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Implementing Guided Math, Chapters 4 and 5

Welcome back to our online book study of Laney Sammons’ new book, Implementing Guided Math: Tools for Educational Leaders. Catch up with previous posts using the links in the Reading Schedule. Also, check out #ImplementingGM to read the slow Twitter chat questions and comments.

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Reading schedule

Join the slow Twitter chat

We’ve been having some great conversations! Search on the hashtag #ImplementingGM now to catch up and join the conversation over Chapters 4 and 5. We use the standard Q & A format–questions will be tagged Q (Q1, Q2, etc.) and you tag your response with an A (A1, A2, etc.). Don’t forget to tag your response with #ImplementingGM so it will show up in the search. Remember to follow other participants to grow your professional learning community (PLN).

Chapter 4: Implementing the Guided Math Framework

Just as Guided Math provides a flexible framework that can be tailored to individual preferences within a classroom, this chapter highlights the different models that can be used to implement Guided Math.

Districts or schools wanting to implement Guided Math must first decide whether or not to mandate the change. Sammons provides arguments both for and against making the change mandatory, although the information seems to indicate that a mandated change is more likely to bring about an improvement in math instruction. I would have to agree that consistency, at least at the campus level, creates a more cohesive learning environment. Precious instructional time is maximized when students know what to expect moving from one grade level to the next. Teachers can share the load for lesson planning and creating meaningful math workshop activities. Professional development and resources can be targeted to help all teachers feel successful with the implementation. Furthermore, a mandated change does not preclude teacher choice or result in lockstep teaching. The beauty of the Guided Math framework is the flexibility it provides teachers. Even though all teachers might use the GUIDE structure for managing math workshop, for example, teachers’ activities on a grade level might differ slightly to meet the needs of their particular learners.

Sammons provides two sample implementation plans based on her work with school districts. In both plans, the implementation was segmented and laid out as a series of steps. The requirements for each segment were clearly defined and roles assigned. I know it seems obvious to lay out a plan for a change such as this, but how many changes have you been involved in that weren’t carefully planned, only to end up with disastrous results? The sample plans Sammons provides are an invaluable resource to schools, districts, or even teachers looking to implement Guided Math.

Regardless of the implementation model used, monitoring the change process is a critical step. Have you been involved in change initiatives that fizzled because of lack of follow-through? A lack of follow-through can have a negative impact on an organization.  Staff members become skeptical of any new initiatives, viewing them as the change du jour.  Sammons describes two types of monitoring that should take place:

  • Monitoring the Implementation–are teachers implementing Guided Math?
  • Monitoring the Change–is the implementation of Guided Math bringing about the desired results?

Once again, Sammons provides user-friendly forms to use as part of the monitoring process.

Chapter 5: The Role of Coaching in Guided Math

“Just as classroom instruction should be tailored to meet the needs of students, effective professional learning must be designed to meet the need of teachers.”  Sammons (pg 133)

The role of mathematics coach is relatively new, and while they can play an important role when implementing Guided Math, Sammons is quick to point out that the functions outlined in this chapter can be performed by any leader. So be sure you don’t skip over this chapter just because you don’t have coaches on your campus or in your district.

The research Sammons cites on pages 110 and 111 about the effectiveness of different types of teacher training is fascinating. It was not surprising that workshops or book studies focusing only on theory basically resulted in 0% classroom application. This equates to what we know to be true about classroom teaching.  The crazy part was that adding coaching to a model including theory, demonstration, and practice increased the classroom application of those skills from 5% to 95%. Wow. That makes sense though, right? Imagine a basketball team that studies a playbook (theory), views films (demonstration), and run drills (practice), but does all that without the benefit of a coach!

Coaches can play a role in the initial needs analysis by helping teachers and leaders analyze current data and by assessing current instructional practices through multiple, brief classroom visits–two common functions that math coaches are called on to perform. Sammons provides a Mathematics Instruction Observation Form (page 123) that coaches can use to determine if current instructional practices are more traditional (teacher-centered, passive, rigid structure, etc.) or if teachers are moving toward practices that provide more student engagement, rigor, and are more student-centered. In these classrooms, Sammons states, “Teachers focus on teaching the standards–not just covering the textbook.” Information from the classroom visits, along with careful data analysis, can be used to build buy-in for the implementation of Guided Math.

Once the implementation has begun, coaches can support the process in many ways. If an outside consultant is not available to conduct the initial training, coaches might be called upon to provide teacher training. Sammons outlines a full day training agenda (page 124-125), but also suggests an option for breaking the training into separate components. Coaches also support the implementation process by providing demonstration lessons. You may have heard these referred to as model lessons, but Sammons recommends using the word demonstration instead. “The term model implies that they are perfect, and that the person teaching the lessons is an expert. It sets the coach, or whoever is presenting, above the observing teachers. Coaches are more effective when they are regarded as partners with teachers–all of whom are working to increase student achievement by examining and improving their own teaching practices.” (page 127)

Coaches also observe in classrooms and lead Guided Math focus walks, which allow teachers to see evidence of implementation in classrooms other than their own. Finally, coaches might conduct surveys throughout the implementation process to determine what teachers feel they need to be successful.

So with limited time, which teachers should a math coach focus on? The section on Strategic Coaching in Guided Math (pages 136-137), is not lengthy, but it is powerful. In short, coaches should not try to spread themselves too thin and coach all teachers, but they also should not focus solely on less proficient teachers. Sammons cites research indicating that, when implementing Guided Math, a coach’s time might be best spent working with teachers who are “motivated and accomplished”, because those are the types of teachers who will “establish the kind of risk-free learning environment that nurtures innovation”.

Join the conversation by adding your comments to this post. Then head on over to Twitter for the next discussion question.

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  1. I love your basketball analogy especially during March Madness–but it is so true. Coaches can make a world of difference in teaching practices. They can not only expand teachers horizons, but also encourage and support change.

    1. Yes, that analogy was definitely inspired by A&M’s amazing win last night! I think it’s so important that teachers realize that coaches are not evaluative and that they are not a branch of administration. The purpose of a coach is to elevate the level of all teachers throughout the building by meeting each teacher exactly where they are.

  2. I really love the way you emphasize the importance of coaches. Having the right coach can make or break your progress. But of course, if the person/teacher/student is really persistent they can make a difference by themselves.

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