How To Organize Your Daily Multiplication Fluency Testing

Every third grade teacher (at least those of us using Common Core State Standards) must deal with the fluency and memorization of multiplication facts.  There's no way to avoid it!  So let's make it organized, less painful, and add some fun. =)

I call it the multiplication train.  It's silly, but it saves time, and keeps me organized.  Here's how it works.

Multiplication Fact Fluency Assessment - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog
1. Put each of your assessments in a separate, labeled folder.

2. Print the answer key for each assessment, and tape it in the folder on the left side.
Tracking Multiplication Fluency - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog
3. Put sticky notes on the front of each folder to write student names.

4. Now you are ready to assess.  At first, you give every student the same page (for me, the zeros and ones).

5. Start a timer going up from zero, and have students write down the time it took them to complete the page.  I use the online stopwatch HERE.

6. Stop the clock when you believe they have had enough time.  I start with six minutes on these pages.  Students who do not finish simply stop writing when you stop the clock.

7. Have a student pick up the papers and set them on top of the folders, ready to be graded.

I like to grade these myself at the beginning, to get a feel for how each student is doing.  As students pass (which for me means that every answer is correct), cross their name off of the first folder sticky notes, and write it on the next one.

Multiplication Memorization Tracking - Light Bulbs and Laughter BlogWithin two weeks, I will be handing out as many as ten different tests.  Here is how I handle this.  I show the results from the day before under my document camera, then call the names from the front of the first folder.  Students must make a "train" as they come to the front of the room.  This means that they come around one side of the room and I give them their paper when they quickly walk by.  I then call the names from the second folder, and so on.

They go back to their desk, write their name, and turn the paper over when they are ready.  No one is allowed to go backwards on the train tracks, or there will be a collision.  Our goal is to do this as quickly and quietly as possible (Once, the superintendent walked in during this process and was quite impressed).  A stray train choo-choo sound can be heard here and there, but they have to keep it quiet enough to hear their names called!

Multiplication Memorization Tracking - Light Bulbs and  Laughter BlogNow when the student in charge picks up the papers, he or she will need to arrange them in order, to prep them for  grading.  To make the process more streamlined, I don't always grade the pages that are not completed.

Once we get going, I look for other people who can grade these for me.  If you have help of any kind in your classroom (Aide, older student, or parent), use them!  If not, the best thing that you can do regarding grading is to make it a reward in your classroom.  If you have students who are careful and trustworthy, you can have them grade the tests when they finish their other work.  I have a table with bright colored markers set up for this purpose.  After they are graded, it only takes a minute or two to change the names on the folders.

Then I make sure to keep track in a document in my grade book.   In order to accommodate the tests and flash cards, I make this word document in ledger size (11x14) and keep it folded when not in use.

There you have it, my multiplication fact fluency train.  This process should work with whatever fluency tests you are currently using.  If you are interested in these specific products, you can find them in my Multiplication Memorization Tool Kit on Teachers Pay Teachers.

For the blog post explaining my whole memorization process, see  Unlocking the "Secret Code" of Multiplication Memorization.

Happy Teaching,

How to Play Sparkle in the Classroom

How To Play Sparkle in the Classroom - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog
I've been blogging about teaching multiplication lately, and have mentioned playing a game called Sparkle as part of our memorization process.  Today I thought I would explain how we do this in my classroom.

Basically we are skip counting by ones, twos, etc.  We call this "Secret Code Sparkle," because we're just cool like that. =) 

This is a cooperative practice game that requires listening skills.  If a student is talking, they will not know the answer.  Uh-oh.  They learn pretty quickly to pay close attention to what is going on.  It also teaches students how to handle the frustration of being out of the game, whether they have made a mistake, or through no fault of their own.  (I have students model good and bad ways to respond when they get "sparkled".  I have found that third graders also need to learn how to be gracious winners,  so we model that, too.)

Here are the basic rules:

1. Have your students stand in a large circle around the outside of the classroom.

2. The teacher stands in the middle.

3. NO moving once you have found your spot!

4. The teacher chooses a number from 1 - 10 and points to a random student, saying, for example, "Count by twos to twenty, GO!"  (The teacher holds up two fingers while always facing the student who is speaking, in case they forget the factor being used.)  Be careful at this point!  If they get going really fast, you could get very dizzy!

5. The first student repeats the number, the next student (going clockwise) says the next skip counting number, and so on, until the original number has been multiplied by ten.

6.  When the last number is stated, the next student says, "Sparkle!"

7. The student after the sparkle student sits down.  They are out of the game.

8. If a student says the wrong number, or takes too long to answer, they must sit down.  (Because of Whole Brain Teaching, the entire class says, "It's cool!" when someone makes a mistake - making it much easier for students to handle!)

9. The last student (or students - you decide when to stop) standing get a reward.  This can be anything: first choice for centers, an extra minute of recess, first in line to lunch, a reading buddy (stuffed animal) on their desk during quiet reading, a lollipop, etc.  Whatever is a reward in your classroom.

