Thursday, October 27, 2016

Create An Optimal Learning Environment for Each Student!

When we individualize learning for students we focus on the needs of one student at a time. When we differentiate learning the focus shifts to the needs of groups of students. This includes looking at content, process, product, and environment. Both are essential to create an environment for optimal learning.

How can Classworks help?

  1. Group! If you are assessing students using Classworks assessments, our Individualized Learning Report looks at the students in your class and groups students within each strand and level. Flexible grouping allows you to adjust groups based on the skills you are teaching. Or, use your own assessment grouping reports (eg: Renaissance STAR 360 Instructional Planning Report
  2. Give each student exactly what they need! When you are ready to individualize, Classworks provides a learning path for each student to work on independently and at their own pace. 
  3. Set Goals! Students have a My Scores! dashboard to monitor their success. Teachers and students work together to set goals, monitor time-on-task, and adjust assignments based on student interest, need, and performance. This helps create a learning environment where the teacher, student, and technology work as a team!
Use conferencing to build a collaborative individualized learning environment:
  1. Build regularly scheduled conference times to talk with students about their Classworks data. Each conference should take only a few minutes. Other students could be in small groups or centers. 
  2. During the conference, use the Individualized Learning tab in Classworks to look at student scores, launch activities for review with the student, and reassign instruction as necessary. Make sure to engage the student. Ask them if the scores are reflective of what they are learning. Can they do better? What would they like to do differently? How could they improve? Should they move onto more challenging instruction or move back to review skills? Hear from a teacher! 
  3. Use the My Scores! Student dashboard to work with students to set goals. This dashboard can help students monitor usage and mastery. Students can also access the badges and incentives they have earned. Discussing these and setting goals for next steps will heighten student engagement for a truly collaborative learning environment. 
To learn more about creating the optimal individualized learning environment for your classroom, sign up for one of our Winter PD sessions.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Teach Paired Passages Using Your iPads, Chromebooks, or Other Devices

Paired passages on state assessments are here to stay. The ability to comprehend and compare texts can be tricky, even for advanced readers. It’s a good thing you have the digital tools you need to effectively teach paired passages! 

Use Classworks Integrated Reading paired passages. Sample Lesson Plan 

Appealing, High Interest Topics
To engage students from the start, you have passages available from a variety of genres. Support your grade level standards with a selection of informational topics and literary passages.

Text Dependent Questions
These are key to helping students achieve deep reading comprehension. Questions address multiple reading standards. Distractor rationales are included to provide insight into student thinking.

Let’s get started!
  • Choose an Integrated Reading paired passage that supports your lesson plan. Try this 7th grade lesson plan or modify to fit your grade level.
  • Work on having students understand the first passage. Spend a few days reading, annotating (use the digital tools!), and understanding the passage. Assess their understanding using the text dependent questions. 
  • When students are ready, move on to the second passage. Read, discuss, annotate, and answer the questions. 
  • Now you’re ready for the paired passages! Assign the paired passages and analyze the connections between the two texts using the text dependent questions. 
  • After discussion your students are ready to answer the paired questions.
Receive $2,500 for classroom technology so you can teach paired passages, conduct close reads, and more, using digital instruction. Apply for the Classworks Digital Learning Grant! Three teachers will each be awarded $2,500 each for technology.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

4 Steps to Achieve Rigor in Your Lesson Plans

"Is the teacher lecturing away while stringently guiding the lesson as if it were a ship at sea? Or is the teacher like the cruise director, simply guiding students to their next activity?"
What is Rigor?
We hear it constantly—today’s standards require more rigor. What’s behind the buzzword?

The answer lies in cognitive complexity and growing students’ ability to interact with and synthesize new information.

The most common misconception of rigor: It’s synonymous with more work. Rigor is not about tacking on more homework. It’s about choosing the right homework and mixing in tasks that help students grow.

Achieving Rigor

Understand Your Standards

Teachers spend a considerable amount of time researching the appropriate standards to address with a lesson. But, it can be hard to distill the action from the mandate.

Let’s consider a standard from the fourth grade math CCSS.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.OA.A.3 Solve multistep word problems posed with whole numbers and having whole-number answers using the four operations, including problems in which remainders must be interpreted. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding.

First, identify the verbs in the standard–solve, represent, and assess. Now, pull out your favorite taxonomy and put those tasks in order by complexity. This is your roadmap to rigor. Yes, students should learn how to solve word problems first. They should then know when an answer is right or wrong (and why)–analysis. Finally, they should be able to synthesize their own uses for the skills by representing information using equations. Move your lesson along that line and the tasks become more rigorous. They are also scaffolded correctly, layering on complexity systematically without overwhelming the students.

Set an Appropriate Learning Goal

Instead of displaying the standard(s) you are addressing as written, share a learning goal—an age-appropriate version of the standard. For example, here is the fourth grade standard, reworded into language appropriate for a fourth grader:
  • I can solve word problems by adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.
  • I can make my own equations based on a word problem.
  • I know how to tell when a word problem answer is right or wrong.
A student looking at these goals can easily tell whether they have accomplished them.


The trick in the rigorous classroom is to assess not only what a student knows, but how they know it and what they can do with it.

A rigorous informal assessment probably takes the form of an open-ended question. Use a questioning strategy. Or, have students work collaboratively to piece together new information, using it in a way that generates new thoughts and ideas.

