.

Kyle Pearce: But let's start maybe chatting a little bit about this other piece. What I think I heard you say was, now that you're doing the math fact thing, you're feeling pretty good about the routine, of course you're going to continue to work over there and try to continue getting better in that area, but now, it's sort of all the other content is creeping into your mind, and that seems to maybe be causing a little bit of stress or a little bit of anxiety. Tell us a little bit more about that. Let's dig deeper here and try to figure out what is the real worry that you're having? And maybe we can work on it together here.

TL Eller: Okay. So I feel like I was in that routine, and I was doing really well. It was great. I had all this really good information, and I'd be able to sit down with my student during small group time, or... I pull groups four days a week, and then one day a week we do ST math. I don't know if you're familiar with ST math.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah.

TL Eller: But we do a little bit of ST math time, and while they're doing that, I pull students and really work one-on-one. And it was awesome, I was having all these great moments with students where I'd be able to show them like, here's what I observed you doing, and I think this is where I'd like to see you go. With multiplication facts, we were in the groove and then Christmas break came, and then we came back and we had to do our benchmark testing, so we've been doing that. And we kind of have this curriculum-based assessment that we have to give our midyear, so we'll be doing that the next couple days. And I feel like time's ticking by, and in the meantime I'm still teaching new content, and now I'm seeing all these other gaps or things that I want to help students on.

Kyle Pearce: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

TL Eller: But I still want to go back to the multiplication, and it just feels like it's compounding. And I have a lot of things that I want to help students with, and I'm not sure what to prioritize and how to find the time to do that, I guess.

Kyle Pearce: Right.

TL Eller: And then on top of that, we're giving this assessment, which gives us amazing data. It is actually a nice assessment for that. I will have great information on kind of what prioritized standards students have mastered so far up to this point inaudible, according to this one assessment. It's a nice piece of information, but I know it's just going to add more to my plate of what I now want to provide intervention for, if that makes sense.

Jon Orr: Right? I think so. I think so. So what I'm hearing is you've got this image of that I want to help in this area here so much, but all this other stuff is piling up. I got to keep going with the curriculum, I got to teach other concepts, and I'm going to have to do this test. It's like, I want to go to that over there, but I have to keep going over here, even though I want to go back to this over here. Is that kind of what you're feeling, right?

TL Eller: Yeah, just feeling like I have these great little ideas of how to help these students who maybe need a little bit more work on decomposing fractions so that they're going to better understand this fraction skill that we're working on. And then a lot of those students are the same students that I still want to work on these multiplication facts with and these strategies with. And so it's just our intervention period is 30 minutes, and I pull small groups during that 30 minutes. I usually do one group for the full 30 minutes, and then I have an instructional aid who's able to work with a group of students, and then another group of students is on ST math, and my last group of students plays workplace games. We use Bridges curriculum, so-

Kyle Pearce: Oh, nice.

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm.

TL Eller: ... we have the workplace games that they play. So I kind of have it set up that way, but I feel like I wish I could be with all four groups every day because there's just so much that I want to do. So, yeah. And it's finding the time to still provide... My instructional aid does a lot with fact fluency. That's kind of her focus, especially for the students who still need that. And then we have some other enrichment activities for the students who don't. But I feel like I want to be there with that right now, but I also want to be able to either enrich or provide intervention on the current skills that I'm teaching.

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

TL Eller: So I'm just struggling with doing all the things that I want to do with my intervention time, I guess, and knowing what to prioritize. I know that basic fact and number sense is the huge foundation for these kids, so do I stay with that for the kids who really don't have it yet? Or do I intervene with the current... fraction, I guess, is what we're doing right now, so that's in my mind at the moment.

Jon Orr: Right. Right. And it sounds like you're like, ah, where do I prioritize this? And where do I focus the most of my attention on? And I think we all feel like that sometimes at some points, especially when we can do more here and more over here. TL, when you're getting pulled in all these situations, why do you think that is the big struggle right now? I think we all go through this, so I guess the question I'm wondering is why do you feel like that is the biggest struggle right now for you?

