In an earlier post, we gave an outline for integrating assessment into a math lesson. And we said that in subsequent posts we would address several aspects in more detail. Here is a closer look at the first step – starting the lesson with a graphic representation of the concept and procedure handed out to each student.

In the post that followed, we put up a video (The Soccer Teams Graphic) that demonstrated exploring the graphic in numerical order and re-exploring it out of numerical order. Through tutoring and classroom application of the graphic pages, we have observed more effective and less effective ways of guiding a lesson using a graphic manipulative. While there are lots of manipulatives and number arrays out there, how they are implemented and integrated makes all the difference. As always, it comes down to effective teaching. Here’s an approach that works when guiding students with a graphic page and a blank piece of paper:

1. Use short phrasessay only what is needed for students to construct, count, and observe on the graphic page. AVOID explaining. “Now you see class, what you just did was…” Guide and allow for their discoveries. Short phrases move the lesson along, keep students actively engaged with the graphic, and help language learners and students who have a hard time focusing.

2. Start with an action verbcount (“Count how many…”), move (“Move your blank paper to show…”), cover (“Cover all but the first team”), uncover, and so on. This aids in fulfilling the first step. Students know right away what to do.

3. Model your directionswhen you ask them to uncover the next row of soccer players or members of a rowing team or weeks with the blank paper, do it with them at first – in a way that they can see your movements. A picture is worth a thousand words. This is helpful for everyone and especially for those learning the language – whether English or math! – and those who have a problem paying attention to aural directions. Your observations will tell you how long to continue modeling. It has proved more effective to model one step at a time rather than to give students an overview to recall and execute.

4. Observe (assess)look around to make sure everyone is engaged and following your direction on the graphic correctly. Since it involves physical activity, it is pretty easy to see who is where they need to be for the direction you gave and who is slow or looking around to see what to do. Assessing determines the speed and direction of the lesson – does a prior skill need to be addressed – who needs a little more support – who is ready for more of a challenge – and so on. Creatively using a graphic page enables you to derive multiple lessons and multiple challenge levels from the same page. Each student matters.

5. Correct student responses nowsince each student matters, something needs to be done when you see inaccurate or continually slow responses. But never give an answer. Guide individual students to correct themselves: “Show me on the chart how you got that answer.”  As they reconstruct and rethink their solution, they see for themselves what they did wrong, and therefore how to do it right. Some may require further guiding questions. It is not efficient to give them the answer and move on. You will have to retrace this same concept or procedure eventually. Do it now before it becomes an unlearned prior skill needed for another procedure the student is trying to learn.

6. Begin the transition to print say “show this many teams” as you write a “5” on the board. Don’t say the word “5.” Or say, “show this on your page” as you write on the board, “7 x 11.” By doing this, students see numbers and symbols as action prompts and begin making the connection between manipulation and computation. It prepares them for the problem pages that follow.

7. Ask questions transition to mini-word problems. “3 teams are coming to the practice tomorrow, how many water bottles will we need?” After the students have some experience with a concept and procedure, then begin to make the process conscious by asking them questions about what they did.

Our experience has been that new vocabulary and notation should be introduced gradually in conjunction with the work on the graphic pages and reiterated during practice with the partner pages that follow. It is better to solidify (talk about) concepts with the correct nomenclature after students have actually experienced using them with the graphic pages. They own something concrete then to hang those words on. We will look more closely at working with the partner pages in a later post.

Summary: Guide work on a graphic manipulative using short phrases. Model how to do it. Make sure they’re doing it correctly; help them if they aren’t. Guide the work using numbers and math notation on the board. Give further written and aural challenges at appropriate levels. Ask them questions about what they did.

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