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March 5, 2021

A Glimpse into Learning Across Grade Levels

We all know how isolating teaching can be. Sometimes it can feel like you are alone with 30 students, disconnected from the rest of the world. There may be millions of teachers like you, but when you’re in the same classroom every day with the same kids, it can feel like it’s just you.

Teaching Channel is helping to open up classrooms; making your own walls seem less confining. By glimpsing into other people’s classrooms, not only can you learn lesson ideas and teaching strategies, but you can also feel a sense of companionship.

When you come to Teaching Channel, you’re probably searching for ideas to use in your own classroom. Understandably, you probably limit your searches to your particular grade band. But it can also be enlightening to see how instruction progresses across grade levels. By seeing how students before and after your grade level are taught, you can gain insight into how to prepare your students and learn strategies to help differentiate for students above and below grade level.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Number of the Week routine I used in my classroom. After writing about how this routine helped me differentiate, I kept thinking about other open-ended, easy-to-differentiate math routines. Watching two Common Core math videos about counting collections was enlightening.

skip counting lesson

The first video shows kindergarten teacher Stephanie Latimer guiding her students through a math workshop on counting collections. The kindergartners practice counting by 5s and 10s, all the way up to 300.

counting collections video

The second video shows third grade teacher Laretha Todd’s students engaging in a similar, but more rigorous, counting collections activity. Ms. Todd’s students work on counting by 2s, 5s, 10s, and 50s, all the way through the thousands.

It’s lovely to see similar lessons being taught across grade levels. Both Ms. Latimer and Ms. Todd have established remarkably smooth math workshop routines. In the videos, we see both teachers start with a mini-lesson about recording counting strategies, set students free to work in pairs, engage in differentiated conferences, and then bring the class back together to reflect and share.

Though the structure and activities are remarkably similar, the third grade lesson is more complex. Ms. Todd’s students not only count into the thousands, but also estimate and connect their work to addition.

Ms. Latimer and Ms. Todd focus their lessons on both Common Core math content and practice standards. The Common Core Math Practice Standards are designed for all grade levels, so it’s interesting to see the teachers adapt the standard about using appropriate tools strategically (Standard 5) to their grade levels.

The kindergartners use 10 frames and hundreds charts to help them count, while the third graders count sets of objects and use cups to keep track of their counts. By seeing this practice standard in action in two different classes, I developed a better understanding of how teachers across grade levels select and teach with appropriate tools.

While I watch these videos, I’m struck by how much any K-3 (or beyond!) teacher could learn from these fabulous teachers. The counting collections activity can be easily adapted both across grade levels and among students. By seeing what happens at different grade levels, teachers can explore more possibilities for meeting the needs of their different students.

Collaborating across grade levels gives teachers the opportunity for fresh insight and support. Maybe your fifth grade colleague has novel ideas about how you could build algebraic thinking skills with your kindergartners. Or perhaps your ninth grade colleague has ideas about how you could encourage critical thinking with your 12th graders.


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