Identify Rigorous Learning Tasks
In a rigorous classroom, who is doing the work? Is the teacher lecturing away while stringently guiding the lesson as if it were a ship at sea? Or is the teacher more like the cruise director, simply guiding students to their next activity and offering assistance when needed? If your answer is the former, much more rigor can be squeezed out of that classroom.

If the tasks call for students to think critically, work collaboratively, synthesize knowledge in real-world situations, and persevere until a goal is met, you’re almost there.

Rigor also requires a certain level of autonomy. Remember, the cruise director gives people options and lets them figure out the best way forward. Autonomous tasks tend to feature questions with more than one answer with no one correct path–scary, I know!

Don’t forget to scaffold. A good rule of thumb: the last task should be about what the student thinks about the content and what they can do with it.

Blog post by Scott Sterling, Education Journalist

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Save the Date: Classworks 2017 Winter PD!

I know what you're thinking... 2017 Winter PD already? Yes! It's that time.

We're excited to partner with ACT Aspire, NWEA, and Renaissance to offer sessions* in five cities in 2017.

The 2017 trainings will focus on best practices for using your specific assessment data paired with Classworks instruction to individualize learning. Learn more and register. 

Who Should Attend? 

Teachers, lab managers, RTI administrators, instructional coaches, and anyone using Classworks in your school or district.


Classworks & Renaissance STAR Reading & Math
  • January 24 | Macon, GA
  • January 31 | Athens, GA
  • February 8 | Birmingham, AL 
  • February 28 | Memphis, TN 
Classworks & ACT Aspire 
  • February 7 | Birmingham, AL
  • February 27 | Memphis, TN 
Classworks & NWEA MAP 
  • February 14 | Greenville, SC 

In other unrelated news, Classworks Digital Learning Grant application is open! We are awarding three teachers $2,500 each for classroom technology. Expecting a complicated and rigorous grant application process? We wouldn't do that to you! Complete our simple online form to be considered for the grant. Apply now. 

*These trainings are specifically for Classworks customers and are free of charge. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Yes, they can! Problem-Solving Activities for Kindergarten Students

Digital problem-solving activities in kindergarten? My students can’t do this.

We’ve heard that several times since the release of Classworks Applied Mathematics. That’s why when I ran into a teacher in the school cafeteria who said, “My kindergarten kids love the new math activities,” I had to find out more.

Interview: Alyssa Harris, 
kindergarten teacher, Trip Elementary, GA 

Were you using any digital math instruction with your students before Classworks Applied Math?

Not for whole-class instruction. I used printed exemplars for our “problem-solving Fridays.”

Did you have any apprehension about using digital problem-solving activities with your kindergartners?
Before I attended Classworks Winter Professional Development, I wouldn’t have thought to use them with my kids. During the training, we got to play around in it as a student and as a teacher. When I saw there were kindergarten activities that were already differentiated, I was excited to try them.

Were you concerned about your students’ learning how to navigate the technology in kindergarten?
No. I knew it would be a little work upfront to teach them how to use the tools. But, most of these kids have already played on a phone or an iPad, and they’re quick learners! When I put them in groups, I usually have one student who is really proficient with the technology and can help the others if they need it.

Do your students like working together on the problems?
They love it. Anytime they get to interact with technology, of course, they’re thrilled. Also, they like working to solve the problem together. Many of them can’t read yet, so they use the audio feature to listen to the problem. They’ll talk about the answer they should choose and why they think it’s the right answer. To be able to have math conversations at this age is so valuable and builds an important foundation for future learning!  

How do you use the Applied Math activities with your students? (See Mrs. Harris’ lesson plan)

At the beginning of the week, I introduce the concept, and we complete some activities to get comfortable with it. I give them a “ticket out the door” each week, which is a formative check to determine how they grasped the lesson. I use that information to determine how I will differentiate using the Applied Math problems. The next day we complete the Applied Math meeting problem as a whole group. This helps me to confirm my grouping and reminds them how to use the tools to solve and show their work.

Next, I put them in groups and my advanced students work on the Expanding problem. Students needing additional support with the concept work on the Progressing problem.

I love how the problems are already differentiated but address the same grade-level standard. That’s hard to find and time-consuming when you have to do it yourself!

How do you facilitate the discussion when they are in groups?
I’m always walking around, listening, and prompting where needed. For my Progressing group, I’ll walk them through the hints if it looks like they need more guidance. You’re always trying to strike that balance of helping them to get it but also letting them work it out on their own. Some of my kids like to draw or record their responses. We come together as a class to discuss and I’ll show the problem on the whiteboard. The students take turns sharing how they solved it and why they used the method they chose.

How do you plan for using Applied Math in your lesson for the week?
I create the math lesson plans for our grade level with another teacher. I look ahead for the following week to see what skill we are covering and search for an Applied Math activity to match that skill. I also pull the teacher resources for the activity and check the DOK levels. Reviewing the common misconceptions listed helps me feel prepared for the lesson.

Have you seen a difference in your students since incorporating Applied Math into your weekly lessons?
I see a big improvement in the level of engagement and the way they talk about math. At this age, they aren’t having deep math conversations, but I can see their higher order thinking skills at work. One of my advanced students, in particular, is really thriving using these activities. It was hard to find math activities to challenge her, but these do. Her confidence level with math has soared.