(I know that many of us have special needs students in our classroom.  I have found that my students naturally give more wait time when it's needed, and extra positive feedback for a correct answer, etc.  I do allow certain students to "sit out" the game, if they are having a bad day.)

There are many variations on this theme:

A. Use spelling words every Friday before the test.

B. Use vocabulary words, but instead of spelling them, the first student defines the word, and the second must use it in a sentence.  (This works best with smaller groups during centers.)

C. Use parts of speech.  Say, "Give me 5 verbs, GO!",  "Give me seven nouns, GO!", etc.

We have a lot of fun practicing what we have learned with this game, while learning important listening skills, speaking skills, and social skills.  Do you use this game in your classroom?  I would love to hear other ways that it is used!  Please let me know in the comments.

Happy Teaching With Sparkle,

Metacognition: Helping Students Assess Their Own Learning

FREE posters for elementary teachers - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog
Click on the picture for free download from TpT.
I've been thinking a lot about formative assessments lately.  Formative assessments are all about gathering information from your students - during instruction - in order to inform your teaching.  The most obvious place to gather that information is from student work (click HERE to see a post about that), and it can be a lot of fun.

Another place to gather information is also from your students.  But now you have to get inside their brains, and find out how they assess their own learning.  How in the world are we supposed to do this?  And why is it important?

Let's tackle the importance question first.  Studies show that students who are partners in their own assessment show increased engagement in all subject areas, and are more likely to become life-long learners.  Also, students who are taught to analyze their own learning show increased motivation to learn.

Well, that's enough to convince me.  It just makes sense, and I think we can agree that this is important.  So the next question is, how do we do this?  Here's the bad news.  Most students don't walk into your classroom knowing how to assess themselves.  In fact, many adults have trouble with metacognition.

metacognition definition - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog

Here's the good news.  Metacognition can be explicitly taught.  In fact, every teacher I know is already doing this (though perhaps we are not always aware of the fact that we are teaching metacognition.  haha).  We model reading strategies such as activating prior knowledge, summarizing, finding the meaning of a word through context, and stopping and rereading, just to name a few.
Teacher Tap Light Pin on Pinterest - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog
Click on picture to see Pin.

Here's another great Pinterest idea.  If you have not invested in a tap light, it is fabulous for modeling reading strategies!  Just tap the light on when you stop reading to model what you are thinking.  Run to Walmart and get one.  You won't be sorry.  The only downside is that students will remind you to use it every time you interrupt your read aloud.  So if the phone rings in the middle of the book, be prepared for 26 voices to yell, "Turn on the light first!" when you go to pick up the phone.

When it comes to math, those of us teaching the Common Core State Standards are modeling the 8 Math Practice Standards (see that post, HERE).  These practices are vital to teaching students to monitor their own mathematical thinking.  We model ourselves not giving up, even when something is difficult to master (MP1), or looking for a shortcut (MP8), etc.  (I have to share this... the other day, one of my students was struggling with a math concept.  I asked him if he could find a shortcut to use.  He looked up at me and said, "I'm going to use the long cut, because I really want to learn this.")

So what about metacognition as it relates to self assessment?  Well, we have to model that, too.  And here is where it gets fun.  We get to model for our students that we make mistakes.  All.  The.  Time.  Then we walk them through the thought processes involved in fixing the mistakes.  I want my students to see mistakes as something positive - as the poster says, mistakes are proof that you are trying!  Here are some ideas:
  • Model mispronouncing a word, catching yourself, and then correcting it.
  • Make a mistake on a math problem.  Model how to find the correct answer.
  • Revise something.  Decide (out loud) in the middle that it is not quite right.  Then fix it.
  • Stop in the middle of a sentence and ask, "What am I doing right now?  Am I on task?  What is my strategy for learning?"
stop light halloween costume from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 woodleywonderworks, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
In the past I have used the idea of Marzano's levels of understanding for the process of self assessment.  I gave each student the "stoplight" colors to keep on their desks (red - I need help, yellow - I'm trying, green - I can do this), but I felt as though I needed more than color coded paper.  I've also used the number system (A student who holds up one finger needs help, and so on), but I wanted to use them together, with the addition of light bulbs to signify learning.  I checked on Teachers Pay Teachers, and there are many excellent versions, but nothing quite matched the picture in my mind.  So I made my own.
Student Self Assessment Posters - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog
    (So here you can see my own version of self assessment posters, a rubric, and cards for students to keep in/on their desks.  There's also a notebook page.  Click on the picture to take you to my TpT store and see for yourself, if you like.) 

    This process of going from 'not knowing' to 'trying' to 'understanding' to 'explaining' also has to be modeled for students.  Here are some ideas:
  • Model those mistakes, and why they are a good thing.
  • Model that it's okay to ask for help.
  • Model that everyone is different, and some people need more practice than others. (I use drawing for this one, because I'm terrible at it, but I still try.  And I need lots of practice!)
  • Model that being on #1 is not a bad thing.  It just means that you haven't learned something yet.  (I use the Spanish language for this example.  Sometimes I don't even want to try, because I know I will make mistakes.  About half of my third graders are bilingual, and when I mispronounce something, they let me know!)
  • Model the difference between explaining how to do something and simply giving the answer.
Thank you for reading along as I think about my thinking (and teaching).  I truly believe that writing this blog is helping me to become a better teacher.  I'm sure that most of you are light years beyond me in this journey, and I'm humbled by the fact that you choose to read my meanderings.  

