Monday, July 25, 2016

Learning an Instructional Routine

While I was at Twitter Math Camp, I went to the morning session (three two-hour sessions) on Contemplate then Calculate. I am extremely excited about this routine and plan to use it in my classroom this coming year. If you want to know more about Contemplate than Calculate specifically, you can read David Wees’s “Getting Started with Contemplate then Calculate”, access all the materials from the morning session, and/or read this blog post from Dylan Kane, who was also in this session at TMC. However, this post is going to focus on the process that David Wees, Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Jasper DeAntonio used to teach us this routine. 

As I am thinking about next year, one thing that will really help to build vertical and horizontal alignment between K-8 math teachers at my school is for PD (weekly department meetings and once-a-month meetings with all math teachers) to focus around a specific content strand as well as an instructional routine.

To quote directly from the materials that we were given at TMC:
Instructional Routines are “designs for interaction that organize classroom instruction” (Lampert & Graziani, 2009). This distinguishes them from classroom procedures, which organize behaviour, or routines for handing out supplies, which organize distribution of supporting materials.

Instructional routines are both flexible (the math always changes) and consistent (the format remains the same). The consistency of the format reduces the number of decisions teachers need to make, allowing them to focus entirely on the parts of the lesson that are most important for student learning. The intention is that the teaching within a routine responds more directly to what students do as they engage in problem solving.
I am not sure yet what instructional routine will be the best fit for the teachers who I will be working with. However, I think that focusing on an instructional routine will both streamline parts of our planning and teaching and give us a common framework where we can really dig into the differences in what we are doing. No matter what routine we end up focusing on, I plan to draw a lot from the process that we went through at TMC to get to know Contemplate then Calculate.

Part 0: Start with goals, schedule, agenda and norms.

With the norms, we talked at our tables and then shared out about which one would be the easiest to do and which one would be the hardest. I particularly appreciated “say the thing,” which is a norm that I hadn’t heard before.

Part I: Experience the routine

We were then participants in the routine three times—David, Caitlin, and Jasper each ran the routine with a different problem. Before we started, they told us that the purpose of us seeing multiple examples was to see what was fixed and what is flexible in the routine.

Part II: Make sense of each of the five sections of the routine through an idea carousel

Step 1: People made groups based on which step they were most interested in starting at. With one person writing, they identified the steps, rationale for the steps, and any questions/wonderings.
Step 2: Rotate through each of the other posters and annotate them using the following symbols:

Step 3: Go back to your group’s original chart and put an ! next to anything surprising.
Here is what my group’s chart looked like at that point:
Step 4: Then, as a group, we discussed things that were still on our minds at that point. There were some questions about where one section started and the next began. David emphasized that this was extremely worth discussing in order for us to have common language, not because there was a right answer.

Part III: Planning the Task

We split into groups of 2 or 3 and planned an iteration of this routine that we knew we were going to rehearse with the group. Planning was extremely streamlined because we were given a bank of tasks (elementary and high school), a powerpoint that we could modify to suit our needs, and a planning template (there's a version here if you click on "prepare") with the think-throughs required.

Part IV: Rehearsals

Several groups then got to tag-team the rehearsal of the routine that they had planned. Before we started, David clarified the purpose of the rehearsal: “In our work, the objective is not for individual teachers to practice teaching (although this happens) but to develop a shared understanding of pedagogy amongst all participants in the rehearsal.” This shared understanding allows teachers to more easily discuss what is happening in their classroom and focus in on the small variations.

In the rehearsals, the partners traded in and out of the teacher role. The teacher and the facilitators also had the opportunity to call a time out at any moment. Teachers were encouraged to call a time out if they weren’t sure what to do next or if they wanted to analyze the efficacy of a decision they had just made. Facilitators often called time outs to highlight something that a teacher had just done or offer additional insight based on their greater experience.

Also, not all groups did all sections of the routine. The facilitators had groups start and stop in different places which allowed us to focus in on different things in different rehearsals.


  1. Hi Nicole,

    I like this reflection on our workshop. I so infrequently get to see what different people took away from a workshop I've facilitated and your's is the fourth blogpost (and 4th different perspective) that I've gotten to read so that i really cool.

    I don't know the answer to "I am not sure yet what instructional routine will be the best fit for the teachers who I will be working with" but I will note that I suggest a routine that is rather more spelled out (to the grain size that Contemplate then Calculate is) /seems/ to be more helpful than one which is a little looser in format (like a Number Talk).

    I do think that being explicit about the link to their own learning as a group of teachers by enacting the routine is also helpful.

    Please feel free to loop me if you want to bounce any ideas off of me or ask any questions.


    1. Hi David,

      I think you are right about a routine that is really spelled out. I personally find it much more approachable than one that is vaguer and the more we have in common in our implementation the easier it will be to talk about the routine.

      I will definitely keep in touch!