TL Eller: I mean, part of it is just the pressure to get these kids prepared for the next step, for sure. I mean, I know we're halfway through the year now, and it's not so much about state testing for me anymore. I think I've gotten past that. We really have a nice culture in our school of just making mathematicians and truly wanting them to be successful. But I think I do know kind of where they need to go for fifth-grade math. I feel like for some of my students, as it compounds in the grade levels, you see that gap widening, and I don't want to be part of that problem.

Kyle Pearce: Yes.

TL Eller: So I want to close the gap. And our curriculum has been super successful at growing students, but sometimes I feel like the top just keeps growing, growing, growing, and the bottom is still growing, but the top is growing so fast right now because the curriculum is so successful for them. And sometimes I feel like the gap is widening even though they're growing, if that makes sense.

Kyle Pearce: Right.

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

TL Eller: I don't feel that it's state testing for me. It's a true desire to make these kids successful mathematicians. So.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah.

TL Eller: I want to prepare them for the next step, whatever that step is for them. Fifth-grade math, I guess, next year.

Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. And I think there's a lot of people listening right now who are feeling the same way at all different levels of success, right? Where some educators have an entire group that they feel like is way behind, but then others have some that it's like there's students that are doing well, even some of their students that maybe came in with maybe a couple of pieces that weren't quite there that you had kind of hoped they would have when they come into your class. We know that that's always going to be something that is happening. And then the challenge becomes, as you mentioned, it's like in our minds, we want everyone to be together.
We want everyone to be this wonderful group and everyone's going to progress at exactly the same level. But in reality, what we know deep inside is that students who do have, let's say, a little bit of that headstart, whether it's because they have more support at home, whether they've just... those experiences are a little bit different, maybe they've just made some connections without things being super explicit for them, so we'll call them the lucky ones... Regardless of how or why that's happening, the reality is that in a way, I feel like if those students were waiting up for the other students, you would probably not feel so great either, right?

TL Eller: Right.

Kyle Pearce: So I mean, it's... One positive, I suppose, to take away is that all students are growing. And you want those students to close that gap, but in reality, what typically happens is the opposite, as you've mentioned, right? The research would suggest the gap widens. But one differentiator that I'm hearing from you that doesn't always happen is oftentimes, those students who have struggled, they tend to not make very many gains at all, and that increases that gap so much more significantly. So the fact that it sounds like you're having some success with those students, that those students are learning, that you're assessing as you go, and you can see the growth in these students is such an important piece for you to understand and to recognize.

TL Eller: Mm-hmm.

Kyle Pearce: And I mean, of course you want to continue and do your best to try to help these students, but the reality is that you're going, well, if I'm giving students support, my wonder might be is that maybe you start to look at that schedule of those small groups that you have... So when you're working one-on-one or small group, it sounds like you're meeting with all the students in the class. Is this true? Or is it...

TL Eller: I do. I start the year out meeting with them all on a four-day rotation, and I just meet with them once a day. And then about halfway through the first nine weeks, as I get to know the students more, I differentiate that a little bit. So I actually have a six-day rotation, and two of those groups I meet with twice-

Kyle Pearce: Love it.

TL Eller: ... in the six days. So I'm meeting with some students more than others.

Kyle Pearce: I love it.

TL Eller: And actually those same group of students are with me or an instructional aid three out of... or four out of the six days. I do differentiate that a little bit.

