The Top 3 Things My Students Love About Exemplars

Written By: Jill Greenblatt, Harley Avenue Elementary School, Elwood School District, NY


It’s Tuesday, and as usual, I am greeted with cheers by the students in Mrs. Shapiro’s second grade class as I walk in for my weekly Exemplars period. They quickly take out their folders, I open up my slideshow and we are ready to go.

As a first-year AIS (Academic Intervention Services) Math teacher, my job mainly consists of providing Tier 2 math intervention for small groups of at-risk students. In addition, I provide weekly math enrichment for one of the second-grade classes in my building. This is where Exemplars comes in. I was lucky enough to become an Exemplars Ambassador, which allows me access to the Exemplars Math Library and Facebook group as well as year-long training in the Exemplars Academy. It all comes together on Tuesdays as I put my training into practice. Cue the cheers.

Why are the students so happy? I really wanted to know. So, I did what anyone would do: I went straight to the source and asked the kiddos. Here’s what I learned. In general, this period is a little break from their normal routine. This is a time for students to work independently and collaboratively, share ideas and strategies, challenge themselves, and grow as mathematicians all in a no-pressure environment.

More specifically, these are the top three things that my students love about Exemplars:

(1) The Launch Images.
At the beginning of each session I show the students a launch image. Sometimes it is the image provided in the Exemplars Library, other times I create my own image. We use this image to start a conversation. We talk about what “math” they see in the picture. Students think about the kinds of questions they might ask about this picture and how they would solve it. This is an opportunity for class discussion and some really great turn and talk moments. Starting with a launch image and discussion creates anticipation and excitement and gets their wheels turning even before reading the actual task.
(2) The Three Read Protocol.

We use the three read protocol because it helps students understand what the math problem is about. It builds confidence and creates a willingness to take a risk. First, I read the problem to the students. I want to make sure that students are not intimidated by words they don’t know. We discuss the problem and what it means. We talk about the problem like we talk about a story. Who is it about? What are they doing? Next, they read the problem together and talk about the numbers and important words they need to know. Finally, the students do the third read on their own and we discuss the question. What do they need to find out? What is their job as a mathematician? This leads them to writing their “I Have To” statement. I love this statement. It assures me that the students know what they have to solve. It sets them on a specific mission.

(3) The Rubric.

Introducing the rubric was so much fun. Most of my students had never heard of a rubric before. I showed examples, both the ones provided by Exemplars and others that I had found. We discussed how and why to use a rubric. We created our very own rubrics about chocolate chip cookies and classroom behavior. Finally, they were ready for the big reveal! The Exemplars rubric, which I modified at first. We discussed new vocabulary words like Novice, Apprentice, and Practitioner. We studied one section at a time. The rubric encourages students to write more about their thinking, to use math language and strategies, to label their work and their answers. The students use the rubric to set goals for themselves and assess whether they reached their goals.

Of course there are so many other wonderful things about this program that I as a teacher and ambassador value. From the real-world, differentiated tasks to the planning pages, to the Tools for Success and alignment to the Common Core, Exemplars really packs it all in. Each time I explore the website I dive in a little deeper. I find helpful videos and printables and effective planning techniques. I’m grateful for my time as an Exemplars Ambassador. And judging by the cheers, Mrs. Shapiro’s class is too.