Little Steps, Part 1

There you are, sitting in your classroom after all the students have left for the day and you’re pondering just how much you think your students have grown academically throughout the school year. I know this situation, I can remember being in it many times. Unfortunately, I focused a lot more on what my students had yet to learn and not so much on just how far they had come. Now that I am spending my first year out of the classroom, I am able to reflect on just how many important little steps my students made throughout the school year. I now know how meaningful those little steps were.

I spent the first part of this school year working with kindergarten students at a school site here in the valley. I was able to plan out center activities that were focused around the research of Les Steffe. Two of my coworkers and I facilitated a math center in this kindergarten classroom once a week, working one center four times as the children rotated through it. The center focused on spatial patterns. We were interested in seeing the progression that students go through from needing perceptual materials to a more conceptual understanding of numbers.

As I wrote in my last blog, “Reflections on the 2017 California Kindergarten Association Conference,” one developmental process that many educators do not know much about is the importance of students building figurative material. Figurative material is the mental image that students make to replace the perceptual items that they count. Figurative material is the bridge that connects perceptual material to conceptual understanding. How can I help students build figurative material? That is a question I want to begin exploring with teachers. Using figurative material is a powerful step for students to begin understanding the meaning of numbers.

In this video clip, I flash students a spatial pattern and ask them to build the pattern that they saw. After they build the pattern, they are asked to make a finger pattern that matches the pattern that they built and saw. Watch as the students build the pattern.

Not all of the students in this group were able to reproduce the pattern that they were shown. Many teachers ask students to tell us how many dots they see in a pattern, but we do not always ask them to build what they see or to tie the pattern they see to a finger pattern. Both of these are necessary to begin building figurative material. They are also important steps to help a student progress toward additive situations, where making figurative material will assist them in solving problems.

Keep celebrating with me these small but meaningful steps that students need to take. They are important, as these steps move them closer and closer to the understanding of number and enable them to progress into additive situations.

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