Kyle Pearce: I was, in my mind, thinking if right now it was equal, oftentimes we think equitable is equal, when in reality it sounds like you already have a pretty good rotation, you have a good feel for maybe some students that may require additional small-group instruction support. There is that opportunity for you to maybe even reassess what you're doing now and sort of look at that and go, is there a way I can restructure this? So instead of some groups, you're seeing them twice, does it make sense that some of those groups you're seeing three times? Or maybe there's a different adjustment where maybe the time spent with some of the other groups maybe is cut in half and the time spent with these other groups is increased a little. So there are some other methods or things that you might want to do. I think it's great that you're still offering support to students in all of the different categories in your classroom, all of those different levels of achievement right now.
I think that's fantastic. But I suppose you could maybe play with those gears a little bit and see, hey, if there's an opportunity for me to sit... And I think too, the other piece that you might want to think about, I'm sure you already are thinking about, but just as a reminder, is when you look at those groups, if you were to kind of envision in your mind, and if you had a little checklist of the different groups you had and you sort of try to, in your mind, envision that amount of time that you're spending, who stands to benefit the most from that time? And how important is that growth to that group versus maybe this group? So for example, a group that might be accelerated, are they able to maybe get some of those gains without as much direct support from me? And maybe when I look at this other group, would this group be able to make the same gains independently that the group over here was able to make independently?
And that might also factor into maybe your organization a little bit. I certainly don't want to suggest that the way you're doing it isn't amazing. I think it sounds like you've got an amazing thing going on there. But just as a thought, it could be something like if you're feeling this pressure, you're feeling like you want to offer more, I wonder if doing a little bit of reflecting on that... And you kind of look at it as almost like where are we going to get the most bang for our time, so to speak, right? If I spend 20 minutes with this group and they are bumped here, and on their own, they were going to get to almost the same place, maybe that time might be better allocated somewhere else. Maybe that's not the case. But these are just things that maybe you can sort of ask yourself.
You'll never know for certain, but at least you can know that you are continuing to put a lot of deep thought into this. And I think honestly, these students, Jon, I don't know what you're thinking over there, but for me, I'm thinking these students are so lucky to have such a reflective teacher who has already got an amazing thing going on in terms of the structure of your math program. And you're constantly sort of playing with those gears to try to figure out, hey, how do we pull this lever and try to maximize the time and the effort that you're putting in. So I don't know if any of those ideas sort of resonate with you or if maybe you're already doing some of that thinking, but I'm curious kind of where your mind's at now.

TL Eller: Yeah. I feel like some of those things that you said about thinking about certain students that might benefit the most from the small group and the growth and the students that are going to continue to grow, that's kind of what I've been grappling with. I feel like I need to do more of that, and I'm anxious to kind of get some of this data back and kind of look at just the big picture and who's really growing across the board with our district assessment as well as our nationally normed growth assessment that we give. But this year, more than maybe any group of students, I have certain students that just really... even students who are really successful, so students right now who are achieving and growing, but they're my students that... I have a few of those students who need to be with me. That's just how they are.
They do better in small group, they attend better, they pick up those little... they work harder. It's just that's how that is this year. So this year, more than ever, I've really had to work with those groups and change. So I think it is just reassuring to hear you kind of reiterate that that's the right thing, because it's easy to question should I be seeing this student more? And I feel like this year has been a little bit, I kind of fix one problem and another one springs. Just, I think I finally have this group exactly the way I need it and I have in front of me, the kids who need to be here most. And then this child over here is the one that I'm like, oh no, I've lost him or her now. You know what I mean?

Kyle Pearce: Definitely.

Jon Orr: Yeah.

TL Eller: I'm definitely constantly shifting, and it definitely depends on what content and what skills we're currently working on. Sometimes certain students struggle more than others. I think that, for me, once I gather this data, and I kind of know, we... Our actually whole school, from your podcast, the idea of mastery days that you guys had done, there's quite a few of us in our maths department now that we kind of grapple with those after we get our curriculum-based assessment back here. And we have... So in small-group intervention, they'll have some time where they do this whole reflection and kind of see what skills they've mastered and what skills they haven't. And then they have time in our small-group intervention to kind of work on those, and then we have mastery tasks that they can go back and reassess and do.
So I'll be doing some of that in small group, and I definitely have groups of students that I know can definitely be more independent with that than others. So I think that will be great. But kind of as we start focusing on that and I start getting more data, I guess, is it right to continue to spend the time pulling the small groups? How do I prioritize my time with... Do I continue to work on the multiplication strategies and do that along with it? That's where I struggle, just to find... Because I also find that you think that 25 or 30 minutes is a long time, but if I really want kids to think deeply about math, they need time to sit on it.

