June 2017 - Down River Resources | Your Elementary Math Guide
The first days and weeks of school are important for establishing a positive classroom culture or classroom community. When students' view their classroom as a positive and supportive environment, they are more likely to learn. Now that's a powerful statement! Teachers who take the time to know their students, their families, and backgrounds, reap the rewards throughout the school year. Real estate agents often focus on three things: location, location, location. Teachers need to focus on three things too: relationships, relationships, relationships! One way to create a positive classroom culture is by applying the principles of culturally responsive teaching.

How to Create a Positive Classroom Culture

Creating a Positive Classroom Community 

Culturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings,1994).

There are seven aspects that helps teachers implement culturally responsive teaching in their classrooms:
  1. Positive perspectives on parents and families
  2. Communication of high expectations
  3. Learning within the context of culture
  4. Student-centered instruction
  5. Culturally mediated instruction
  6. Reshaping the curriculum
  7. Teacher as facilitator
The biggest takeaway from studying this important pedagogy is that it's all about the student! 

How to Create a Positive Classroom Culture by Down River Resources
Teachers need to build relationship with the families connected to the STUDENT. 
Teachers need to communicate high expectations to the STUDENT. 
Teachers need to promote learning within the context of the culture of the STUDENT. 
Teachers need to value the STUDENT'S cultural history, values, and contribution.
Teachers need to reshape the curriculum to meet the needs of the STUDENT. 
Teachers need to be the facilitators of the STUDENT.

Ways to Create a Positive Relationship with Families 

I know you are thinking, how does positive perspectives and relationships with families impact the classroom community? Often times, students embody the same feelings and views that their families have on topics. If I think about the last political season, I could see the passion parents had as students talked about the candidates! They developed these views and opinions in the home.

Seek to understand the family's view.

It is important to seek to understand families' hopes for their child. Each parent, or guardian, wants their child to be the best and thinks their child IS the best. It is important that teachers embrace this vision for their students also. You can gain this understanding any time you encounter a family member, especially during conference times. Teachers must take a parents' vision for their child, as well as their concerns, seriously. If not, it threatens the relationship with the family. 

Write weekly notes to send home with the students.

One of the best things I ever did for my classroom was write a weekly note. I started the tradition my first year teaching. I include a little blurb about what happened last week and what we are looking forward to in the coming week. I also note what topics we are covering in each subject, The simple statement of each topics allows families to know what kinds of things that they can help with at home, if they choose to do so. Our weekly spelling list is also recorded there for quick reference.

By sending home a weekly note about the happenings in the classroom, families stay connected to the school. It is an additional time commitment for you, but it will valued by those who read it! My parents are constantly stopped by people in the community who remember my weekly notes home. 

Develop a rapport with families during pick-up.

Simply say a little more than the typical greetings during after school pick up. Share a memory of something fun, exciting, or interesting that their child did or said during the day. Not only does it create a window of opportunity for the parent to talk to you, but it helps establish a positive relationship with the parent. When an issue arises, it is much easier to address the concern with the parent. 

Ways to Create a Positive Relationships with Students

When you view parents, or families, as partners in the education of their child, their children are more likely to be receptive to you too. The first few weeks of school is the most important time for creating positive relationships with your students and among them too! I remember the old saying among veteran teachers, "Don't crack a smile before Christmas!" I think this is out-dated! It is important for a child to view you as an authority figure with high expectations, but them thinking you sleep at school is passé. 

Get to know your students.

 First Day of School CraftivityThe first few days of school are perfect for quick activities and ice breakers you know them personally. The more information you have about a child, the better you can connect with them. This embodies two principles of culturally responsive teaching: learning within the context of culture and student-centered instruction. 

I like to provide my students time to work on small crafts and other activities that allow students the opportunity to draw and color. This gives me an opportunity to quickly assess their fine motor skills, while providing time for them to talk to their table team. This is a simple way to start building that sense of community.

 Splat! Classroom Community Mega BundleI also play small community building games where students share about what they like or don't like. I learn a lot about students' preferences. I use this knowledge as a connector throughout the year to other connect. When a new movie comes out that my students have watched, I watch it too. I am able to make learning more relevant for the students!

Talk about things important to you.

When you share parts of your own personal life with students, they get more comfortable with the idea of sharing their own. This creates a connection with the students. I frequently mention Mr. Williams, my husband, or my sweet puppy dog, Jedi, when I am teaching. Students make that personal connection to me and engages them. When I was teaching in kindergarten, I had to teach about wants and needs of an organism. I designed an entire unit around my dog, Jedi. The students loved it and were able to make connections to other organisms' wants and needs much easier because they were so interested! It motivated them to talk and write about their experiences and connections!

