I’m finally reaching the end of my blog post series which has been a retrospective of my elementary curriculum work for the past three years. If you want to read the previous posts in this series, here they are:
Today I’ll be sharing our 5th grade scope and sequences. 5th grade is a strange beast, at least in Texas. It’s a Student Success Initiative grade which means students are required to pass the state reading and math tests (STAAR) in order to move on to 6th grade. If students fail the test, they are given two more chances to pass before a grade level placement meeting is held. In order to accommodate three testing dates, 5th graders have to take their test nearly a month and a half earlier than they did in 3rd and 4th grade.
The implication is that despite having a year’s worth of curriculum to teach like everyone else, 5th grade teachers have to teach all of their standards by late March rather than early May. This makes planning the scope and sequence a perpetual challenge because you’re always working with less time than other grade levels. And with all of the meaty rational number topics in 5th grade, teachers are definitely not clamoring for less time to teach.
With that in mind, here are the scope and sequences for the past three years. What do you notice? What do you wonder?
5th Grade – School Year 2015-16
5th Grade – School Year 2016-17
5th Grade – School Year 2017-18
Looking back, I’m noticing a trend across grade levels where I used to split topics up into chunks that ended up being too small for teachers. In 2015-16 I split the following topics into two units each:
- Volume – The first unit focused on multiplication and the second on division
- Addition and Subtraction, Data Analysis, and Perimeter – The first unit focused on fractions and the second on decimals
- Multiplication and Division – The first unit focused on fractions and the second on decimals
- Geometry – The first unit focused on coordinate geometry and the second on classifying 2-D shapes
That year we crammed in 11 units before the STAAR test (12 if you include a short review unit). Needless to say, 5th grade teachers let it be known that year that they felt like they were flying way too quickly through their units.
The next year I think I over-corrected. Instead of many short units, I offered fewer, longer units. We went from 11 units to 6 units before the STAAR test. I wanted teachers to feel like they could really dig into the topics for an extended period of time. I also tried to make moot a debate about whether fraction multiplication/division should come before or after decimal multiplication/division. Since they were combined into one unit, it meant teachers could choose their preferred teaching order.
Like I said, I think this was an over-correction. That year teachers let me know that the units were too long. Some of the feedback was that by the time they got to the end-of-unit assessment 25 days later, students had forgotten content from earlier in the unit. Other feedback was that teachers didn’t know how to utilize their time within the unit. They felt like there was too much to cover, even though they had a longer block of time in which to teach.
Last spring I sat down with my 5th Grade Curriculum Collaborative to (hopefully) find a sweet spot. First we talked about which units to keep combined and which to separate. They decided that the unit on volume, multiplication, and division could stay together. They also felt that the geometry unit didn’t need to be broken up.
What did need to be broken up were the units on rational number operations. They said these are the topics where students have the greatest struggles. Namely, students need dedicated time to work on addition and subtraction with fractions that have unlike denominators. They also wanted to introduce fraction multiplication and division earlier to give students even more time to encounter related word problems. One of the biggest struggles our students have is knowing when to multiply or divide fractions in a word problem, and if it’s a division problem, in what order to divide – unit fraction divided by whole number or whole number divided by unit fraction.
After deciding that we would have 8 units and the order in which they would be presented, I asked them to identify the unit that they felt was the most critical. They decided Unit 2 on adding and subtracting fractions is the most critical. I asked how many days they needed to ensure success with that unit. They decided on 20 days.
We repeated this process to identify their second priority unit, which was Unit 3 on multiplying and dividing fractions. Again, we talked about the amount of time needed to teach this topic well. Because we considered these two units to be our top two priority units, it was non-negotiable to steal days from these two units as we created the rest of the scope and sequence.
Have we found the sweet spot? I think so. I’ve received minimal feedback from teachers about the 5th grade scope and sequence this year. It helps that this year Texas shifted the date of the STAAR test a little later than it was in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Teachers ended up with two additional weeks of instruction than in years past which definitely gave them a bit of breathing room.
This impacted our post-STAAR units however. In 2015-16 and 2016-17, after the first STAAR administration, we had two mirror units (Units 13a and 13b in 2015-16 and Units 8a and 8b in 2016-17). The rationale was that based on all the data collected that year, teachers should have had a pretty good idea of which students would pass on the first administration and which students would not. When scores are returned 3 weeks after the test, campuses tend to scramble to create intervention groups and provide intense intervention. My philosophy is, why wait?
Once the first administration was done, we wanted teachers to start providing that intervention and support immediately so that they could intervene for a full 6 weeks instead of just 3. This might involve mixing students around across classes so that some students would learn from the Going Deeper Unit while others learned from the Enriching Connections unit. Both units had the same standards, we just provided different instructional resources.
