Documenting small group learning

Selecting children to be part of a withdrawal maths group was a process. As a rule, I am not in favour of withdrawing children to “support” or “enhance” their learning. However, sometimes, rules need to be broken. The group of 5 children was very carefully selected.

As a team, we thought about:

  • How might the children benefit?
  • How might this create a stigma?
  • What might children “miss” when they are out of the class?
  • What might they gain when they are out of class?
  • Is the gender imbalance in the group an issue?
  • What is the focus?
  • How will we measure progress?

I spent a great deal of time unpacking, planning and convincing people.

Initially, two of my identified learners were unsure whether they wanted to buy in. I asked for 1 week (2 lessons) before they made up their minds and they agreed.

In the first session, we established the “why” and the “how”. The “what” was to be a work in a progress – a co-constructed development of content and skills that we would develop.

Today’s session begins with a quick counting game as we walk to our room.

“Start at 197 and add 3 each time.”

No one questions why we were are counting and walking. No one puzzles when the number is changed, a decade is crossed or a decimal is thrown in.

There is a  pre-algebraic puzzle on the table as they enter and each child grabs a pencil and starts to tackle the thinking in their own way.

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We share strategies (there are two different solutions) and as we go along, the children say things like, “Oh, I know where I went wrong!” and “Wait, a minute, I want to change something.”

I ask the children to think of their learning on a continuum and place themselves on a number line (0 is “I still understand the same as the last time we did something like this” and 10 is “I have made 100% progress).

Each child plots their growth on their own number line and we decide to make a human number line. One child says,”We need a ruler to measure the length of the room!” and he grabs one, measures 3 meters, tells us where the middle is and we organise ourselves.


The excitement is the room is infectious! We all celebrate when each child takes their number (tweaked with a decimal point) and creates two questions for another person.

“What is 0.6 more than my number?”
“What is 1.4 less than my number?”

There is a moment of tension when the question, “What is 0 .9 more than my number [7.6] ?” is asked. We all sit and think about our strategy and then we use a tweaked version of Jo Boaler’s  Number Talk protocol to share our strategies.



Each session is carefully documented, focussed on the children’s confusion, misconceptions, progress and learning. Today’s lesson ends with an exit card:
“What did you learn/think about OR what confused you / do you want to know more about?” Their answers will guide me in planning next week’s session.

I am blown away by the children who started coming to this group , a few weeks ago, because they need “extra assistance” (and the two who have forgotten they needed convincing) – their mindset and willingness to engage and learn is ensuring that they are developing their self-belief, ability to reason and  articulate their thinking and their desire to learn something that they see the relevance of.


Posted in Jina, Learning, learning support, maths, Number sense, ownership, PYP | Leave a comment

Shifting from teacher to learner …

Extracting “big ideas” is the key – how can we apply what we learn to other things?

I spent a week out of my teaching role, in the role of the student learner for a week. Much of what I was engaged in was challenging and I felt uncomfortable. I found myself going for walks, getting water and chatting with my peers. These experiences always serve as reminders of how our learners feel every day.
The transferable ideas that I am reminded of from this learning experience are applicable to all ages, in all learning areas and in any language. There are things that I want to remember about my learners and there are things that I want to remember for my teaching. Most are things that are applicable to learners and teachers, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes not.

  • At times we need to think with like-minded people. At times we need to think with people who think in completely different ways.
  • Theory can be interesting. When absolutely necessary, telling leaners what we (teachers)  know needs to be in small bursts and broken up by them talking and thinking to construct meaning.
  • Giving learners choice is vital –  in little things (where to sit; when to go for a walk; how to take notes) and big things (what they will do with what they are learning; how they will construct meaning).
  • “Just a minute, let me think” is a crucial mantra. Saying what we want to say, just as they start to think is detrimental.
  • Metacognition is important … making connections and seeing the relevance of what we are learning have great importance too.
  • Learners who feel insecure about what they know need structure. Giving too much structure to others is stifling. Find the balance.
  • We can grow and develop our brains – we need to believe this and challenge ourselves in order to do so.
  • Providing the opportunity for all students to be challenged is a fundamental part of what we do.
  • Human interaction (otherwise known as mediation) is the most important thing in learning. Rich language, feedback, guidance and reflection form the basis of all learning.
  • The instrument/ tool/content that we use to guide learners is secondary. The skills which they gain, that can be applied to different areas is primary.

Reflection has been vital in my understanding and application of what I learnt.

Do I provide enough time and space for meaningful reflection so that learning becomes relevant to my learners?

Posted in Jina, Learning, learning support, Thinking | 1 Comment

New maths assessment required

Formal assessment for the sake of collecting data makes no sense to me.

I am opposed to anything that is the cause of unnecessary stress and anxiety to learners; generates extra work for teachers and does nothing to inform learning and teaching.

