This post originally appeared on the blog Core Inspiration by Laura Santos.
One of the greatest challenges we face as teachers is finding enough time for all the instruction we need to fit in. Often times, we feel there is a need to hurry on to the next topic once we see students have reached their learning goal. Unfortunately this (seemingly relentless) need to move on robs many learners of their (infinitely more important) need to go back and review concepts. We learn quickly that in order to make room for the spiral review students need, we need to hit the ground running each morning when they arrive in the classroom.
My Old Approach To Morning Work
During my first four years as a third grade teacher, I consistently made room for spiral review by having students complete it as morning work. At that time, I used the spiral review materials included in our district math curriculum. Although the concept was great in theory, there were days when I felt frustrated and flustered five minutes into the school day. Why? Because students were unable to work independently to complete their spiral review activities while I greeted, collected homework, and took attendance.
Sometimes, the instructions were confusing, sometimes there were skills on the spiral review page that were new content rather than review, sometimes the inconsistent page format was too overwhelming for students with special needs. Regardless, I knew this seemingly efficient routine was not meeting the needs of our classroom. Sound familiar?
My New Approach to Morning Work
Although there is not a perfect solution for the battle between necessary spiral review and the ever-shrinking amount of instructional time, I created something that may help you put an end to the reality described above. Here’s a peek at my favorite morning routine: The Number of the Day Binder. This routine gives students the opportunity to independently review math concepts consistently without sacrificing rigor or relying on easy worksheets.
The Number of The Day Binder Routine
After my students hang their backpacks and head to their seat, they know to take a look at our screen where they will see Today’s Number projected. Each day, the number is different but the format of the slide is always the same. This establishes the first layer of consistency, which benefits all students, especially those with special needs.
Students grab their Number of the Day supplies and get started with the daily spiral review math activities inside. In our classroom, we store these supplies right inside our desk because they are used every day.
At the beginning of the year, students only work on the first few pages of the binder. As they become more efficient with this routine and begin to master more advanced math concepts, new pages are added to the routine. I will give more detail about how I introduce each page in the next section below.
While students independently work through each activity, I walk around the room to collect homework and greet each student. During this time, I am also formatively assessing students on their ability to complete each page independently. Because each page is stored in a plastic sheet protector, students use a whiteboard marker to complete the work, then erase the page and move on to the next activity. Although it is absolutely possible to have students use Vis A Vis marker so you can correct each page as a class, I elect not to in the interest of time.
Supporting Struggling Students
If students find they are struggling to complete an activity within their binder, they add their name to the Number of the Day Check In sheet in our board. This helps me track who needs extra support or needs a quick review of one of the activities. I use this list to pull a small group during our math workshop time as needed. Of course, there are times when I notice a student is struggling with an activity and they are either in denial or just oblivious to their error. In that case, I add their name to the list myself.
Helping Students Pace Themselves
During the first weeks of school, when I am monitoring student progress closely, we keep track of the average amount of time it should take to carefully and accurately complete the pages in the binder. Students are aware of this average so they can pace themselves while working independently. A timer is set to help them with this pacing. Last year, it took my second graders an average of 13 minutes to finish all pages in the binder at the end of the year.
If a student happens to finish their Number of the Day Binder activities early, they know to pull out their reading or writing and work silently. I consistently remind students of the importance of making this a silent and seamless transition by using language like “You may notice some of your neighbors are finishing up. I’m sure they are so grateful you helped them to focus by being calm and focused yourself. There is no need to feel rushed. We will all keep focusing on our own work so everyone feels respected.”
When our timer rings, students clear their last page, tuck their Number of the Day Binder in their desk, and briefly pause their focus on math so we can have our morning meeting. We then head into focusing on our current unit of study during math workshop. During our workshop time, I have noticed a dramatic improvement in student understanding of new concepts that build on the skills practiced in their Number of the Day Binder.
Introducing The Morning Routine To Ensure Student Independence
If you are thinking this Number of the Day Binder deal sounds like it may work for you, here are a few tips for establishing a strong foundation that truly supports student independence.
Prep Your Student Binders
During your back to school prep, plan to assemble your Number of the Day Binders. Print the binder pages double sided and slide them into plastic page protectors. Add a cover page to each binder so students can add their name and decorate. This makes it easier to return misplaced binders to their owners throughout the year. Although any whiteboard marker or Vis A Vis pen will do the trick, I highly recommend thin white board markers because they make it easier for students to record their answers.
Decide How You Will Display Your Number Each Day
Will you write your number on the whiteboard? Display it using your projector? Have a flip book filled with numbers? There is no wrong way to display your number of the day. Consistency is key. Whatever you decided, stick to it so your students know what to expect each day.
Also consider what will be easiest for you. Do you plan to set aside a moment before school or at recess when you can display the number before students walk into the classroom? If so, perhaps the projector approach is your best option. Worried you may be walking through the door for the first time with your students each morning? In that case, it’s probably best to have a display a student helper can change during tidy up time the day before, like a flip deck.
Teaching Students How To Complete Each Activity
Once you’ve decided which activities you want to add to your number of the day binder, create a schedule for when you want to introduce each binder page.
Introducing each page through a mini lesson works well. First, have students watch and listen as you work through the page with a sample number. Then, display a new number and work through the page together, with yours on display, and theirs on their lap or desk. The following day, you can decide if another guided practice session is needed or if you will walk the room as students work through their page independently. Follow this with a mini lesson for the next new page in the binder.
This is also the ideal time to introduce students to the list or display where they can add their name if they are struggling to understand a page. This will allow you to organize small group instruction as needed and keep a nice flow to your schedule for introducing the binder pages.
I’m Ready To Implement This Routine In My Classroom
I am relieved to be heading into this back to school season with the confidence that my students will start each morning with a consistent, rigorous spiral review routine that we can all rely on. Gone are the days of wondering if this will be the morning when Bob will totally turned off to learning because his review page is too confusing or if it will take 20 minutes to collect homework because of all the questions students have about how to answer question number 8 on their worksheet.
If you are interested in bringing a consistent, rigorous spiral review routine to your classroom, I recommend a few resources that will make your transition into Number of the Day Binders a whole lot easier.
The Number of the Day Binder Program
Unlike the number of the day printables you may have used in the past, these cohesive binders are filled with activities that require more advanced problem solving and reasoning skills. You will also save time and paper all year long with the reusable format. You can purchase each binder individually, or maximize your differentiation by bundling all four binders.
I hope you enjoy using this routine to make the most of every instructional minute so you have the time and energy it takes to progress through new content while incorporating spiral review into your classroom schedule.
Laura Santos [Core Inspiration by Laura Santos], is an elementary teacher in California. During her 7 years as an educator, she has taught 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. She enjoys creating resources that help teachers incorporate project-based learning and enrichment activities into their classroom. Another passion is creating organized classroom spaces that promote productivity. To take a look at her classroom and instructional approach, visit her blog, Core Inspiration. You can also find her resources at her TpT store, Core Inspiration by Laura Santos. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.