Scaffolding Instruction Through the CRA Approach

When I was an instructional Numeracy Coach, one of the common trends I noticed was that many teachers were not providing concrete experiences for students to learn mathematics and were relying heavily, if not solely on abstract teaching methods.  Although our district curriculum resource came with tubs of manipulatives for students to use, many teachers had never even opened the packages and they sat collecting dust in cabinets and book rooms.  This led me to reflect on why that might be and to do some digging to determine how to get these resources in the hands of students.

It occurred to me that many teachers simply didn’t know how to use the manipulatives themselves to scaffold learning and so they simply taught the way they knew how.  Another reason was that they felt it took too long to get out the manipulatives and put them away so they opted for less mess and management.  Both of these were understandable reasons and as an educator, I knew that I had to provide experiences for teachers to see the value in these powerful tools.  I was on a mission to model how to use  manipulatives when I went into rooms for coaching, but knew I wanted to provide them a resource to refer back to in the end.   I created several tools such as resource sheets for tools for mathematics and scaffolding documents for addition and subtraction and multiplication and division, but these tools never got to the heart of what I wanted to provide for teachers.

It wasn’t until I met with Jennifer Ritter at Republic Public Schools that I realized how I would begin organizing these resources for teachers.  Jennifer shared a trouble-shooting document that some of her teachers and specialists had begun for a third grade standard organized with the CRA method of number acquisition; Concrete ->Representational ->Abstract.  I loved the idea of organizing standards this way and have been pondering for months how to best organize the examples into a resource for teachers.

See below for a modified version of what Jennifer and her team started.  I hope to continue to collaborate with them to finish this project, but would love to open this project up to all interested in contributing.

This project is going to take time and lots of it.  The videos will be linked over time, but I plan to start by creating ideas for each area at each grade level.

The process will look something like this:

  1. Create a Google Slideshow for each grade level that includes each standard.
  2. The standard will have the unwrapped expectations for the Missouri Learning Standard as well as a table with Concrete, Representational, Abstract columns.
  3. Under each column will be ideas for scaffolding students using manipulatives and diagrams.  For now I will be simply putting the unwrapped standard under the abstract column, but I will eventually replace this with stems for the grade-levels that do not have those provided in our Item Specifications for Missouri.

Please feel free to offer suggestions and revisions if you use these documents by emailing me or replying below so that we can make these valuable resources for teachers.

Here is an example of the first grade resource I have started for our teachers:

The great thing about Google Slides is that there is an option to export individual slides as .png images or a .pdf so I can link them directly to our other standards documents.

Please realize that this is a work in progress and will be refined over time.  I wanted to get this out there though in case anyone was looking to create a similar resource.

Feel free to contact me via email at or on twitter to @MsCastillosMath.

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