Sunday, January 22, 2012

Getting Rid of Traditional Calendar Routines

This past Friday morning my class and I finally had the chat I've been wanting to have with them for the past several weeks.  It's been at least that long since I've done any form of traditional calendar with them. To be perfectly honest our calendar time has been  pretty sketchy for a while.

For those unfamiliar with the calendar routine found in many early primary classrooms it involves a number of routines to help our students learn basic calendar features such as days of the week, the date, yesterday, today, tomorrow, weather graphing etc.  It typically follows a structure in which one activity follows the next every time you do calendar.  It's far from rocket science.  While it has its benefits in the beginning by introducing children to concepts around a calendar after a while it seems more of a waste of time.  Friday's class chat was about how it was going to change because it had clearly become something that wasn't working for the class.

In my classroom calendar is a job that the special person of the day gets to lead.  They like this.  They like being the boss. They like having their weather illustrations up on the picture graph and they like being able to cross out the date  on the commercial calendar.  They didn't want to loose this privilege either and by scrapping calendar I had inadvertently scraped something they really enjoyed doing.  We had to come up with a solution that worked for them, and for me.  So it was decided that on the days we have a special person, the special person will  do the special jobs related to calendar time. But they will not do it while the rest of the class is watching.  They will do the calendar jobs during our class planner message writing time and I (or a friend) will write in their planner for them.  Both the students and I are happy with this solution.  The students are getting what they want, and I'm not losing my valuable teaching time.  Problem solved right? Not exactly.

One of the things I've noticed happen since we stopped doing calendar is that we don't think as well as mathematicians.  Dropping calendar routines also meant that I dropped the math chat that we typically had during the second half of our calendar time.  We used to talk about tallying, or skip counting, or numbers ten more than or ten less than, or number sentences that equaled the number in the date.  We used to talk math like mathematicians would talk math.  So while I've gotten rid of some of the silly routines, I've also gotten rid of some of the good parts of the calendar time too.  This is a problem.

As we continued our discussion I told the class what I was noticing.  I told them that I noticed that while they are very good at math they never chose math activity as a free choice activity and I wanted to know why.  They couldn't really tell me but I know it's my fault.

As I teach my kids to write I stress how important it is for them to be writers.  As I've written in a previous post  I don't tell my students what to write I just teach them components of good writing so that they can become good writers.  What they write about is completely their choice.  I am fostering genuine writers, not people who write to please me.  It's the same with reading.  I rarely tell them what to read because I am trying to create genuine readers.  Because of this my students think like readers and writers.

But I haven't being doing this with math.  Yes I've taught them a lot of math, and most of the math I do is open ended with a huge exploration component to it but I've never treated them as mathematicians. Heck I've never called them mathematicians like I call them readers and writers.  Our math chat time during calendar was the closest thing I came to to treating them like mathematicians.  We were exploring number concepts, they were showing me what they knew.  I wasn't looking for specific answers I was looking for mathematical knowledge.  I got rid of that time when I got rid of calendar and it's not sitting well with me.  So what's the solution?

I need math chat time again.  So starting tomorrow math chat is being reintroduced into my classroom routine.  It doesn't have to be a long chat, but the chat is most definately returning.  During this time I will be certain to refer to my students as mathematicians.  And not just at this time during our regular math block too.  How exactly this math chat time is going to run is still up in the air.  I think however I will return to our previous calendar routines and have my students find different ways to represent a specific number  (the date).  For example today is Jan 22 so my students will be encouraged to create number sentences that include 22 on one side of an =, <, or > sign. For example 22 > 13 or 7+4 + 11=22.  Ultimately the goal is to have them discover  that there are infinite number sentences you can make for any given number.   I want to get their mind spinning around math concepts, and I want them to see the patterns in numbers.  I want them to think like mathematicians.

Of course this thinking like mathematicians concept will be fully integrated into the rest of my math program.  I'm eager to see how things go.

What do you do that makes you feel like you are a good at teaching your students math?  If you are still leading routine calendars what do you like about them? If you aren't why have you changed your ways. As usual, I'm curious to hear from others.

And by the way, Friday afternoon children chose to play math games during their free choice time. A mini success!


  1. And THIS is one of the things that makes you such a great teacher, Karen - you are always reflecting and trying to improve on your practise.

    When I taught grade one, I often wondered about the real benefit of doing the routine calendar activities daily. One of the routine activities we always did after calendar, before a whole group story, was a problem solving activity. This was really great for building problem solving skills. I think I had a flip book called Daily Problem Solving for Grade 1. There is one for each grade. It is REALLY easy in the beginning, but gets better. I picked and chose what I used with the kids. Might be something to look into, if you don't already have it.

    It will be interesting to hear what others say.