I hope you can use the free posters at the beginning of this post, and I hope you will come back again to read some more.  Next time, I'll show you my new KWL charts.  And KWHL charts, too.

Happy Self Assessment and Metacognition,

What is a Formative Assessment, Anyway?

What is a Formative Assessment, Anyway? - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog
Let's say that your principal called you into his office and sat you down.  Then he said these words: "What formative assessments are you performing for your current math unit?"  Would you know what to say?  I didn't.  All that came to my mind in that moment were quizzes (which I had not made for a while) and exit slips (which I made, but kept forgetting to use).  Luckily, he got an important phone call and said that he would talk to me later.

My new number one goal in life became finding out exactly what the words "formative assessment" really mean.  Because if it was really quizzes and exit slips, I wasn't doing much of it at all.

Now the word assessment tends to stress some people out.  It sounds so formal, like a test, but more scary.  Then, when you get your teaching credential you find out how many kinds of assessments there are.  Really?  We learn words like criterion-referenced and norm-referenced and interim and benchmark.  We all know about the BIG assessment at the end of the school year, the one that shows whether we are a good teacher or a lousy one, right?  (Let's save that debate for another time.)

But I'm talking about me.  In the classroom.  With my students every day.  My teacher ed classes taught me that there's one assessment at the beginning of a unit of study (diagnostic), and one at the end (summative).  You compare those to find out how much your students have learned.  What falls in between are formative assessments.  That's what I understood.  So, off I went to look up the words:

Definition of formative assessment - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog

Hmmm.  So it can be any method that gives the teacher information about a student's needs and progress toward a particular goal.  Okay.  Further reading led me to understand that what makes it formative is not what you do, but how you USE the information that you gather.  If you use it to inform instruction - that is, changing how you teach, then you have given a formative assessment.

I pondered for a while.  This was sounding good to me.  So they don't have to be formal.  Or scary.  Or even use pencil and paper.   I decided to look back at what we had been doing in math for the last several weeks.  Our focus was on multiplication.  My lesson plans did not show any quizzes.  So how was I gathering information to inform my instruction?  I went back through the pictures I had been taking.

Multiplication Formative Assessment - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog
Look at this lovely young lady to the left.  We were working with our white boards (a piece of printer paper inside of a plastic page protector).  I asked her to show me everything she knew about 5 x 4.  That's all I said.  She drew what she knew, and called me over when she was done.  We had a 30 second conversation, and I walked away, informed about what she understood about multiplication at that time.  I made a note on my clipboard, sent her to partner up with a struggling student, and moved on.

Could this really be a formative assessment?  Where's the scary part?  Look at that face... she's not nervous, she's having fun!  And did I use the information I gathered?  Yup, sure did.  I noted it and sent her to help someone who wasn't as far along as she.

Multiplication games as formative assessments - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog So what about partner formative assessments?  (Of course, I really mean games.  I make a lot of math games for my students.)  So I asked myself some questions.  Do I walk around and listen to my students when they play these particular games?  Check.  Do I get an idea of where they are in their multiplication fluency?  Check.  Do I then group them accordingly, and reteach the group that is struggling?  Check.  That's a formative assessment.  This was getting fun!
Multiplication formative assessment on white board - Light Bulbs and Laughter Blog
iPad math game: tape diagrams - Light Bulbs and Laughter BlogHow about when students come up to the white board to work a problem?  Is that a formative assessment?  Let's find out.  Am I gathering information?  Yep.  Do I know who did what?  You betcha.  (They love putting their name by their work.)  Do I use this data to decide if I can move on to the next lesson tomorrow?  Uh huh.  There you go.  Formative assessment.

Unfortunately, here's one that doesn't count.  I'm working on getting a set of seven iPads for my classroom, so that we can use them when we do groups.  (We are up to 5 now, but that's another post!)

This student is doing a fabulous activity using tape diagrams - something we were studying that week.  The problem is, I have no way to track what she is doing at this time.  Did she get it right?  Probably.  But I don't know for sure.  And if you look really closely?  You will see that she switched from multiplication to addition.  Sneaky girl!  So this activity cannot be considered a formative assessment.

There are many other math activities in my classroom that qualify as formative assessments under this criteria.  Here are just a few:
  • Going over homework together
  • Playing Multiplication Sparkle - a whole class game
  • Daily multiplication fluency tests
  • Using computer based standards practice such as IXL (our district has an account)
  • Small group activities
  • Practicing flash cards
There are many more, even quizzes and exit tickets (if I ever remember to use them!).

So, the next time my principal calls me in to ask me that question about formative assessments?  I'll be ready to answer.  And it's nice to know I was doing them all along!

Happy Teaching,