Once the second STAAR administration was over in May, all of the 5th graders got to take part in the final unit of the year which focused on personal financial literacy. This is a unit students tend to enjoy so I wanted to make sure everyone got to take part. If we had offered this unit after the first administration, some students might have gotten yanked out of it when scores came back, which isn’t fair.
As I mentioned previously, things changed this year when Texas moved the first administration two weeks later. They also moved the second administration a week later as well. That had a big impact on my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade scope and sequences because now there isn’t enough time after STAAR in May to warrant a complete unit. That meant the personal financial literacy unit had to move immediately following the first administration of STAAR or else it wouldn’t get taught at all. It also meant the two mirror units are much shorter this year. Considering students got more time for first instruction this year, I’m not complaining.
5th Grade – School Year 2018-19
Based on the lack of feedback, I’m going to keep the scope and sequence the same for next year. Over the past two years, my 5th Grade Curriculum Collaborative has worked with me to develop suggested unit plans for 7 of the 8 units before STAAR. Teachers have been really happy with these model plans. Once we write the 8th plan, it will be nice to go back and start making revisions to the existing plans now that they’ve been in use for a couple of years.
I’m not sure whether I’ll make any adjustments to the computational fluency and spiral review topics this year either.
You’ll notice that, like 4th grade, 5th grade also starts with a review of multiplication facts. I’ve done the math and across grades 3, 4, and 5, we’ve incorporated nearly 75 hours of instruction on multiplication and division facts across these three grade levels. Here’s the breakdown:
- 3rd Grade – Nearly 50 hours focused on conceptual understanding and more than 10 hours of procedural fluency practice spread across the entire year
- 4th Grade – Nearly 10 hours of procedural fluency practice spread across the first semester
- 5th Grade – Five hours of procedural fluency practice in the first nine weeks
I have some work to do to help see this enacted in the way that I envision, but I feel good about the structure we’ve put in place to intentionally teach and reinforce this skill across the intermediate grades.
Looking at the spiral review topics, I’m pretty happy with their flow, especially at the beginning of the year. In Unit 1 we focus on 4th grade fraction topics. 5th grade is really a fraction- and decimal-heavy year. I totally get that students might have forgotten some of what they learned in 4th grade, but we just don’t have the luxury of time for excuses. The students need to hit the ground running if they’re going to have sufficient time to grapple and become proficient with the 5th grade material.
I like how the Unit 2 spiral review parallels the focus TEKS topics, but using whole numbers instead of fractions. We do the same thing in Unit 3. However in Unit 3 it’s doing double duty because in addition to being a parallel to the focus TEKS work, it’s also revisiting whole number multiplication and division which will be a focus in Unit 4. Then in Unit 4 the spiral review topic is decimals which is in preparation for Unit 5.
Got a question about our scope and sequence? Wondering what in the world I’m thinking about planning things this way? Ask in the comments. Otherwise, that just about wraps up this blog series.
Over the course of this blog series, I’ve really appreciated the experience of reflecting on my past three year’s worth of curriculum work in each grade level. It’s been interesting to see how my thinking has changed over the past few years and how much of it has been influenced by the feedback from and collaboration with our teachers. I greatly appreciate that they’re willing to share what’s working and what’s not. I don’t teach in a classroom day in and day out, so I would be handicapped in my work without their expertise and insight.
Looking back over three years and six grade levels, I’m struck by how complex this work is. There are so many moving parts in terms of the numerous standards within a grade level, how they interconnect across grade levels, how to bundle standards meaningfully into units, and how to decide the appropriate amount of time for any given unit. If you ever find yourself in the position of doing this work, my advice is to invite a group of colleagues to work with you, do your best, and expect that you won’t get it “right” the first time.
That being said, what started as a blog series where I was planning to reflect on the changes I might make for next year has instead reaffirmed that the work I’ve done with my teachers over the past three years has resulted in six scope and sequences that make sense and don’t actually require much tweaking at all. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. Are they perfect? Probably not. But they appear to be working for our teachers and students, and at the end of the day that’s what matters.
Oh, and I have an exciting announcement for those who’ve read all the way to the end! My school district is currently in the process of making our entire curriculum for all subjects K-12 an open education resource for anyone to access. Copyrighted lessons will still be restricted to district employees, but all of our curriculum documents and a wide variety of non-copyrighted resources will be freely available. We’re currently in the process of transferring everything into our new curriculum site. I’ll be sure to share the link (and probably blog about it!) once the site goes live. I’ve always been a big fan of sharing because we’re better together, and I’m so thankful to work for a school district that shares this philosophy.