It Begins….

I blogged recently about a joint adventure a friend and math teacher (“Jackie”) and I have decided to embark upon. We had just enough time to squeeze in our initial meeting a couple of days before school started up again and didn’t spend a lot of time wishing we had this idea at the beginning of summer….oh well. Better late than never.

We’re both new at this, at our respective roles, which we don’t yet fully understand. At coaching, at collaboration, at whatever this is or will be.

We currently have rather different teaching styles. She calls herself a direct-instruction teacher, but I know she does more than transmit information. Evidence:

  • She reviews area of a rectangle with students, then tells them that every area formula (they will be using in MS) is connected to A = bh and she believes they can reason them out. And they do.
  • When a student wondered out loud how many posters of (insert celebrity) it would take to cover all the walls in the classroom, she dropped her plans and let the students, now totally engaged, work on finding the answer.
  • Her daughter, home from college, was a guest speaker. She showed the class a map of her campus (sans scale), which contained an oval grassy common area, and then challenged them to create a scale and find the area of it. Students DUG IN.
  • She does not show kids “how to” do cross-multiplication, because she feels (like I do) that it is meaningless to someone who is learning about proportionality. It is a “magical” way to get the “right” answer but is not a way to achieve relational understanding. It values HOW over WHY. Bleck.

I tried to not sound like a therapist when I asked her, “How did you feel, on those days?” She replied Fabulous. I got chills.

Personally, I identify with student-centered learning, with constructivist theories, and with empowering students. (Not that I excel at these things, but my heart and mind and pedagogical beliefs orient in that direction.) Jackie is, thankfully, open to growth. A year ago, she participated in a district-arranged math pedagogy class  that she found was full of great ideas . Yet she felt the program lacked the information and support she needed throughout the year that would allow her to successfully implement said ideas and change her practice.

The plan is for me to provide that support– with information, with collaboration, with resources, inspiration, with whatever she needs– to move her forward, significantly yet comfortably.  This plan is still a tad vague, but we’re committed.

My first question to her was:  What is your goal?

I want to improve my relationships with students. Last year sucked. I felt like a bad teacher. I think having more hands-on, student-centered activities and tasks will improve the culture of my classroom. I also want to continue to use some of the things I learned about in Math Studio, like questioning strategies.*

A fine goal, to be sure. (No, it’s not a SMARTe goal. We have not even talked about collecting data. This goal is personally meaningful to Jackie, and that matters.)

We noted that our experiences have shown us that students (as passive learners) do not use strategies shared (by teacher) unless prompted, do not seem to take on the responsibility of sense-making (do they even know HOW?) and as a result, learning bogs down.

Which was a perfect segue for me to briefly described some inspirational routines I’ve been reading about that I truly believe will go a long way to build a community that focuses on cooperative learning and student sense-making rather than on right/wrong answers and here’s-how-to-get-them.

Notice and Wonder       N/W link 1   N/W link 2

Talking Points  TP link 1    TP link 2

Which One Doesn’t Belong   WODB link

Low floor, high ceiling tasks  LF/HC link 1   LF/HC link 2

Creating a need   Need link

Omit the Question Omit Link

Reverse the Order   Reverse Link 

I think each of these choices are worth implementing and feel manageable.  All of them are designed with growth mindsets and active learning cultures in mind; their intended purpose is to increase student talk, student curiosity, student engagement, and student ownership of learning.  Jackie and I agreed that taking on the Grading Monster or Homework Ogre are both Way Too Big for us at this point (made more complex by our somewhat conflicting opinions), although I now wonder (to myself) if increasing actionable feedback and reducing use of points/ grades would be something to keep on the back burner.

We spent more than a little time checking out this GEM that recently fell into my lap out of the MTBoS universe. Gotta use that stuff, somehow, somewhere. We both signed up.  (It’s FREE!  Do it now!)

I followed up our meeting by sending her the two Talking Points links (from above) and  this one from Fawn Nguyen  because she’s so amazing/inspirational/hysterical and it was so timely. I don’t want to overwhelm Jackie and suck up her already too-little time with a gazillion emails and links; the Internet and MTBoS can be quite the bottomless rabbit hole. Honestly, I don’t know how people who clearly put a lot a time and energy into teaching their very best all day long have any time or energy to be online figuring out how to do it better.  Clearly they either are better organized than I am, need far less sleep, or have a clone.

*Paraphrased, OK?

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