Friday, August 12, 2016

Formalizing Routines

In my last post, I blogged about #TMC16 and how excited I was to take what I learned in @davidwees's workshop on instructional routines and apply it to what I do most in my class, which is guided investigations (aka problem sets that scaffold instruction) and open investigations, which are more focused on exploring connections and representations of student thinking. I've taken a first stab at writing out the steps and teacher moves involved in both types of investigations (links below), including writing prompts for students and class norms. The class norms were especially tricky to nail down because I've been thinking all summer about how to marry the norms that I learned in Complex Instruction, which are all about valuing different types of participation and making the group a cohesive and supportive unit, with what I'm seeing as emerging from the research on Visibly Random Groupings, which values flow and makes the entire class a unit of idea exchange and interdependence. Complex instruction often has assigned roles within the group and clear instructions on establishing a "group question" before a teacher can be called over for help. By contrast, in a VRG class structure, students are encouraged to share ideas with and ask for help from anyone in the class. Groups change daily and roles are eschewed in favor of flow of ideas and vertical whiteboards that encourage easy participation and engagement.

My attempt to merge these two cooperative structures (as well as my other goals for students) has resulted in the following group norms:

I am going to continue randomly assigning students to groups when working on problem sets or open investigations and avoid assigning roles. There will probably be one day every week or two when students are grouped homogeneously based on their self-assessment of their needs (more structure/support/direct instruction, same level (stay with guided inquiry), explore independently). I have to think about tweaks to the group norms that need to happen on those days.

I also wrote out the protocol for when a group can ask me for help. They need to first attempt the strategies posted in the classroom for getting unstuck (listed below), look around to see what other groups are doing and send a representative to another group to discuss and share ideas, and if they're still stuck, to formulate a single question to ask me... aka a group question. I should be able to ask anyone in the group what their question is and be assured that it was indeed a group decision to get help.

I will try to remember to write another post discussing the various reflection prompts and closing questions that I've adapted, but here are the links to the two routines, which have all of the prompts I've thought of so far.

Guided Inquiry Routine

Open Investigation Routine

Feedback is super appreciated! These are still very much in the planning stages, but it's been immensely helpful to write out and formalize the routines that I normally use in my classes. My goal is to work on making these better this year, both in my classes and in those of my colleagues, through lesson study focused specifically on routines.


  1. Hi Anna,
    I love these norms and have also been thinking about the norms in different settings that students experience in our classrooms. For example are there norms in small groups that may be a bit different than in whole group? or are there norms for how we work individually vs with a partner?

    That said, I also really love when the students are involved in these norm discussions based on what is important to them as learners. I tried this out in a 4th grade classroom at the end of last year and am thinking I want other classrooms to try this at the beginning of our school year. I asked the students what they needed to learn in small groups and the answers were exactly what i would have developed myself. (You can ignore the post, but the first pic is of their responses).
    It made it really easy to point back to that when or if groups were off task or not working together well. It gave us a nice point of reference for a conversation.
    I look forward to keeping up with this convo!

    1. Love the idea of involving students in developing norms and that norms should be different in different settings. Thanks for giving me a lot to think about! I'm thinking about settings both in terms of how many people are working together and also in terms of the kind of math tasks/problems students are working on at a given time. If there are different sets of norms, would you have students develop all of them or just a baseline that can be amended, as needed?

  2. I love the group norms. I wonder about needing something about listening to all and no talking outside the group during group time (but really may be already included in above depending on how you explain). I have basically a list of your #3 strategies from your "stuck" advice on my wall and use it all the time.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion of adding listening to all - I'm going to incorporate it into the first norm. Regarding no talking outside the group, I debated that one since it's a part of Complex Instruction, but decided that I want more flow of ideas between groups and would actually encourage students to discuss with other groups and bring ideas back to their group. There are pros and cons to each way, for sure.