Puzzle of Practice

Oakland Elementary serves about 850 PreK-5th grade students with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, strengths, and needs. Our first grade team of 6 is a mixture of veteran, mid-career, and novice teachers. At the beginning of our journey with Impact Teams, one or two of the teachers made most of the decisions for the group and the team was hesitant to make changes to instruction and assessment.

Collective Goal

Our first grade team chose to dig into problem-solving and reasoning in mathematics. Our academic data and teacher observations have made it clear that these have been a long-term area of need for students which was exacerbated by the pandemic. We decided to really dig deeper and build students’ foundational skills in these areas and to empower them as mathematicians; these skills are an essential foundation to success in later grades and courses and in the world beyond school. Everything begins with clarity, so we decided to focus on teacher and classroom clarity.

Collective Action

The team decided to focus on clarity first. Teachers had been creating learning ladders, a type of learning progression, for the students. The team unpacked a cluster of standards and developed and revised a series of learning ladders, tasks, and tools to support students’ understanding and gather evidence of their learning and our next step was to allow students to be a part of the process.

Team members were skeptical of co-constructing success criteria with learners. We began with a fish-bowl in which we gathered in a classroom to watch our partner, Isaac Wells, co-construct success criteria with one of our first grade classes.

During the observation and debrief there was a noticeable shift. The teacher who had been most certain the process would not work with her students was so excited about how well it went she volunteered to be the first one to try it with her students. That same week I recorded her co-constructing problem-solving criteria with her students so she could reflect and we could watch it as a team as evidence for the Microteaching Protocol. We were all amazed at how responsive and knowledgeable the students were. The students really enjoyed the process of co-constructing and agreed to use what they created as they learned to apply their criteria to increasingly complex problems.

This teacher became the cheerleader for the rest of the team and several other teachers then wanted to be videoed while co-constructing with their classes. We watched their videos together, gave feedback, and practiced the teacher moves we observed and discussed.

The team now plans to begin this process at the beginning of next year with non-academic tasks such as how to line up, how to come to the carpet, and how to get ready for the day so that students become familiar with the process of co-construction and can transfer their skills to less familiar concepts and skills.


Our students were definitely more invested in the success criteria and felt more confident talking about their work–their strengths and weaknesses. We saw an increase of 49% from fall to spring of our Tier 1 student scores on the iReady math diagnostic. Teachers observed a considerable difference in students’ ability to solve problems and discuss the thinking and strategies they used connected to the success criteria they helped create.

This process also increased trust amongst the first grade team and made them even stronger. Our leadership team has observed a change of mindset in their approach to learning challenges and a shift in their personal and collective efficacy. I can’t wait to see the next steps this team will take as they shift their energy to building efficacy across all the teams at Oakland Elementary!