What is the “grain size” of change?

Looking at standards at the granular level

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

– Margaret Mead 

Wow – where has the time gone? It is already November! This school year, I have been working with collaborative teams as they make sense of their curriculum, create high quality assessments, and design instructional plans. They are striving to make revisions based on evidence of student learning. Additionally, the collaborative teams are taking time to reflect upon strengths and challenges and create action steps to support their SMART goals (short-term and long-term). Many teams have truly impacted student achievement and are the “grain size” of change needed for mathematics teaching and learning in their respective school districts.

Last month, I was working with an Algebra team and they were reviewing student work from their latest assessment. To set the stage, this team has a new curriculum and new instructional resources for their course. They are creating unit assessments tied to the three to five essential learning standards (big ideas) of the unit to give teachers and students explicit feedback. Of the four learning targets on this particular assessment, the collaborative team noticed that a majority of their students (regardless of the teacher) were not proficient on one of the learning targets. Typically, the team has only calculated how many students received an A, B, C, D, or F (overall score) on an assessment and this was the first time that they had reviewed their assessments by learning targets. They shared what instructional strategies were used with the challenging learning target and created action steps on how they would re-engage the students in the essential learning standard.

The mathematics teachers have been working in the framework of the unit-by-unit actions of collaborative teams to ensure success for each and every student. These specific unit-by-unit actions are the High Leverage Team Actions (HLTA) described in the Beyond the Common Core: A Handbook for Mathematics in a PLC at Work series. The HLTAs articulate the actions teams need to take beforeduring, and after each unit to ensure student learning. These actions are aligned to the 4 critical PLC questions that professional learning community cultures strive to answer on a unit-by-unit basis. Before teams start working on assessments or tasks, the first high leverage team action that teams tackle is to make sense of the essential standards:

HLTA #1: Agree on the expectation and the intent of the common essential learning standards and process standards (mathematical practices) for the unit.  

As collaborative teams are working with curriculum, they have to deeply understand the essential learning standards, the depth of the standard, as well as identify the mathematical practices aligned to the intent of the standard. For example, read through the standard A-REI.1:

Explain each step in solving a simple equation as following from the equality of numbers asserted at the previous step, starting from the assumption that the original equation has a solution. Construct a viable argument to justify a solution method.

Notice the last sentence in the standard. Does it sound familiar? Like a particular mathematical practice? Collaborative teams are looking at these “practice-forward” standards to truly understand the expectation of the standards. Collaborative teams identify the specific Mathematical Practices or state process standards that will be addressed during the unit in order to better engage students in the process of understanding each learning standard. Here is an example from an Algebra team, and what I love about this is the collaborative team is clearly communicating the essential learning standard and the targeted mathematical practices to the students:

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Since this is the Algebra team’s first year with their new curriculum, their work is steeped in making sense of the standards and working collaboratively to ensure best instruction and collectively respond to student learning. The team is discovering that the more they make sense of the standards, the better the students understand the content.

I am looking forward to seeing their results next time I work with them and I look forward to learning with teams at the inaugural Mathematics at Work Summit in Orlando, Florida, December 5-7.


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Solution Tree

Here's some awesome bio info about me! Short codes are not allowed, but perhaps we can work something else out.

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