So Your District Just Purchased Exemplars …

teaching helping student

Written By Kristen Allen, Math Consultant, Katy, TX

Take Your Time – You Have All Year

So your district just purchased Exemplars for you. Perhaps they’ve even had a presenter in to train you on how to use it. But it’s just so overwhelming! When am I going to find the time? My kids can’t do these problems. They can’t write in Language Arts … they certainly aren’t going to write in math. And the rubric. I don’t even really understand half of it. My students will certainly find this overwhelming.

Sound familiar? Take a deep breath! Your students do not need to be proficient tomorrow. As with anything new, it’s going to be best to use a model of gradual release as you introduce this to your students. There are several different ways you can approach this … and remember, our goal is to have thinkers leave our classrooms at the end of the year, not the end of the week (although that would be nice, too).

Gradual Release Based on the Rubric

  • Together as a class, solve the problem. Then show the students the rubric for just the Problem Solving column and let them evaluate how you all did.
  • The next time you do a problem (again as a whole class), focus your reflection on Reasoning & Proof.
  • Continue this process until you’ve introduced all five criteria.

Once you have introduced all five criteria, I would do one more problem as a whole class, this time scoring your work using the whole thing. Notice … we’ve done six problems and the students have yet to work in a small group, much less independently! That’s okay – you are building a firm foundation. Once you feel like that they have a firm foundation, give them a problem to do in small groups and see how they do.

Gradual Release Based on Communication

Communicating about mathematics is one of the hardest and yet most powerful things for students to do. As humans, though, we must be able to talk about something before we will ever be able to write about it.

To follow gradual release based on communication, start with a problem that will be accessible to most students. You don’t want them to struggle with the mathematics involved … they will be struggling with the communication and that is enough. Solve the problem together and then ask students to explain verbally what you all did to come to an answer. 

  • If you have a word wall, encourage them to use two to five words from that wall in their explanation. 
  • Write down good math words that they say while speaking. 
  • If students are struggling, have them talk to a partner first before speaking to the whole class. 
  • It might also help to give them sentence stems. 
  • Encourage students to explain what the class did in different ways so that they understand that there are lots of right ways to explain what they did.

At this stage, there is no writing happening, and you may repeat this process with two to four more problems. 

Once you feel your students are doing a better job of communicating orally about their thinking, introduce the writing component of Exemplars by doing a think-aloud with your class. Solve the problem, give students time to talk about how they solved it, and then model writing your thoughts down for them. Have them look at the rubric and evaluate how you did. They’ll love the opportunity to critique their teacher! Model this for them two to three more times and then let them work on a problem in small groups. Make sure each group member talks to his or her group about how they solved the problem and then ask them to write for the first time. It won’t be perfect – writing never is – but I can guarantee it will be better than it would have been if you’d just given them paper and pencil on the first day!

No One Right Way

Still unsure of how all this will play out? That’s okay – just start to play with it. As with any of the problems in Exemplars, there is no one right way to introduce Exemplars to your students. Perhaps you do one problem as a class and look at the Problem Solving column and then you let them try a problem, just looking at that column. Perhaps you are following Gradual Release Based on the Rubric but when you get to Communication, you slow down even more and follow the suggestions laid out in that plan. There are SO many ways to do this.

Take your time, but use the problems consistently. Over time, with modeling, teaching, and coaching from you, your students will become more persistent, better thinkers, and better communicators. This is a journey – enjoy it!