The Fundamental Five – my take on this book

When we checked out at the end of the year, we were given the task of reading the book: “The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction” by Sean Cain and Mike Laird. Image I’ll be honest,  I wasn’t really looking forward to reading this over the summer, and so I left it until this last week of my summer.  But I did read it before my meeting Monday morning.  I was actually quite surprised by what I read and plan to implement the “Fundamental 5” in my classroom this year (to the best of my ability).  So I want to list out what the Fundamental 5 are to share with you and so I can put into words what I am planning to do in my classroom.

The Fundamental Five practices are:

  1. Frame the Lesson
  2. Work in the Power Zone
  3. Frequent, Small-Group, Purposeful Talk about the learning
  4. Recognize and Reinforce
  5. Write Critically

Framing the lesson is where we deliberately state the learning objective at the beginning of the lesson in a concrete, student-friendly language in the form of a “we will” statement.  Then end the lesson with a closing question, product, or task that is in the same form but as an “I will” statement.  They ended the chapter describing the lesson frame as an Oreo cookie.  The two objective statements are the chocolate cookie and the great instruction and fun we have in class is the yummy filling.

Working in the power zone is probably the most known to all teachers.  Proximity.  But not just proximity to manage behavior, but to be close to where the learning is happening.  There are three focuses in this, first is to remain in close proximity to one or more students in excess of 75% of the class period.  Second, is to purposefully arrange the classroom to facilitate teacher movement.  Finally, limit or remove teacher distractions (easier said than done, right).

Frequent, small-group, purposeful talk about the learning is the next part of the Fundamental Five.  Here we are encouraged to stop talking/teaching every ten to fifteen minutes and have groups of two to four students briefly discuss a questions related to the previous instruction or activity.  Use question stems to guide the discussion.  I am looking forward the the student retention part of this.  They say that when the students have to time to debrief with a peer, those who didn’t get it, will have a better chance of getting it now.  

The recognize and reinforce chapter was not as long as the previous one on the small groups, but it was full of information that I am still trying to filter for myself.  There are many aspects to this thought.  We can recognize and reinforce the academics, social or behavioral lives of the students.  The main thing I need to focus on is being intentional to recognize and reinforce as many aspects that I can, not just those that are extremely obvious, such as honor rolls or perfect behavior, but those who improve and really try hard.  One statement in the book was this, “Reinforcing effort can help teach students one of the most valuable lessons they can learn – the harder you try, the more successful you are.”

Finally, the last of the five is to write critically.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a math teacher and this does not come easily to me.  I agree and believe that students should write in all areas including math, but again, for me to remember to include it all the time and to make it meaningful to my students (and me) is that hard part.  Some of the things that caught my attention about this is that writing critically increased the amount of material that can be recalled by the learner.  It also allows the teacher to stretch the rigor of any lesson.  These are two things that I want to do in my class, so I will work on it and try it this year. 

I am now glad that I read this book.  I am looking forward to this year and I am going to try all of this to help my students be more successful than ever.  It’s a little scary, change always is, so all I can do is be intentional in my lessons every day and see what happens.



7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Math Blogger Initiation, Week 1 | I Speak Math
  2. jillgorneau
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 16:25:49

    Critical writing, that’s a great one. And you’re right, it’s not easy for a math teacher. But I find for students it does help solidify concepts and makes connections for them, I highly recommend it. I give math journals once a week as homework, but am considering another idea I saw on the blogosphere somewhere of taking the last 5 minutes of class to write. Easier said than done, of course.


  3. Sean Cain
    Sep 06, 2012 @ 16:58:41

    I glad you found that the book was worth the investment of your time. Good look this year! – Sean Cain, Co-Author – The Fundamental 5


    • L. Nash
      Mar 27, 2013 @ 22:21:41

      I see how simply wonderful the concepts in the book are, but our district set out to use your book as a beat all, end all way to “fix” our schools. Now our schools have been turned upside down and everything revolves around, “Are you doing the F5?”
      Please help me!!!!!


      • hsimmons32
        Jun 30, 2013 @ 18:00:19

        I’m sorry to just now be seeing this. the F5 is what good teachers already do. It helps your class function smoothly. Incorporate it into everything you do for your students. I hope you have a great year coming up.

  4. Heidi
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 14:54:13

    Just found this and am wondering how your year went. I am planning for training with our staff this August (2013) and would appreciate your feedback. Thanks


    • hsimmons32
      Jun 30, 2013 @ 17:56:56

      I am a believer in the Fundamental Five. Our district also was stressing that we use the perceptual modes in class (hear, see, say, do) and that went hand in hand with the five. It really is done by most teachers already, the book just put it all into words and summarized what we all do in our classes. It also helps to remind us of some of the things that sometimes we do forget about as the year progresses. Now after this year, every workshop I have attended seems to come back to these ideas without actually stating them. Again, it’s just bringing to the forefront of the teacher’s that what they are already doing is good practice, just to keep it up and be more intentional about it.

      I hope this helps you.


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Math Coach's Corner

Heather Simmons


Searching for the answers to education excellence

Megan Hayes-Golding

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I Speak Math

Integrating Technology and Mathematics

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