I hope this inspires you to take steps this school year to create a positive classroom culture, if your interested in some of my classroom community building resources, you can check them out in my TpT shop.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing Co.
Teaching numbers isn't as easy as 1-2-3. While it might be easy for students to simply repeat or say their "numbers," there are many skills that blend together to build a child's foundation in numeracy. Children must be able to, not only, say their numbers and recognize them, they must also build a concept of counting and cardinality. From there, their learning continues to grow and develop as children learn what numbers actually represent. One of the skills that is significant for students to learn is visual discrimination. Visual discrimination is the ability to recognize details in visual images. It allows children to identify and recognize the similarities and differences of shapes/forms, letters, numbers, colors, and position of objects, people, and printed materials. Visual discrimination skills are essential for all subjects, including mathematics.

Visual Discrimination and Visual Processing

Visual discrimination is a visual processing skill that can be practiced in the home and at school. Visual discrimination is the ability to recognize details in visual images. It is important to emphasize that the development of this skill can be an issue for some children. We can continue to practice the skill and develop it, but some children will struggle and we need to be aware that medication nor additional practice will help those with a visual processing issue.

Processing issues go undetected on basic vision tests. Scientists have actually identified eight types of visual processing issues that exist and visual discrimination is one of them. Many children with learning issues, like dyslexia, have visual processing issues.

Regardless, visual discrimination is an important skill and needs to be practiced as it affects learning, especially in mathematics.

Visual Discrimination in Mathematics 

Let's look at how visual discrimination skills are developed through mathematics. Visual discrimination is the ability to visually detect differences in variables such as shape, pattern, color, size, etc.

Looking at the variables mentioned, it's easy to see how widespread visual discrimination skills are within the context of mathematics!

First, in order for children to be comfortable with numbers and mathematical concepts they reply on the ability to distinguish between different number symbols. If you think about letters, various numbers are similar in formation.

In fact, look the visual I created on the right side. This shows several of the numerals that young children often confuse because of their formation.

Examples of Visual Discrimination in Mathematics 

It is easy to ask a young child, "What is two plus one?" and get a correct response. When this is written down, it is common that the same child would not complete the question is writing, "2 + 1 = ?" Weak visual discrimination skills make it difficult for children to distinguish between the numerals and symbols.

As if single digit numbers were not challenge enough, Children have to identify the numerals correctly AND they but process them in the correct order, from left to right. Triple- and quadruple-digit numbers also comes with the same challenge.
double-digit numbers pose a challenge.

For example, 14 and 41 represent different amounts but are composed of the same numerals. Children must distinguish the order of these two digits.

The numbers 10, 100, and 1000 have visually similar digits but the place value is much different.

Children need to be able to determine whether a letter was a lower case 'e' or 'c', or an upper case 'F' and 'E,' in order to read those pesky word problems!

Visual discrimination allows applies to time. Take 5:07 and 7:05 a.m. into account. I would much rather wake up at 7:05 a.m. than 5:07 a.m.

Moving into geometry, a square and a rectangle both have 4 sides, 4 vertices, and 4 right angles. Squares and rectangles are similar but there is one variable that is different, thus each one is its own shape with a distinguishing attribute or property. In this case, the length of the sides is different; hence, visual discrimination helps a child see the difference.

These are just a few of the examples that are found within mathematics where visual discrimination is significant.

Practicing Visual Discrimination Skills

We can see why is it imperative that children have strong visual discrimination skills.

The lack of visual discrimination skills can lead to problems future problems in understanding mathematics. For example, if your child is unable to distinguish the the number“1” from the number “7,” he will incorrectly read the number “11” as “77.” This will lead, inevitably, to frustration and self-doubt, as your child struggles to understand their solution does not make sense (which it likely will not since “11” and “77” are not interchangeable).

We can help children to refine their visual discrimination skills in fun ways so that they build their confidence in math!

Here is a quick list of activities that can be done at school or in the home to help!

- Sort and match objects (socks, markers, blocks, etc.)
- Collect things from the playground or backyard to sort into categories.
- Complete straight edge puzzles where children must pay attention to the details on each piece.
- Matching games or concentration where children spot the differences in the cards. You can use numbers or shapes.
- Make duplicates of some family photos. Show your child two identical pictures with one different picture and ask him which pictures are the same and which one is different.
- Use simple matching puzzles with the same two number, colors, or objects are both pieces.

If you do have children with visual processing issues, remember that there is no cure, but there are many strategies and supports that can help them. All children can benefit from learning to detect the differences in visual images.

I hope this post inspires you to create opportunities for your children to practice their visual discrimination skills, and if you want some basic numeral puzzles to help your child build their skills download them here on the blog. (See box below.)

What activities can you do in the home or classroom to build visual discrimination skills?

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