Why The Math D5 Fits

Lots of teacher types seem interested in applying the Daily Five principles to mathematics. What does that mean? For me, it means that teachers are struggling to find ways to deliver comprehensive instruction to our students and to differentiate so that rigor is applied to all students no matter what their level of accomplishment.

The Math Daily Five as developed by Gail and Joan consists of four categories really – Math by Myself, Math Writing, Partner Work (Math with Someone), and Math with Technology.  I like the categories, really I do, but I also know I need to be accountable to expectations for teaching math that are required in my school district.

My current thinking – notice I am saying current because I expect this will morph as we figure out more of what the kids need in transitioning to Common Core – is that I need five, not four major categories. The categories I currently use in my classroom are: Math Exploration, Fact Practice, Problem Solving, Technology, and Math Games.  Here is why:

  • Our district has adopted a Launch-Explore-Summary model for delivery of instruction.  The “explore” activity on the Math D5 board is connected to the lesson that has been launched during math.
  • We also use Investigations in Number, Data and Space as our basal mathematics resource.  This structure supports the materials we have the most consistent access to.
  • Fact practice is necessary as students are often deficient in knowing their facts – I still have students who try to count on their fingers to add and subtract and they need to master those pronto. Common Core requires students in Grade 3 to master multiplication and division to the 10s family. The fact practice games and flash cards (we use the triangular ones) fit well in here.
  • Our Unified School Improvement Plan specifies that students get direct instruction in problem solving – not to mention the Massachusetts Common Core docs also call out problem solving structures. I give students at least one problem to solve each week in their Problem Solvers’ notebook to track their progress.
  • The games I choose for the Math Game choice function as review of prior skills and often as intervention practice for struggling students. Many of these activities are based on Number Sense and Operations/Algebra as that is where my students are weakest.

With all the nuts and bolts of why I use the Daily Five out there, one of the most beneficial aspects is actually more general.  The Sisters advocate for teaching students to be independent – accountable for their own learning actions and trusted to stay on task without constant teacher intervention.  For me, this is the ultimate reason for teaching students the Daily Five structure. I need to pinpoint which students are struggling and provide targeted help (an initiative also mandated by our District).  If I am constantly redirecting students I simply can not do that. I need to know that the students who are not directly interacting with me at any particular point in time are engaged in meaningful mathematics activity for the entire 90 minute mathematics period.

Another reason why I’ve embraced the Daily Five structure for mathematics is that it allows for segmenting the time frame.  Does anyone really have those long imaginary blocks of time with class interruptions at the end of the day? I don’t think so. My schedule is much more coherent this year than it has been for the last 3 years; however, I still need to interrupt my mathematics block for lunch and recess. So the general structure of the block goes like this:

10 – 15 minute Launch with whole group

20 – 30 minutes (students start with Explore and move to a choice)

10 minute mid-point check in (either we solve/discuss the daily activity or we check in with something I’ve notice as I observe students working).

15 minutes additional independent choice time (at this point I pull one or two students who are struggling with the daily concept for some clarification OR if everyone “gets it” (right), I work with a group of students to extend thinking.


20 minutes additional independent activity (intervene with students who struggle with number sense)

10 minute Summary of what we’ve done or learned for the day.

So far, this structure is working for me and my students. Perfect? I don’t think so, but the more I learn about what my students need and the more read and study about the thinking behind the Daily Five, the more I think I am on the right track for helping my students.

Revisiting Critical Friends

This year I have a group of students who, most of the time, try to work together.  So far they don’t seem to get on each others nerves very often. Mykids range from highly independent, self-motivated students to those with pervasive developmental challenges.  Some days we exhaust each other.

I made a decision to revisit narrative writing again this month to see if we could improve on our first attempt in this writing genre.  One of those improvements is that I have assigned each student a “critical friend”, a writing partner.  This afternoon we used the 10 steps toward independence (thanks Gail and Joan!) modeling what a conference with a critical friend should look and sound like – and how it should not.  I guess we’ve done this routine enough times with other parts of the Daily Five that it was no big deal to follow a good model with a poor model with a good model.

And then I asked the newly formed writing partnerships to go off and talk about their ideas for this new narrative writing project and offer encouragement and suggestions.

I  often like to step away from the children  and become an observer. Oftentimes I am amazed at how things roll and today was no exception. I could hear each author explain the five narrative ideas they had thought of, why the idea was important to him or her, and then listen as the partner either encouraged or gently offered a suggestion or clarification of the idea.  The partners were so sincere in their responsibilities to their writing partners; how powerful it must have felt to get some feedback from a peer, not only from the teacher!

When I think about making sure my student writers have peers to support them, I sometimes find myself hesitating – wondering if the students have the skills (social) and judgement to offer constructive criticism to a peer. I wonder if I am asking too much of them.  But today, I observed I have very much underestimated my students. They are most definitely up to the task of working with a writing partner, a critical friend.

I won’t under-estimate them again. Critical friends are here to stay.