An Interview with a Master Teacher of Balanced Literacy

One of the best perks of my job is that I am able to collaborate with master teachers from around the globe. My school  houses some of the most impressive cast of teachers around and it is an honor each day to learn from them. With that in mind, in the upcoming weeks I am looking to interview a few teachers to both learn and share their craft. imgres

First off is Colin Weaver. Colin is a master teacher and avid hockey player. He was highly recommended from administration. While teaching literacy, Colin notes each discussion with his students. From his extensive note taking, Colin prepares highly effective lessons geared to getting the most from his readers and writers. Students, parents and teachers all rave about Colin’s work.

Elementary literacy teachers…Listen, Learn, Enjoy and Share this professional development opportunity.

It will be nineteen minutes of time well spent.


How to Teach Fourth Grade: The Math Test

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Life is good for only two things, discovering mathematics and teaching mathematics. 

Simeon Poisson 

My students recently just finished their Everyday Math Written Assessment for Unit 4 and I thought that I would share some of my ideas on issuing the typical fourth grade math test. I hope some of these ideas help.

First of all, my students enjoy math class for they are highly motivated and obviously supported. I view the parents as partners in learning. They play an important and irreplaceable role in math comprehension. I am fully aware that for a good many of my students, my role in their math learning is middling, at best. That said: we have a lot of fun exploring the subject.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I pre-assess each student before the start of each unit. From there, I heap a great amount of responsibility on the students to take charge of their own math understanding. They learn with partners and speak in conversational tones throughout most lessons. My job is to pair up the students with similar ability partners. Next, I steer the conversations so that each student becomes a little stronger in their understanding. Soon I will have the students write daily reflections on their new learning.

At the start of each math test, the students sit in “test mode” seating. Each kid is responsible for setting up dividers and each table group’s “go getter” are responsible for distributing the tests. Students look over the test and one or two students proactively volunteers to pass out needed math tools such as rulers, calculators or protractors.

Each test  an assessment for learning. Therefore, I routinely help out students as they learn. I pat the kids on their backs and compliment them throughout. For this specific test, the kids asked me to define terms like “withdraw” or “deposit. ” Both terms were not on my word wall so I happily explained what the words meant.

I review before each test on my interactive whiteboard. I am a pretty demanding teacher but I stop coaching in while the kids are taking their assessments. Rather, I celebrate their learning and cheer them on and do whatever else I can to boost their confidence.

I assign the first student to complete the test to collect the remaining tests and to alphabetize the tests according to last names. This helps me grade and input data on an excel spreadsheet.

Each grade-level focuses on a different algorithm throughout the year. This helps the student develop mastery with the four operations while the teachers develop mastery in routinely teaching a particular method.

I accommodate the students with graph paper and hands-on learning tools, such as base-ten blocks. All are welcome to use the tools regardless of their learning needs.

This helps all develop confidence in mathematics, my only goal during testing days throughout the year.


Poisson, S. (n.d.). Mathematics quotes. Retrieved from

Teaching Math Mastery in the International School Fourth Grade Classroom

” In this changing world, those who understand and can do mathematics will have significantly enhanced opportunities and options for shaping their futures. Mathematical competence opens doors to productive futures. A lack of mathematical competence keeps doors closed…All students should have the opportunity and the support necessary to learn significant mathematics with depth and understanding. There is no conflict between equity and excellence.” NCTM (200, p 50)

As an international school fourth grade teacher, I realize that I have 22 students of widely varying degrees of mathematical understanding. The following is a body of thought on how I approach teaching in my classroom.

I believe that each child  be encouraged to take control of their own mathematics learning. This means that I am to create an environment where students discuss findings, compare ideas, and peer tutor. In creating such an environment, I first need to develop a highly structured classroom with easy access to mathematical tools. The students need to develop relationships inside the classroom. I need to develop routines and habits that foster thinking. This is a constant work in progress that finds me tinkering to find small, incremental improvements that alone are not readily noticeable. The students need help each other without exception.

You need lots of math manipulatives.

Curriculum is to fit the student population. This means that school leaders must constantly investigate results to find trends in student math learning. Teachers are to understand reasoning behind decisions and differentiate expectations for each child. I strongly believe that mathematics teachers need support from school leaders. This includes regular, focused and differentiated professional development for mathematics instructors. School leaders must recognize and foster collaborative activities among teachers.

Students learn what the teacher teaches each day. They easily see when a teacher does not deeply understand mathematics instruction. I am a big believer that elementary school teachers need to support each other in explaining ideas that develop teacher ability. This means regular, intentional time for teachers to look over student work and to discuss ideas in how to teach a particular concept.

Assessment is an integral but not overwhelming management aspect. I tend to focus on a bevy of pre assessment strategies so that I can pinpoint my instruction and find a “just right” learning for each child. I teach students to constantly use reflective assessment tools that show and celebrate their “new, big, idea” from each day’s lesson. I post “exit slips” each day and make sure that exemplar posts are widely viewed.

I believe that technology plays an ever increasingly important role in the mathematics classroom. I am a huge fan of ViHart,  Khan Academy and Brainpop in helping me accelerate student understanding. I use these sites religiously. They are excellent tools in a differentiated mathematics classroom.

That is all for now.

Teachers,“How do you approach mathematics instruction in your classroom?”   Please feel free to comment below.

Good luck.

National Council of Mathematics (2000) Principles and standards for school mathematics Reston VA

How to Teach Fourth Grade, revisited.

There is no secret to teaching nine and ten-year old students. There is no magic bullet to create a positive learning environment for children. Elementary level teaching is foremost, hard work. That said, it is the most rewarding profession I can imagine. The following, in no specific order, is a body of thought on how I feel teachers should approach their craft. I  may not know much, but I do now how to teach littles. Special thanks to Angela Maiers, for inspiring me and reminding me what really matters.