Kyle Pearce: For sure.

TL Eller: Right.

Kyle Pearce: You're right. Yeah.

TL Eller: So that's just where I'm at. That's kind of where my wheels are turning, but.

Jon Orr: Yeah. Rightly so, and I think your discussion there of reflecting on your assessment days, that freed up a lot of time for us to help students kind of help them prioritize what they think should be the priority, and also helped me see where the priority for each of them was going to be. Because we had those mastery days because we had that data to say, look, we're here and on this skill, this skill and this skill, but we're over here on this skill and this skill. We should be spending our mastery day on these skills over here to bring this level up. But thinking about whole group in bigger instructions, questions we often ask ourselves when we're planning courses or when we're planning where a particular group is, is to reflect on what you feel is most important from the curriculum or the standards that you want to take this group on. Right? We've got a list of standards. We've got the curriculum standards that we have to go through.

Kyle Pearce: Are they all that important?

Jon Orr: Right. So sometimes, even though here in Ontario we have a huge list, but there are overall expectations that we have to say report on, and sometimes those standards are very general. And so it allows us, I think, the freedom to go, where do we think the most important expectation or standards are? What do we want to focus this particular... And it can change from year to year, right? So it's in group to group. What do we want to reflect on is the most important part? And then how do we kind of divvy up these days that we have so that I can narrow in on what I believe is the most important? So I know you're saying what should I focus on? And I think that's a great question I think you have to ask yourself. What do I believe is the most important for this group this year?

Kyle Pearce: Mm-hmm.

TL Eller: Mm-hmm.

Kyle Pearce: I love that idea. And the thing I'm getting in my mind or the vision I'm getting, Jon, is just even this, if you were to look at those standards and then you were to maybe even take a peek into next year and you go, okay... Oh no, the whole school's closing down on you. Those watching on YouTube inaudible.

TL Eller: I'm not inaudible it off.

Jon Orr: Yeah.

Kyle Pearce: All the lights just went off.

Jon Orr: The school thought...

TL Eller: It's going to start turning off too.

Jon Orr: The school thought no one's here right now. We're going to shut all the lights off.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, exactly.

TL Eller: Yeah.

Kyle Pearce: Hopefully we don't shut the internet off on you there. But when you're looking at your standards and then you start peeking ahead and you start looking at what's coming next.. So what is going to actually, we'll call it be that, that's going to reappear in later episodes of mathematics class? What are those fundamental pieces that are going to make it a lot easier for them to continue advancing, versus are there some... And I think this happens in every grade level, where there are some where it's sort of like, okay, it may be fizzles off a little bit, right? I pick on mean, median, and mode a lot because they're great, they're important, they're very helpful in life. But I don't know if it that's necessarily the hill I want to die on versus something else.
When I think about number and operations, the mean is all built on partitive division.So when I look at that and I go, huh, are there other topics in there that maybe that topic specifically isn't something that I think is of utmost importance, is it a way for me to access some of the other skills that I wanted them to build on anyway. I think about fractions like that as well. Could I approach fractions... Here in Ontario, our new curriculum actually approaches fractions in the early years, from K to four, very... Aggressive is probably the wrong word. I was going to say, they approach it pretty optimistically from the partitive division lens.
So they look at, essentially, fractions, they introduce the idea through a fair sharing context and where the result is a fraction. So rather than us just saying, hey, take half a Kit-Kat bar, or hey, take three quarters of this, they actually would take something like, hey, we have three submarine sandwiches and there's four people that have to have an equal amount of sub. How many subs per person do they get? So they introduce that early on as essentially it's division. What an awesome opportunity for us to talk about division and also get to play in the land of fractions. So there's all kinds of these pieces hidden on you. They really want you to go home inaudible. Those lights keep going off on you.

