I know it took me a long time to make the shift from math being a performance subject (call out a question, look for a correct answer) to a learning/thinking subject. It took me an embarrassingly long time to break my practice of “fixing” mistakes for students. If the answer wasn’t correct, I believed that they hadn’t learned math.
This is so far from the truth. Now with recent brain research, we know more about mistake making than ever before. Make a mistake, your brain grows…figure out your mistake and your brain grows double the speed. Check out You Cubed and Dr. Jo Boaler for more background on that. And with deep tasks, our students grow even more.
In addition, I was embarrassingly slow to realize that I didn’t have to check every single problem and every single calculation. Much like writing, it’s okay to look for a specific skill in a project or difficult math problem. It’s about the THINKING that the students are doing, and even with an error here or there, knowing they are still learning. It was years of bringing home stacks of papers to correct before I came to the realization that we need the students to really start catching their own mistakes.
There is a place for deeper thinking in math class, where they are free to make errors without the fear of being “wrong” or “bad at math”. To see what I mean about a deep task, try out Doggy Dilemma (totally free).
But how DO you check in with students with these giant projects without spending hours correcting?
- Much like reading or writing, you can confer with them as they work. Look for their misconceptions, their thinking, their basic math skills being used in complex ways.
- But another great way is to get them together for a class meeting. A class meeting where everyone is responsible for sharing, this places accountability right in their lap.
I’ve been working with this amazing fourth grade teacher who inspires me all the time. She is the kind of teacher that oozes respect when she speaks to her students, and she is constantly looking for ways to elevate the level of learning in fun ways. You walk into her classroom and you are basically smacked in the face with a literacy and math rich classroom, complete with art and creativity. She and I are a great match when it comes to these things, including holding students to high expectations.
We’ve been working on the Design a Dream Bedroom project…and to check in we called a class meeting and posed three statements to think about:
- My favorite part of this project (so far).
- A question I still have:
- A mistake I made:
We sat in a circle and gave them a few minutes to discuss their answers to each of those questions. Then, the students went around the circle and shared one at a time, giving one answer for one of the statements on the chart. I recorded their thinking as they went around. In total, it only took 15 minutes, and they uncovered some questions that other students in the classroom were feeling very confident about. BOOM! They will help each other, because that is what we all naturally want to do when we feel confident with something. The most powerful moment? When a highly gifted student shared his mistake. The rest of the class had this sort of hush as they realized that HE isn’t perfect either. With one more week to go to finish, they’ll be assessing their own work at the end of the project with the rubric attached to the back of their papers.
During this entire project, both the classroom teacher and I were completely hands off, asking them to find the answer themselves or by asking a peer. It’s been a great open ended independent study for them to explore a fun topic!
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