Please feel free to add your comments.

Each day, teach:

  • passion. Portray that there is no more interesting job other than teaching.
  • empathy. Understanding others is unending and infinitely rewarding.
  • awareness. Know thyself, it makes all the difference.
  • simplicity.Thoreau wrote, “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.” This alone makes a life well-lived.
  • respect. Respect all who you come across, each day and be your own number-one fan.
  • acceptance. Accept the things that are out of your control. You will soon find that most everything is out of your control.
  • precision. Teach students precision and accuracy.
  • optimism. Believe that the world is truly getting better each day.
  • flexibility. Live in the moment, each moment.
  • joy. Life is, for the most part, wonderful. Have fun.
  • forgiveness. Forgive yourself and others each day.
  • technique. Pay heed to more effective approaches and learn from those better than you.
  • control. Be yourself. Try desperately to never lose your cool.
  • finesse. Communicate with precision, specificity, foresight and clarity. Think always before speaking.
  • perspective. Learn to quickly prioritize whilst teaching.
  • humility. Life is incredibly humbling. I am discovering this more and more each day.
  • praise. Compliment others as well as yourself each day.
  • humor. Be the class clown. All love to laugh.
  • an appreciation for timing. Understand that the human brain acquires information in small chunks. Moderate your lectures.
  • reflection. Reflect each day and learn from your practice.
  • excellence. Do not accept consistently substandard work from yourself, students or colleagues.
  • need for clarity. Be clear and know that the smartest kid in your class needs to hear something three times before it can “sink in.”
  • meaning. Make every learning encounter meaningful to the greatest number of students. Use props, tell stories, analogize daily.
  • by example Read, write, and appreciate the beauty of mathematics.
  • with spunk. Smile often and enjoy what you do. There is no alternative.
  • focus. Be aware of the enduring understandings of each lesson.
  • process. Provide evidence of learning and demand that your student learn from each assessment.
  • wonder. Learn something new each day. Celebrate simply each time.
  • structure. Be time-bound and consistently excellent.
  • media. Use media sparingly and only to further the task at hand.
  • support. Encourage collaboration from students’ parents, administrative team and your peers. This job is impossible without their support.
  • persistence. Never give up on anyone.
  • hope. Get out of the business if you have little hope that the world is getting better.
  • efficiency. Every moment counts. Make use of time wisely.
  • authority. Be a model of positive living.
  • poise. Model correct behavior as if your job depended upon each action.
  • momentum. Realize that students are born with an innate need to learn. Feed off this and build momentum for an engaging classroom from day one.
  • warmth. Be inviting to all that enter your workspace.
  • enthusiasm. Do not be afraid to dance when excited, or happy. The kids love when an adult spontaneously “boogies.”
  • poetry. Teach the students “poetry is like bread.” Enjoyed by all.
  • reverence. Seek help from master teachers.

That is enough for now.

Assessment Self Analysis

I am very grateful for work of Bambi Betts, Grant Wiggins, Ellen J. Langer, and Robert Marzano. These four educators have had the most profound effect upon my understanding of effective assessment of student learning.

Ellen Langer’s book The Power of Mindful Learning helped me to understand that delaying gratification, rewarding “right” answers, and demanding rote memorization aren’t essentially helpful learning approaches. Langer radically shifted my understanding of the human mind and how I should be teaching. In altering my view of what learning is; Langer helped me to seek alternative assessment tools for my students. My enduring understanding from Ellen J. Langer is that learning needs to be done with a heightened sense of awareness and reflection.

Bambi Betts changed my understanding of assessment in that she has painstakingly researched and introduced me to a plethora of ideas regarding best practice in assessing students. Her Principals’ Training Center for International Educators course, Assessing Student Learning, helped me to grasp much of the latest research regarding effective assessment and how to best apply assessment strategies in the international school classroom. My enduring understandings gained from Bambi are that assessment must be intrinsically valued by the students and should be viewed as applicable to the real world.

Grant Wiggins work with Understanding by Design has affected me in that I now view assessments as a tool for, rather than of, student learning. This has had a direct effect on how I proctor in my classroom. Back in the 1990’s, I viewed unit tests as a time to sit at my desk, catch up on correcting papers, write memos, and file my students’ work. Today, I utilize formative, summative and pre-assessments to teach, learn, reflect and observe trends in my students’ learning. This has been a fascinating transformation for me. My enduring understanding from Grant Wiggins is that assessment design is non-linear and constantly evolving.

Robert Marzano‘s work in summarizing research then offering practical strategies that work in the classroom has helped me grow as an educator. His writing and speaking style is straightforward and non-threatening. He is a master educator that I strive to emulate. I was fortunate to view many of his lectures via videotape and I cherished these opportunities. I find that Marzano’s work is oftentimes a point of discussion with fellow educators at both HKIS and elsewhere. My enduring understanding from Marzano is that contemporary students need to be assessed on both academic as well as interpersonal habits.

As of this writing, I am in the process of designing a common summative assessment that is meaningful to the 21st Century learner. My hope is to employ Photo Booth computer application so that students can interview each other with specific, group tested questions in order to demonstrate their new learning in World Religions. These interviews will be viewed and evaluated by the 4th grade team of teachers. I hope to pilot the assessment this year and instill it into the curriculum for grade-level use next year. My learning from Marzano, Betts, Langer and Wiggins will be applied to this practical learning tool.

It is an exciting time to be a teacher. Developing meaningful and authentic assessment tools is one way that I create substantial and meaningful learning.