“A multiplication sentence,” the class echoed back.
Next, Monroy stressed that repeated addition involves “patterns,” in this case, 4+4+4 = 12
“We need to know that a pattern is a regular or repeated sequence,” she said. “A pattern can be something like red/blue/red/blue, right? A sequence that repeats. When you count by skipping numbers—2-4-6—you’re doing a PATTERN.”
Once she was sure they understood the vocabulary, Monroy introduced “sentence frames,” pared-down phrases the students will need to learn in order to clearly describe what they’re doing. In this case, using repeated addition to solve a multiplication sentence involving 3 x 4 means “three groups of four.” As the class worked through a series of equations — first as a group, then with a partner, and finally as individuals — the kids got repeated opportunities to use their new vocabulary words. Even when they were working on their own, Monroy urged them to talk their way through it. “I hear you saying the steps,” she said as she walked up and down the aisles, checking the students’ progress. “That’s very good.”
As the class neared its end, Monroy introduced an associated word problem involving the total number of wheels on four tricycles. She wanted to check that the kids would recognize how their new skill might be used in the real world. She also wanted to establish that they understood instructions that use phrases like “repeated addition” and “multiplication sentence.” As the kids set to work, Monroy did a quick check to see how they were doing.
“Is this hard?” she asked the group.
“Easy, easy,” the kids responded.
“Repetition is very important for English language learners,” Monroy said later. “Learning those sentences is like learning a recipe. The way I explain a solution is like a recipe to solving the problem. Then they have to practice doing it and saying it and writing it. This is a huge difference, but this is good practice and good teaching.”
Laurel Street started this transition with an advantage because its district uses a structured curriculum called Swun Math. It’s a widely praised program developed by Si Swun, a Long Beach, California, math teacher who was inspired to combine some of the best of American education techniques with methods used in Singapore, long a world leader in math achievement. Both Common Core and Singapore-style math emphasize a deep study of the most basic elements of math before moving on to more advanced math. Swun Math also encourages collaboration and talking through the problem-solving process. With the introduction of Common Core, Swun said he is working with schools to supplement and adjust the original curriculum to make it more effective, and to strengthen students’ reasoning and writing skills.
To determine if the changes they’re making are on the right track, Laurel Street teachers monitor their kids’ performance in class and on weekly assessments that grade-level teacher teams create together. Each student’s score is then added to a spreadsheet and scrutinized by the principal, all the teachers, and even parents and students.