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Elementary/Primary Group

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This group is for Quality Learning issues concerning primary/elementary teachers, students and administrators. Quality Learning is having a huge impact on learning, behavior and classroom management. Share your examples and get ideas.

Capacity Matrices in the Elementary Classroom

This topic contains 13 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Amanda Camacho Amanda Camacho 2 years, 7 months ago.

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    I am steadily posting more and more examples in the documents section. Take a look and let me know what you think.


    I want to introduce Beth Chinderle. Beth is the Math Curriculum Specialist for the Leander Independent School District, Leander, Texas. Beth has adopted Capacity Matrices in Elementary Math. Many of her matrices have been uploaded to the document section here. Beth will you please, as a path of introduction, give an overview of what you do and how Capacity Matrices have been implemented in Elementary Math.

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    Beth Chinderle

    Hello! 3 years ago, we began a journey in our district to structure our curriculum using backward design by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. As we developed Essential Units of Study around big ideas, key understandings, essential questions, and what the students should know and do, the next step was to think about how to put the curriculum in the hands of the students. What a better way than to use a capacity matrix? This became a tool that allowed students to take ownership of the curriculum and also a tool for teachers to use as they intentionally plan for the different levels of understanding. Our math team has worked hard to create Capacity Matrices for all of our Essential Units of Study, Kindergarten through 5th grade. Currently, teachers in our district are beginning to use them for planning and with their students as a formative assessment tool and a piece of their student data notebook. We look forward to collaborating and receiving feedback as we continue on the Quality Learning journey! Please feel free to ask questions and share ideas!

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    Stephen Learmonth

    David, I’m having a problem downloading the two papers on capacity matrices. When I open them up all I am getting is code for the webpage. Do you have any solutions please?


    Hi Beth,

    If anyone is interested in Backward Design I have posted a couple of links to PDF overviews in this section. This is the same concept as Idealized Redesign by Dr. Russell Akoff. I have also posted a Link to Akoff’s paper. The first origins of this thinking, that I know of, was with the Alcoa Corporation in the late 50’s. We use the term Imagineering (Tool Time Book). Imagine what would be perfect then re-engineer backward to understand what to do today. Students get this at all levels.

    Example: Imagine you can’t wait to come to school to learn fractions, you love fractions, you know fractions upside down and backwards. What would we need to do every day, so that you would have this love and insight for fractions? Sometimes kids will say “that’s not possible.” This is the psychology of the problem. If you have been taught to hate something, it is difficult to think how to love it. If you keep turning to students and saying, “but if it was possible what would we be doing differently every day.” They will eventually start to tell you, then when you do it, they start to realize you are serious and give you even better feedback.

    So right you are, the Capacity Matrix concept was created with this type of thinking. (See Beth’s examples in this document section.)

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    Peter Rawitsch

    I am a 1st grade teacher in Glenmont, NY. I heard David speak at The Leader In Me Global Education Summit this summer. He inspired me to set up Data Notebooks with my students this year. The students are taking more ownership of their learning. I started with simple graphs where they can measure their weekly progress with reading words, spelling words, and math facts. Now I am ready to help them assess their reading comprehension skills, mathematical thinking, and writing process. I like the Capacity Matrices that include the Information, Knowledge, Know-how, and Wisdom columns. I would love to hear from anyone who has done this with reading and writing.


    Peter, if you check the documents in this section you will see Information Texts this is a great example in Language Arts. I have also uploaded other examples for Letter Writing during the School Holidays, Pen License(handwriting) and Speaking.


    Peter, I have uploaded another great Capacity Matrix Template from the great folks in Leander, TX. This is an example of getting poetry concepts in the hands of students.

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    Jennifer Houston

    I am a 5th grade Language Arts teacher from the Leander Independent School district. The capacity matrices are going great for most of my students. We’ve been going slow and I’ve been scaffolding the introduction. However, I am hitting that moment when some students are lost and don’t seem to know what to do, why, etc. I have tools displayed throughout the classroom that we have added slowly. How do I reach those few so they don’t take away from the majority? PS-I have already seen the power of Quality Learning from the students and I don’t want to give up.


    Jennifer, if they don’t know what to do, think of ways to help and remind them. For example, have you created a Flow Chart, together, of what to do when you don’t know what to do? If you have such a Flow Chart, you can then mentor students to follow the chart. They can color in the steps as they complete them. In can be reduced and stapled to their Capacity Matrix to help them reflect on what to do. Have you explicitly encouraged them to take action? They may still be waiting for you to tell them what to do.

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    Polly Schoeller

    Does any one have any examples of cap mats for SPecial Ed Resource Progress monitoring skills?


    Hello Polly,
    You can contact Helena Hewish: She has created many matrices and other tool applications for Special Education.

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    Sharon Hughes

    This is our 3rd year to use capacity matrices in both reading and math for our student’s independent work. My math partner and I created 4 nine-weeks worth of CM based on our district’s curriculum documents. The next year I was moved to language arts, so spent that year learning another new system. This year we’re all self-contained and are using/tweaking/updating both math & language arts CMs.

    Almost every skill has either a video or powerpoint component (especially in the information & knowledge levels), and students can access those through our teacher websites. Then we found or created activities and work papers that increase in rigor and complexity as students move through the levels. While only the wisdom level activities/projects are graded, we do check the other levels to determine who needs additional workshops. We are drowning in paperwork and activities. Is this much paperwork typical? When it was only one subject, the grading went much faster, since we were grading 40 of the same item. Now we’re grading only 18, but in double the number of skills. How do others handle this volume? Do they use more games & online resources in the information & knowledge levels?

    I truly believe this is a system that has the differentiation built into it, but everyone does complete the same wisdom level activity. YES, we have created several wisdom activities that combine skills – that did help a lot! Do we now need to look for additional offerings for students to? Any insights would be appreciated.

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    Amanda Camacho

    Sharon, how do you communicate the assignments to the students.?

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