It’s About the Process: Not the Answer

When I first started teaching, I was always looking for the correct answer on a math problem. I would mark it wrong or right, there was no gray area.  I began to change my thinking a bit when I noticed my students weren’t really growing.  I knew that I needed to do something differently, so I began to start looking at the process of their thinking so that I could give direct feedback to help them get better.

If you think about it, we do the same thing in reading.  We don’t expect students to become perfect readers overnight, so we give them reading strategies to become better. We look at their fluency, comprehension, how they monitor and self correct…we intervene and give feedback to help them.

With problem solving it can be the same way.  We can take a look at the work a student writes down and see what feedback (direct and on the spot) can be provided to help them get better.

Here is what that looks like.  This is a student’s response to a problem (I’m looking at the top one) I gave yesterday as a tiered pretest:

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It is clear that he got started with the problem, figured out how many games could be played with one dollar, but didn’t finish his calculations. This tells me that it isn’t likely that he went back and checked his thinking.  This is an easy strategy that can take 30 seconds to do!  It is also something that we can see quickly, and give feedback about quickly.  This is something that I write in my notes, confer with him about and look back again later to see if he is still making the same error.

I can’t check every problem of every student every day, that would make me totally crazy! But I certainly can take careful notes on several students each day so that I know I am getting around to everyone.  Those notes also help me see patterns of which students are constantly struggling, which means I can pull a small group!

How do you find ways to give students some problem solving feedback?

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