Looking to the Fall, Part 2: Creating a Supportive Resource for K–5 Teachers

By Kristin Gray, Director K–5 Curriculum and Professional Learning
and Kevin Liner, IM K–5 Professional Learning Lead

In our previous post, we highlighted important considerations in planning to support students in the fall. While we need to first explore these ideas conceptually, we must also consider what this looks like in practice. In this post, we explore the unit adaptation materials we are creating under these considerations. We explore this structure through the IM K–5 Math beta curriculum materials being piloted this fall, but we believe this is a generalizable process and structure that could be applied to other materials.   

In deciding which content to emphasize and ways in which to support students in accessing grade-level content, we worked under beliefs in which the instructional resources would:

  1. Incorporate prior grade-level knowledge and skills, when necessary, to support access to current grade-level content.
  2. Use assessments meaningfully yet sparingly to make strategic instructional decisions.
  3. Integrate ongoing practice and review into the teaching of current grade-level content, instead of disrupting it.
  4. Be manageable and useful for teachers. 

So, what does a resource designed around these overarching principles look like?

For each grade-level unit we are creating a compilation of recommended additions and supports, called a “Unit Adaptation Pack.” These packs will include: rationale for recommended adaptations, prior grade-level lessons, assessment to inform instructional decisions, ongoing practice to address unfinished learning, and extensions and explorations for students who may have previously learned the content. Because we know teachers will not have added days for added lessons, we also will give guidance on lessons to combine or skip within each unit and ways in which to prioritize the major work of the grade. Here is our current thinking on how these four ideas might support students and teachers next school year in order to start the community conversation. 

1. Incorporate prior grade-level knowledge and skills when necessary to support access to current grade-level content.

Relying heavily on the coherence in the standards, we first determined where to add lessons in a coherent and “just in time” manner across the year. Then, to balance the number of allocated school days, we must analyze each unit to identify lessons that can be adjusted and combined or skipped. 

We are taking two approaches to the placement of the add-in lessons, depending on the content of the unit. The first approach is highlighted in this example from Grade 4, Unit 1, which focuses on factors and multiples within the context of area. Since this unit relies on grade 3 understanding of area and multiplication fluency within 100, we are adding key lessons on those ideas, before the start of the unit. Below are sample activities that represent the math progression the unit takes, including the add-in lessons. 

Grade 4 Unit 1: Factors and Multiples

The second approach is demonstrated in this example from Grade 3, Unit 1 which introduces multiplication through students’ work with scaled picture and bar graphs. Because of this, Section A is dependent on grade 2 measurement and data standards while Sections B and C rely heavily on students’ understanding of arrays and skip counting by twos, fives, and tens. In this case, teaching all of the add-in lessons upfront would feel disconnected, so we recommend teaching the add-in lessons where they most coherently fit in the mathematical story of the unit, between the sections. 

Grade 3 Unit 1: Multiplication

2. Use assessments meaningfully, yet sparingly, to make strategic instructional decisions.

We know that if you spend too much time administering formal assessments, you not only lose valuable instructional time, but can also be left with more questions than answers about what to do next. For this reason we embedded a formative mini-assessment to be used after each set of add-in lessons. This mini-assessment is 1–2 problems that can be given at the end of the last add-in lesson as the cool-down. 

Take the grade 3 example above. You will notice that the add-in lessons before Section B come from Grade 2, Unit 7, which introduces arrays and uses what students know about addition and skip counting to lay the foundation for equal-groups thinking. After these lessons are taught, we want teachers to consider the following question: Can students engage in the invitational beginning lessons of Section B? That is the purpose of the mini assessment. We are not focusing on mastery or completion, but rather checking in and supporting students’ ongoing learning towards the grade-level standards. 

Here is an example of what this process may look like for the Grade 3 example for Section B:

3. Integrate ongoing practice into the teaching of current grade-level content, instead of disrupting it.

Integrating ongoing practice is easier when a curriculum develops concepts and representations coherently along a mathematical progression, like telling a story. Because of the intentional choices that were made in the IM K–5 beta materials, both with concepts and representations, we can integrate practice students may need from prior units and grade levels directly into the lessons that are being taught at their current grade level.

This comes in handy because, as we know, after the mini assessment there may be students that need extra practice with the knowledge and skills that were covered in the add-in lessons. We also know that stopping to reteach all of the prior grade-level content will never get students through their current grade-level material. To keep the learning going, we leverage the coherence of the standards and our curriculum to align ongoing practice, in the form of centers and routines that can be integrated into the current grade-level unit. 

In the grade 3 example above, a teacher may learn that students need additional support with the array structure or skip-counting. For these students, we are suggesting the use of a center from Grade 2 Unit 7 that asks students to match groups of objects, first in varied group structures and then in an array pattern, with an expression that represents those groups. In addition, we pulled a collection of choral counts from grade 2 to give students more experience counting by twos, fives, and tens, as needed.

Below is how this process may look for a teacher between Sections A and B. 

4. Be manageable and useful  for teachers. 

While so much is still unknown, one thing we are certain of is that nothing will be seamless or easy about school in the fall. Our hope is that we can work together to best support students in feeling safe and successful after they have experienced so much recent change and uncertainty. To this end, we want to take special care to ensure students are building on their current understandings as they progress through grade-level content in a way that is inviting and safe and prioritizes the community building that happens particularly in the fall. 

And while we have spent a lot of time discussing the unfinished learning most students will have, we wanted to make sure we also added in materials for teachers to support students who are feeling more confident in the content as well. In addition to the add-in lessons, mini assessments, and ongoing practice, we are providing explorations and extensions for students who may have had exposure to the prior grade-level content. 

We share this sample Grade 3, Unit 1 Adaptation Pack overview to start a conversation. While identifying the content to support unfinished learning is a first step in planning for next year, there are many other considerations we need to think about moving forward. We look forward to hosting community chats with our K–5 beta teachers and anyone else who is interested in learning and brainstorming with us. Thank you all for everything you do. We appreciate you.


Next Steps

You can share your thinking via twitter #LearnWithIM or commenting on this blog post. Look for more information on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) to learn more about upcoming community chats and brainstorming sessions. 

Kristin Gray
Kristin Gray
Elementary Curriculum Lead at | Website

Kristin Gray is a National Board Certified 21-year veteran teacher of grades 5, 7, and 8, is currently the Elementary Curriculum lead at Illustrative Mathematics and writer of IM professional learning content. She has served as a curriculum writer on the IM 6–8 Math curriculum and Teaching Channel Laureate. Kristin has developed and facilitated mathematics professional learning at district, state, and national levels and presents annually at both the NCSM and NCTM conference. As a teacher, colleague, presenter, and learner, Kristin continuously shares the value of curiosity around student thinking in her planning and instruction. To reflect on her experiences, she blogs and connects with educators on Twitter, @MathMinds. Kristin has a B.S. in elementary education with a concentration in mathematics from the University of Delaware, a M.Ed. in applied technology in education from Wilmington University and is the 2014 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Kevin Liner
K-5 Professional Learning Lead

Kevin is guided by a personal passion for mathematics and a boundless desire to help students and teachers succeed.

He began his career as a high school math teacher and Secondary Mathematics Curriculum Specialist in Hartford, Connecticut. Now a Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut, his focus is Curriculum and Instruction in Secondary Mathematics. His passion for teaching and learning has taken him as far as Rwanda, where he works with the Rwanda Teacher Education Program helping to design and implement a national teacher training program.

His work with IM is a perfect extension of his dedication to providing mathematics educators the resources they need to succeed.