  2. Okay blogger adds this great reply to a reply feature but it only works when it feels like it. FRUSTRATING!!

    Anyhow Tia, this is the first year that I feel like I'm losing the math connection because I've split up my reading and writing blocks. I'm really happy with that change though because I no longer have issues with kids missing important lessons because they are out of the room for LST. But in the process I've gotten over zealous with our writing time and it's cut into our math time. Not good I know and calendar was being dropped infrequently at first, but completely since the new year. We used to do problem solving during our calendar time too.

    Do you still have that Daily Problem Solving for Grade 1 book? I'd be curious to see it. I'm not really one to follow a specific program though (i find I need a combination of several, including my own inventions, to meet the needs of ALL of my students) but I'm sure it would be filled with excellent ideas.

    Thanks for your comment too. It certainly is quite a learning journey that I'm on right now.

  3. Yah, using many resources is great.
    I found this resource helpful because I could just pick and choose from it. It's easy to use and really added to our Math chats - lots of great math problem solving questions and, thus, lots of math language. I do not have the book. I left it at the school when I left NR. I can probably find the info for you though. It was on the recommended list and I'm sure it is still there. I'm not one to follow programs or books, but this one was good to pick and choose from.

    It's great to learn!

  4. I love your thoughts on calendar routine. I've often wondered if it's a good use of our time but taking it away also seems like it would impede learning. I 'm not sure in K kids have a good concept of the calendar or time, is it something we do or do they truly understand it? I have several kids do different jobs during calendar time. I feel like more kids are engaged because more are involved.

    I use the 2nd half of calendar time for whole class word work. I'm positive this is a good use of time and have seen many benefits.

    Next year we transition to Common Core and calendar is no longer a part of our standards. I will need to reflect and see if it is still important to include.

    On another note, I too refer to my students as writers, authors and illustration but do not call them mathematicians...why? I have no idea. You really have me thinking about alot. Thanks for letting me comment with my ramblings :-)

  5. I certainly agree with your calendar concerns. My pet peeve is the mostly blank calendar with the days flipped till today's date, and then an empty calendar! It is a tool for seeing what is coming up. How does one do that when there are no dates to be seen?

    We have a Calendar Crew who work as a team for a week to set up calendar, and do morning "chores" while the Star writes a story to share with everyone. This is the first time I have used a team, and I do like it. They help each other figure out what needs to be moved, changed, added. We don't have the month up - as we use a year long calendar, and focus on a week instead of the month. Using the whole year encourages kids to see important dates that are coming up, and to see the concept of a year rather than the chanting of the names of months.

    Thanks for your post!

  6. Thank you Nicole and Mardelle for you comments.

    Nicole my calendar has always been completely math focussed. I use it as a tool to teach math. My word work happens at a different time. I also think there is a big difference in the way you'd do calendar routines in K vs in grade one, after a year of great calendar in K. I also agree that one person doing everything can lead to bored children. I did try to have everyone involved by making it an interactive experience.

    Nicole the other interesting thing is that I certainly call my students scientist during our science discovering so it's strange that I haven't referred to them as mathematicians, until now.

    Mardelle you have mentioned a full year calendar before and i love the thinking behind that. While the numbers aren't always visible on our class calendar until the date arrives the events are still present so that we can see what's coming ahead.

    I'm not keen to assign my students jobs. I never have and more than likely never will. I try so hard to foster a community where by my students look out for and take care of one another. For example if a chair doesn't get stacked at the end of the day it's not uncommon for a classmate to do it just because. Assigning roles just doesn't sit well with me and my style of teaching. I do hear what you're getting at by having your crew talk about and change the required information on the calendar. I like that. Now that those jobs will be done alone by my special person of the day I'll have to make sure to remind them to ask a friend for help if they are having trouble. Or I'll have to remind my class that if they see something done incorrectly (or not done at all) to help the special person make it correct.

    Once again thank you both for your thought provoking comments.

  7. I had a similar epiphany a few weeks ago about calendar time. While I hadn't gotten to the point where I felt the lack of math chat, I have had that nagging suspicion that those kids who don't know the calendar routines after 93 days aren't going to grasp them without it either. Thank you for going the step further and helping me to see what I can add in place of calendar to foster this mathematical thinking. I'm revisiting this topic on my blog, and am linking your post as an inspiration to take the next step for my students.

  8. Tracey, thanks for mentioning this blogpost on your blog. Although it's only been a little over a week I have made a series effort to have math chat time every day. During that time I remind my students to put their mathematician hats on and to think like mathematicians. There math ability is there and it's nice for me to see it come to the surface again.

    In math right now we are working on mental math strategies such as adding doubles, or adding +1 or +2. They are really getting it too which is so wonderful to see.

    I wish you the best of luck on your math journey.