TL Eller: They're censored, and at a certain time, it does do this, so.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. But when you look at that, so you sort of think about, okay, what expectations would be a great excuse to do more of the ones that I really care about?

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Kyle Pearce: And then are there some other expectations or standards that are there that may not necessarily be sort of a make-or-break standard? Now, we're not saying completely skip over them, but I wonder if you were to look at, say, all the standards that you haven't explored yet this year, and you look at all the school days that you have left and you had to, bring up partitive division again, fair share them, I think as educators we often sort of go, okay, I've got this many days, I have this many standards, I'm going to break them up evenly. And in reality, what we probably want to do is go, you know what? I'm going to give one day to all these standards, but then I got these extra days. Where do the extra days go for the standards that are left? Right?

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm.

Kyle Pearce: Does everybody get a second day? Or are there some standards that it's like, hey, we did one day, we explored it, we learned about it, we had fun with it, but I want to spend two additional days over here, or whatever that number ends up being. But it could be a fun little activity. Fun maybe is a bit of a stretch, but it could be a helpful activity for you to look at that. And I wonder as well, by doing that process, would that potentially make you feel more confident, more comfortable with sort of how the rest of the year is going to pan out versus... I think what we think in our mind is it's like this massive, never-ending list, and we sort of come to the conclusion right out of the gate that we're like, there's no way I'm going to get to it all.
But if we sort of stop and we go, hey, here's what we've got left, here's how much time I've got left, and now I sort of get a plan in place... Which will never work out perfectly, but at least it gives you something to look forward to and sort of go, you know what? I feel good about how I'm going to divvy up the rest of the time that I have with these students, and I feel good about if we can maximize that time through the routines that you already have set in your classroom, that at the end of the year I will have done my absolute best to provide these students with an awesome opportunity. I think thinking like that, I'm feeling super positively for you, and I feel like that might give you the opportunity to sleep better at night, because it sounds like you probably need to have some nice nights of sleep because...

TL Eller: That would be wonderful.

Kyle Pearce: ... you're doing a great job.

TL Eller: Thank you. Yeah. No, I think that's good. As I was listening to you talk... One of the things that we have is kind of a student assessment binder where they reflect, actually we do it in language arts and in math, but they kind of reflect on the assessments that we give, and they kind of can look at certain skills and what skills they mastered on that and which ones they didn't and how that's impacting the prioritized standards and if they've hit mastery or not kind of thing. And so as they kind of show us enough evidence throughout the year that they've mastered a prioritized standard, we go through and highlight those in their binder for them as we conference. And so I was thinking, with some of my students, it would be helpful if I kind of did pick out the most important ones that they kind of like... If I highlighted those or kind of mark them differently. Oh my goodness, I'm in the dark. This is good. I hope my administration watches this, because I've complained about it a couple times. Anyways.

Jon Orr: We're getting all kinds of pebbles out of your shoe today.

TL Eller: Yeah. But I was just thinking that it would be great if I could say, let's focus on these four.

Kyle Pearce: Right.

TL Eller: And once you have hit these four, then we'll worry about... Because I do think that there are three or four really big ones that stand out before the others. So it would be... And I think it would be empowering for them to kind of see, okay, we've got that big one off the list.

Kyle Pearce: Right.

TL Eller: Because our students have a lot of ownership in what they've mastered and what they haven't, and they take a lot of pride in that and they love... Our curriculum is very spiraled, and it kind of builds towards mastery. It comes together kind of geniusly at the end of the year where it feels like all these pieces start to fall together.

Kyle Pearce: Love it.

TL Eller: As it does, it's really cool to see them kind of be like, yes, I've got it. And we start... But I think it would be super helpful for some of those other kiddos, as we're doing mastery days, if they didn't see this long list of...

Kyle Pearce: Right.

Jon Orr: Yeah.

TL Eller: If they just had a few to focus on, it would be a lot less overwhelming for me as the teacher as well. So I think that would be helpful.

