• Abby Shink

Planning Smarter, Not Harder

Collaborative planning has been key to improving teaching and learning in our school buildings. My position has me split between two schools and in order to make the biggest impact on student learning, I have chosen to spend my time ONLY doing things that make a difference for teachers and students. One of the things I choose to spend my time doing, is collaboratively planning with teachers. Amongst all of the need, the classes for which I collaboratively plan are the bright spots.

One of my partners in this collaborative planning process is a teacher I will call Ms. K. She teaches a combined second and third grade class in the smallest school in our district (only 60 students K-5!). This grade combination is a challenge, particularly for math, so we work together in the classroom three days a week, and plan for the whole week together every Monday. We agree this time scheduled for our work together is invaluable. Not to say we don’t check in throughout the week, in the hall and after school, as well as through a shared Google planning doc, but a 40 minute block dedicated to planning for us is a must.

This week, when I arrived for our planning meeting, Ms. K had already been thinking about what was next in our unit, and how it related to what her students already know. But she had a few questions.

The standard we needed to address next in the unit was 2.MD.6:


Ms. K had been looking at the assessment question her students had tried at the beginning of the unit.


“Many of my students partially met this item, not because they got the answer wrong, but because they did not label the number line correctly,” she said. She was trying to work out, where is the standard in this assessment item, and what concepts do her students understand or need to understand in order to meet it. We have done a lot of work with these students on the open number line as a model for solving addition and subtraction within 100, and it was clear from this, and other assessment items, that most of them were able to use the number line to solve problems efficiently.

We looked up the standard and reread it. I explained that I was pretty sure the big idea in this standard is for students to understand that the space between 0 and 1 is the same size as the space between 1 and 2, and the space between 2 and 3, etc. We talked about how students need to partition that space when working with fractions in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. She added, that it would also be important for these students to understand this when they are using a number line to round in 3rd grade.

“Ok, so what do we need them to understand about the number line? They are already quite good at using the open number line to solve problems. How are we going to get them to back up and start thinking more precisely about the spaces on their number lines?” I asked.

We went to Howard County Public Schools open resource and took a look at this grade 2 page for this standard. We found a list of activities there that related to the standard, and just like that, we had found about a week’s worth of excellent lessons.


We decided to start the next lesson with a “What’s my number” routine, in which she would build a number line with iterations of 10, as students tried to guess her number. In small groups she would give students an empty number line and a number, asking students to plot their own end points and place the number given. This activity would give her room for differentiation by giving students different numbers. She decided that all of her students would benefit from starting with a number less than 100, but that many of her students would quickly be able to try numbers within 1,000.

“This will be so cool,” I said. “Not all of your students are going to choose the same end points! If you ask them to plot the number 53, you could get some very different number lines!” I drew a couple of possibilities to show her what I meant.


“53 is in two different places on those number lines. This could start a really interesting conversation!”

We talked about different ways to facilitate this conversation, anticipating students’ responses, making sure to have plenty in our toolkits to draw from during the lesson.

I left this planning meeting feeling a sense of accomplishment. We had spent the last 40 minutes hashing out the intricacies of that second grade standard, determined what her students knew, and what was most important for them to know next, and explored a resource that had lesson ideas for next several days. What an efficient use of planning time.

Abby is a K-5 Math Interventionist at Wayne and Mt. Vernon Elementary Schools, in RSU #38, Maine.

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