I am, however, in favour of collecting data to see “the big picture” when it comes to learners. Everything is an assessment and ongoing, purposeful, formative assessment, when linked to meaningful, personal reflection, is key to planning for learning that is directed and owned by learners, and is the director of explicit instruction and guidance from teachers.

We use the Early Numeracy Interview in the younger years for all children, for Number Strands.

From Year 4 to Year 6, we use it for certain children, who are identified as having some “gaps in their knowledge” to help us identify where to direct explicit support. We are noticing that many children do not have  “formal methods” for solving equations by the time they get to Year 6. Secondary school teachers expect all children to solve maths questions using THE formal method.

While we spend a great deal of time using apparatus and encouraging children to draw and explore a variety of methods, we still have some children who do not have a recognised “formal” method to draw on.  Do they need this? Or do they need a successful, efficient and effective way to solve questions using all 4 operations?

Having identified a handful of Year 6 children who need more assistance than what they are currently receiving in maths, I decide it was time to draw up an interview that would allow me to see exactly what their understanding of place value is and how they interpret real-world problems (can they identify the correct operation to use) and which strategy (if any) they use to solve these problems. Knowing this will help me to structure their learning to fill their “toolbox” with strategies that they can hopefully draw on, successfully, and with ease and still fulfil the expectations of their secondary schools.

An interview, as opposed to any other assessment, allows the child to explore and share their thinking in a non-threatening environment. I provide a whiteboard and encourage the learner to share their thinking every step of the way.

I am excited to give our new interview a go and decide how best to provide for my group of children.  I am wondering ….

  • Will I attempt to teach the 5 children as a group or will I target them in pairs / individually?
  • Will I always be able to provide a “real life” situation? ( I hope so!)
  • Will a provocation start each session, no matter how many children? (always my aim)
  • Will I be able to successfully move their thinking on to the formal processes, even if the understanding is not 100% in place? (and is this the right thing to do?)
  • With the assistance of classroom teachers, giving the children more opportunities to explore and practise their methods and exposure to experiences using them, will these children retain and apply what they learn with me?

I would love some input about my interview from others.

Would this be helpful to you?

Posted in Jina, learning support, maths, Number sense, ownership | 3 Comments


At a recent IB Conference, Jayne Pletser leaves me with these profound words, “Honour the child”. Which leads me to ponder, what, at the end of the lesson/ day/ week/ term/ school year do we do to honour the child?

As the teacher, do we

  • feel inspired, passionate and care about who and what we are teaching?
  • know our learners – as people?
  • know what we believe about learning – how, why and when it happens?
  • buy into the learning principles and beliefs of the school at which we teach?
  • care? About the who, how, why and what we are teaching?
  • value learning above teaching?

Do we ensure that the child

  • has a point of entry for learning?
  • feels safe to ask questions and make mistakes?
  • understands the value of being in the learning pit?
  • is inspired by the provocations that we share?
  • is “allowed” to be a person – to eat, drink, sit, think … learn in the ways that are right?
  • knows that people care – without having praise and judgement guide their days?

If we have this as our mantra, what more will we do, every day, to HONOUR THE CHILD?

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What makes an inquiry class different from all others?

Sometimes, I need a reminder. What is it that sets an inquiry learning environment apart from all others?

Provocation is crucial.

  • Invitations are shared at the start of lessons – something to make everyone think. Sometimes the link is obvious. Sometimes it takes time to see the connections and sometimes it is a way to connect concepts, thoughts and ideas.

Questions are an integral part of learning.

  • Children probe – themselves, one another, teachers and experts.
  • Teachers probe – themselves, one another, learners and experts.
  • “I wonder” is a whisper heard consistently – and wonderings are woven into new knowledge and skills.

Everything is noticed – everything is named.

  • What was; what was not said?
  • How was it done?
  • Why was it like that?
  • What was learnt?
  • Why was it said?
  • What did (I)  you do for yourself; what did (I)  you do for others?
  • What was it that made someone feel special?
  • What was it that made someone feel sad?
  • What was learnt beyond the curriculum?
  • What innovation was present?
  • What was understood; what was not understood?

Documentation is part of daily rituals.

  • What was learnt? 
  • What was confusing?
  • What was challenging? (there should always be something)
  • What skills were evident?
  • What attitudes were (or were not) being developed?
  • What misconceptions will guide our next lesson?

Ongoing, formative assessment guides all learning.

  • It’s not the grade or the mark that counts. It’s the questions, the interactions; the wonderings that is noted by adults and children and the progress of each learner is celebrated.
  • It’s the process … the journey that is valued, not the product.

Learners own the learning.

