Playing the Long Game

In previous years, our district math curriculum in grades 3-5 stopped instruction a full 10 days before STAAR to provide a STAAR Review unit. This year that all changed. The unit is gone. Why?

The primary reason has to do with the health and well being of our students. Stopping instruction 10 days before STAAR makes the test seem even bigger and scarier. It’s so big and scary, in fact, that all math learning has to come to a halt so we can get students ready for it. I know teachers worked hard to make those 10 days of instruction as engaging as possible for their students, but that doesn’t mitigate the implicit messages being sent to nearly 11,000 young children. If we want our students to excel and feel confident, then we need to ensure we’re not spending 10 days inadvertently turning up the anxiety dial.

The second reason has to do with impact. Stopping to cram in a year of learning 10 days before a test is not likely to result in the kind of gains we want. Sure, some students might answer 1 or 2 more questions correctly, but how quickly are their brains going to jettison everything that was crammed in during those 10 days? What lasting impact is that going to have on their identity as a mathematics learner?

Take a look at our goals for mathematics instruction in Round Rock ISD:

  • Students learn to value mathematics.
  • Students become confident in their ability to do mathematics.
  • Students become proficient problem solvers.
  • Students learn to communicate mathematically.
  • Students learn to reason mathematically.

These goals are achieved by playing the long game, not cramming for a one-day test. Our attention needs to be focused on the things we can do for our students throughout the school year, not counting on a Hail Mary pass right before the big test. At that point it’s a case of too little, too late.

What we need to do is re-think how we work toward our goals for mathematics while simultaneously keeping STAAR in mind, because, let’s face it, the test is still looming no matter what I say in this post.

So I’d like to put my money where my mouth is and share a resource I’ve created along with our fabulous instructional coaches to give us a way to re-think STAAR practice.

This year our district allots 80 minutes of daily math instruction. Of this time, 20 minutes is dedicated for spiral review. Spiral review allows students to revisit topics from the previous grade level and/or the current grade level throughout the school year. It allows teachers to be proactive as they continually adjust to meet the needs of their students. Rather than waiting until 10 days before a test, we have time today and for many tomorrows yet to support our students and make necessary course corrections.

Twenty minutes per day may not sound like much, but did you know that it adds up to over 50 hours over the course of a school year? Over 50 hours! That’s an incredible amount of time, especially when you compare it to our old STAAR Review unit. If you spent the full 80 minutes per day of math instruction cramming for STAAR for 10 days, it would only add up to about 13 hours. That’s it. Given the option between cramming for 13 hours and providing ongoing support for 50 hours, I’m going to take the 50 hours.

I know how appealing that 13 hours is though, especially being able to focus on the types of questions students will see on STAAR. So what I did with the instructional coaches is plan 13 hours worth of Spiraling STAAR Review. If you do spiral review for 20 minutes per day, it takes about 40 days to provide 13 hours of practice. So that’s what we did. We planned 40 days’ worth of spiral review activities geared toward the kinds of thinking students need to do on STAAR. The great thing is that these activities simultaneously work toward our five goals of mathematics in RRISD. The activities we chose focus on building confidence as students problem solve, communicate, and reason mathematically.

Are you ready to try out Spiraling STAAR Review? If you’re a 5th grade teacher, you’ll want to start by February 1 to provide 40 days of review. If you’re a 3rd or 4th grade teacher, you don’t need to worry about it until after spring break. The links below will take you to the table of contents for each grade level.

A HUGE thank you to the Round Rock ISD elementary instructional coaches for pitching in to plan and put together these resources for our teachers.


13 thoughts on “Playing the Long Game

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  1. Thank you so very much for sharing these resources. I’ve been through a few and I love them. Much more interesting than any spiral review I’ve ever seen. How long did this take to come to fruition? How many people worked on it? I would love for my district to be able to do this for our standards as well (very similar to yours).


    1. Hi! Thank you for the kind words. It took me a month or so in real time, but the actual work time was much less. I had a team of instructional coaches help create the activities. I think it turned out to be 5 or 6 of them per grade level and they each created 6 activities (3 per standard) in 3-4 hours. When they were done, I went back through and proofed each activity. That took me several days because some activities required more effort on my part than others. I also made some activities from scratch as needed to fill in some holes. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the volume of work we were able to create together in just over a month. If you have any specific questions, let me know!


      1. How does the district fund that many instructional coaches? We have 1 district instructional coach for our entire district.


  2. Thank you so much for your time, dedication, and generosity. It’s so nice of you to share these valuable resources with other teachers outside of your district. I’m new to 5th grade and feeling the pressure of state testing like never before. I’m in California and use the CCSS, but TEKS standards are very similar and this resource will help my students have valuable conversation with one another about what we’ve learned throughout the year. Thank you!

    ~Renee Chipman


  3. Thank you so much for sharing this awesome resource! Such engaging activities that really require students to justify and explain their thinking! Please thank all who worked on this wonderful resource!


  4. Thank you so much for these wonderful resources! We are so excited to dig in for the Long Game! I am so pleased that each resource supports the social interaction between the students to share their thinking, which is a huge piece in the review puzzle. As an instructional coach, I know the time and effort that was spent in the creation of these review materials and all the effort is greatly appreciated.


  5. Let me start by saying these activities are GAME-CHANGERS! I have used them with the Pear Deck add-on in Google Slides and my students have never been more engaged. Thank you so much. We tried the activity for 5.4F I Have I Need and we noticed an error. There are two posters with answers = 21. So, the students cannot complete the cycle. We changed Poster G expression to 3 + 2(2+6) and Poster I answer to be 19 to fix the cycle. I just thought I would share.


    1. AWESOME! Thank you for sharing how you’ve used them in your classroom. And thank you for sharing the error! With so many activities across grades 3-5, there are bound to be a couple. I appreciate you letting me know so I can get it fixed. Thanks again!


  6. Great concept and totalling agree that students can only retain so much especially when we jam thier little minds with extensive information. The setup inspired me to use it as a conversation-scenario lessons with open discussion to confirm and review without stress. Great guide!


  7. Thank you for the wonderful activities. I’m excited you included activities from the lead4ward instructional playlist. We recently shared that playlist with our new teachers to help them with review!


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