On Friday I was working on finishing math interviews with my students. I am ¼ of the way through the class already! (growth mindset)

**Me:** What is 4+3?

**Grade 2 student**, without hesitation: 7

**Me:** How’d you do that so quickly?

**Student:** Because last year my teacher had us work on things like that on this app on the iPad. We had to do those kind of problems every day. It was so annoying (insert eye roll) day after day! But now I’m really quick at it.

**Me:** That’s great! What is 8 + 14?

**Student** (blank stare): Um, yeah. We aren’t on that level yet. I think that’s like level 17 and I was only level 16, so I don’t have that memorized yet.

**Me:** Well, do you have any way of figuring it out? (I’m trying not to look at the 20 “special stones” that were just counted out, or the Rekenrek sitting to the right, or the whiteboard and marker to the left.)

**Student:** Ummmmmm……no.

**Me:** What if you were using some of these tools? Or your fingers?

**Student**: Ummmmm…….no.

Apparently they valued memorizing the basics at his previous school. You can draw your own conclusions about how I feel about that. But this isn’t about judging another’s teaching based on the word of one 7 year old. The real question for me is this: What am I going to do about it for this child?

The start of the year is always a tricky time for me. No matter what “last year’s teacher” has shared with me about a child, I feel I never really know them until I complete a reading Running Record, a writing conference, and a math interview. This conversation above is exactly why I think a math interview is important. Thanks to this and a few other questions, I now know that this child is subitizing numbers less than 6, can skip count, count on and count back when counting objects but not when presented with just the numbers, can draw a number line that shows where 7, 10, 20, 30 50 and 48 would be, but that these will not be drawn in iterated units, and can count from 30 to 100 but has a long pause when moving between decades (48, 49……….50!) I also know that though this child has some basic facts memorized, there isn’t a whole bunch of understanding behind that fact, so little understanding in fact that the child had no idea what to do when the answer wasn’t already known.

Years ago, I had a math textbook to use that provided a “pretest” and a ”post test”. They were of very little use. Sure they gave me a score I could use for a mark, but that was often all they gave me. The interview, however, tells me so much more about where to start, where to go and how fast to try and get there. A follow up interview after a few months tells me if I am moving at the right pace, if someone needs to be pushed faster or slower, and if I need to circle back to a place I thought we’d already covered sufficiently.

The major questions that always comes up is this: What do the other 20 children do while I spend 10 or so minutes with a child one on one. During a Running Record, they all read and look at books. During a writing conference, the others are all writing. But we can’t just have a bunch of 7 and 8 year olds “do math” independently in September. Here is what I have them do:

- Dreambox. If you do not have access to this, I am VERY sorry for your luck. It’s great. It’s a bit expensive, but if your luck is good your board has purchased a license and your class can use it. If not, try Prodigy.
- Dice Games
- Card Games
- War
- Addition war

- Math Manipulatives
- They love to use pattern blocks and there is a lot of spatial reasoning work than can happen even if the class seems to be “playing” with these blocks.
- They like to “play” with 3D shape blocks for the same reason and it gives them the same learning experience.

- Finally, if you haven’t read “What to Look For” by Alex Lawson, you should. At the end of this fabulous book, there are a collection of games that can be played to help move students along in their mathematical understanding. You can look at specific skills your students need, then choose a game that helps them work on that specific skill.

I will admit that it gets a bit loud while we work on this. This might feel like a waste to some teachers. I think it’s a great chance for us all to practice what we do while the teacher is busy with just one person. I also feel that the information I gather from each child saves me so much time down the road that it more than makes up for these first few days of playing at math. I am not guessing about a starting point – sometimes missing the mark by a mile and starting too far ahead or too far behind my students. I can confidently set up my guided math instruction in a way that is truly differentiated for the class. Finally, who says math can’t or shouldn’t be fun?

*I’ve had a few requests for a copy of my assessment. I hesitate to share it, but I’m not sure why. I can’t think of a real reason not to, so I guess I will. It’s going to be most useful to you if you are familiar with the Landscape of Learning, created by Cathy Fosnot. I don’t ask every child every question. If they are having a lot of trouble with the first 1 or 2 addition or subtraction problems, I don’t ask the others. If they are having trouble with the number line, I don’t ask all those questions. But I don’t stop asking after the first mistake, because sometimes the child will go back and revise their number line, and that’s useful information for me too!