Jon Orr: Yeah, that's a great idea too, and not overwhelming students with that big list. And I think we used to do that as well by unlocking, we used to call it unlocking certain expectations to focus on here, and then we would put up these as the kind of the go-tos. And then after some of those progressed, we'd unlock a few more to kind of keep going on. But I like your idea of highlighting what they should be focusing on first as our kind of top priority or our main priority for the year. TL, what would you say, at this point, your biggest takeaway from tonight's conversation is?

TL Eller: I think, for me, my main focus is going to be kind of, first of all, working on identifying students who are going to benefit the most from working with me maybe a little more and which ones are going to continue to grow. I definitely have those students who, they probably only need 10 or 15 minutes a week with me in a small group, and they're pretty intrinsically motivated and they're going to grow. So I think kind of working with that and then kind of trying to work with my fourth-grade team and talk to them about what do we think... And maybe even talking with the fifth-grade teachers in hearing what you guys are saying and coming up with a list of, these are our prioritized standards, but what are the most prioritized standards of this list in preparing my students for fifth-grade math? What are the non-negotiables? So I think those are my big takeaways today on what I want to leave here and be able to work on.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. It's fantastic. And just commenting on the last piece, it's interesting because sometimes what we work so hard on or work so hard to get students to maybe know, understand, and do may or may not be something that is even a roadblock by the following year, right? So I mean, having that conversation, I love that idea that you've shared, that, hey, as a divisional team or a grade band team where we come together and we sort of talk about where are the hiccups in your grade? And that might be helpful for the teacher of the previous grade before your students come to you. And as you have that conversation and over time as you start to get a better sense and you go, huh, typically students in my grade tend to struggle in these areas. That could be helpful to the previous teacher.
And then when you hear from the next teacher in line and you're going, wow, I spent, I don't know, five days on this topic, and you're telling me that that topic isn't even on the radar as something that concerns you? Is it because I spent five days on it? Maybe.

Jon Orr: Maybe, yeah.

Kyle Pearce: You'll find out if you adjust down and then all of a sudden now it's a problem in the future. Right? It's sort of this balancing act, right? But that conversation I think can be so valuable. So that's a great thought and a great next step for you to be taking as well. So...

TL Eller: Awesome.

Kyle Pearce: ... this has been incredibly, incredibly helpful, not only for us to get a sense of where you are along this journey, but I know the Math Moment Makers at home are nodding their heads, have some of the same concerns that you have had. I think we all, as educators, we got into this business because we wanted students to achieve. We want every student to achieve. And in a perfect world, they're all achieving together at a high level and no one's being left behind. So I heard that come out in this conversation today, and I think everyone at home is going, you know what? I feel the same way. And by making these small adjustments, we can help to ensure more students learn more math. But one thing that I have a funny feeling that we'll never be able to do completely is make sure that they're all together, all at once. So making sure that you give yourself that grace to know that, hey, you are doing the best work you possibly can given what you know how to do.
And the beautiful part is that you're continuing to learn more, and that's going to continue to help your students now and all of those students in the future. That was a perfect time to sign off because the lights went off for the sixth time, which is fantastic. But, TL, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. Dare we bother you to have you back on at some point, whether it's at the end of this school year, maybe it's the beginning of next school year, but where we connect again, sort of hear how things are going? I know that people who are listening. They always write and let us know that they love hearing the progress that people are making. And just in a half of a school year, we've heard of some really amazing gains, growth, not only as you as a professional, as a teacher, but it sounds like your students are growing in turn, which I think is really inspiring to those who are listening. So if we couldn't bother you, would you be willing to-

TL Eller: I would love to.

Kyle Pearce: ... to join us again.

Jon Orr: All right.

Kyle Pearce: Maybe the lights can shut off 6, 7, 8 more times in that conversation as well.

TL Eller: Yeah. We'll hopefully get that fixed. No, yeah, I'd love to come back on.

Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Awesome stuff. Thanks so much, TL, for joining us, and we hope you have a great rest of your evening tonight and an even better next couple weeks.

TL Eller: Thank you.

Kyle Pearce: Have an awesome night, my friend.

TL Eller: Thank you.

Kyle Pearce: As always, both Jon and I learned so much from these conversations. And in reality, I think one of the things that I love about these episodes is it really just gives us all a sense to reflect on ideas. So whether you're the person bringing the pebble to the group-

Jon Orr: Mm-hmm. True.

Kyle Pearce: ... or whether you're on the other end and you're being that listening ear, I find that everyone in the conversation gets to grow a little bit, think a little bit, reflect a little bit, and of course, in turn, that helps us to do better in the classroom for more students.

Jon Orr: Totally agree there, Kyle. And what better way to do it with another individual or a group. And we have some of those groups available for you. You can head on over to Facebook, join our Facebook group Math Mo Makers K to 12. Hit us up on all social media at Make Math Moments. We are here to be your sounding board, to be your group. We don't want to be the lone wolves in our districts. We have a community out there of Math Mo Makers who are willing and eager to jump in and help you with your pebble in your shoe. And actually, we would love for you to join us here on the podcast to discuss your pebble in your shoe, just like TL has done now twice. She reached out to us through our form, just wrote about her pebble, and then we brought her on to chat about it.
It's easy. It's non-threatening. We just have a chat here, and everybody gets to win out of this. And so we would love to hear from you. We can only have episodes like this from folks who reach out and put their kind of brave faces on to join us. But we'd love to hear from you. Head on over to makemathmoments.com/mentor. That's makemathmoments.com/mentor. Quick form there. Tell us about your pebble, and the math community, the Math Mo Makers out there are going to greatly benefit from the conversation we have to figure that out.

Kyle Pearce: Hey, Jon, I had an awesome holiday. We're recording this just after the new year, just into January. And there's one thing that's got me down. Do you know what it is?

Jon Orr: It is you didn't eat enough turkey?

Kyle Pearce: No.

Jon Orr: You'd like...

Kyle Pearce: I eat way too much turkey, Jon. That's one of the reasons that I had such a great holiday. But there's one thing, one thing that kind of hurt my heart a little bit, and it's that this past week, we did not receive any reviews on Apple Podcasts or the other platforms.

Jon Orr: Interesting.

Kyle Pearce: That kind of hurts my heart a little bit.

Jon Orr: Mine now too.

Kyle Pearce: And the reason why is because when we have people actively rating and reviewing on all podcast platforms, that actually tells the interwebs to share the show with more educators around the world. And in turn, we get to affect more change in math classrooms around the world. So my friends, if you have not rated or reviewed the podcast yet, take a moment, pause, and go ahead. Leave an honest one, honest review, honest rating. We would love to see it come in this week.

Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources and complete transcripts, you can find those over on our show notes page makemathmoments.com/episode218. That's makemathmoments.com/episode218.

Kyle Pearce: Well, until next time, my friends. I'm Kyle Pearce...

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High-fives for us.

Jon Orr: And a high-five for you.

powered by


Download the Cheat Sheets in PDF form so you can effectively run problem based lessons from a distance!

MMM From A Distance Cheat Sheets Smaller.001


There is a LOT to know, understand, and do to Make Math Moments From a Distance.

That’s why so many Math Moment Makers like YOU have joined the Academy for a month ON US!

You heard right: 30 days on us and you can cancel anytime. Dive into our distance learning course now…

Make Math Moments From A Distance Course
LEARN MORE about our Online Workshop: Making Math Moments That Matter: Helping Teachers Build Resilient Problem Solvers.

Thanks For Listening

To help out the show:


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Pedagogically aligned for teachers of K through Grade 12 with content specific examples from Grades 3 through Grade 10.

In our self-paced, 12-week Online Workshop, you'll learn how to craft new and transform your current lessons to Spark Curiosity, Fuel Sense Making, and Ignite Your Teacher Moves to promote resilient problem solvers.