  • Agency is the norm and everyone is expected to make sound decisions.
  • Punishment is an unnecessary tool – reflection and discussion take its place.
  • Learners are expected to be metacognitive and consider their needs (why would someone else be telling us when we may eat, drink, go to the toilet; decide where we are comfortable sitting or standing?)

Mistakes are celebrated.

  • The value of learning from our confusion is visible.
  • Mistakes are valued and learners are asked questions that help them to find their own mistakes and misconceptions and what to do next.

Balance between explicit teaching and self discovery is essential

  • Educators knowing when to step in and offer workshops (to those who need) , extension at the point of need for every learner and suggestions of where to go next is a fine balance. Inquiry is not “free for all” – it is a structured, guided approach with opportunities to explore, extend, challenge, reflect and refine in a continuous cycle.

Constant reflection (by the adult and children learners)

Questions like these are evidence that learning is authentic …

  • What do I/you know?
  • How will I/you learn best?
  • From and with whom will my/ your  learning be enhanced?
  • What went well?
  • What do I/ you still want to know?
  • So what … now what?


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#Innovator’s Mindset

I share this video with a group of Year 6 learners, who are planning their own student-led workshops for our #Passionsmatter Conference – a conference for students, by students.


After watching, the students share their “big takeaway” from the video. They say things like:

  • Never let anyone stand in the way of your dreams.
  • Allow fear to drive you, not stop you.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • It doesn’t matter what other people think – it matters what you think.
  • Perseverance is key.

And then one boy turns to me and says, “Isn’t the message a bit idealistic? It’s a dream – not really true.”

So we stop and talk about the conference. About how he is about to innovate and create a workshop that will be thought-provoking and lead to action in his peers. It’ s about a stance – a way of thinking that leads to change of thought, feeling, being, doing, having or saying. If fear or lack of motivation stand in his way, change is impossible.

He considers the conversation and then says, “You know, what … We need to dream. We need to believe.” He sets off with three peers to develop his workshop about how basketball can develop team building skills. He is ready to innovate. He leads me to think about George Couros, the Principal of Change”, who is sharing ideas about innovation and change.

In his latest  #InnovatorsMindset MOOC, George has reached out to thousands of educators, helping us to see that “You don’t need to change anything. You simply need to understand that the world is changing, and, if you don’t change with it, the world will decide that it doesn’t need you anymore.”

We are on a journey, as educators and learners. Our paths have many turns and options – our mission is to see that the world is changing and we need to equip ourselves and our learners with the skills, knowledge, power and belief to change, in positive ways, with the world.


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Learning modifications for all …

In an attempt to create individual learning plans that are meaningful and useful, we have launched a mini inquiry. We are noticing that there is a myriad of accommodations that teachers make without even thinking about them.

Things like:

  • including every child in the lesson
  • giving them a choice and a variety of levels of challenge
  • starting with what children know
  •  using calculators to do some problems
  •  using manipulatives, charts, concrete apparatus
  • grouping  students with higher reading groups so the story can be enjoyed and good reading strategies are modeled
  •  rotating  groups – use purposeful pairing
  • not “frontloading” – rather creating short, meaningful mini lessons
  • conferencing to teach at points of need
  • gaining the respect of everyone in the classroom by giving it
  • taking  time to get to know all students; ensuring that what we are asking them to do, on a given day, is thoughtful and thought provoking… remembering that children have bad days too
  •  having a sense of humor and helping children to develop theirs
  •  discreetly letting the special needs students know that we understand their learning difficulties and are willing to help them be successful in the class
  • providing modifications BEFORE disruptions occur
  •  being consistent
  •  avoiding sarcasm
  • giving instructions multiple times and in multiple ways. Paraphrasing, writing key points up for everyone
  • making reflection a part of every learning experience and using this as assessment
  • noticing and naming successes. Modeling this and encouraging learners to do the same
  • using a tone and manner that does not make learners feel that they are babies or below us
  • using VISUALS all the time, with auditory back-up
  • adding icons or pictures whenever possible
  •  developing a discrete hand signal to use with the student to indicate their need to modify behavior.

Reading and exploring sites like this has given us some ideas for strategies to look out for and to think about in developing plans that are individualized to the specific needs of each learner. They have also made us realize that what we do for learners with special needs are often modifications that are beneficial to all learners.

The image below made me giggle, but it also led me to think about how different it is to know the answer and to be able to articulate thinking and understanding. Formative assessment is a powerful tool when seeking to create modifications and allow students to show what they DO know, before finding things that they do not know.

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Some questions to ask ourselves:

1. When and what do I need to teach ALL students in my classroom?

2. How do I use assessment to inform teaching and grouping?

3. How do I ensure that every child is making progress?

4. Is learning engaging? How?

5. How will accommodations benefit not only the special needs students in our classes but all students – don’t they all have needs?



Posted in Inquiry, Jina, learning support | Leave a comment