I could share an earful about the return of benchmark testing (which was on hiatus with the switch-over to the SBAC) and how it’s making a mockery of recent calls by the President to limit testing, but I’d rather talk about my classroom and what’s going on. I’m going to focus on mathematics, and a particular aspect of my instructional practice that’s working, and what needs improvement.
I have a routine for the teaching the lessons from our text going. Some of it is from the prior year.
Whiteboards to check for understanding…
When students are going guided practice (the part where they are starting to do problems from the lesson) I have them work it out one problem at a time on white boards, and hold them up for me to check quickly. This gives me (and them) good feedback. I know it’s an old trick, but it’s working pretty well.
What I have not been as good about is checking in when students are doing independent practice (the actual lesson problems). Sometimes it’s hard to come up with a routine changed once the year
Analysis of mistakes
This one is in between. I have students doing analysis of problems they got wrong on their assessments. They correct the problem, the check a box on what they got wrong. I’m thinking that I need to improve this is to do a version of what’s called “sentence lifting” in ELA/writing instruction, sharing a problem that went wrong and discussing how that happened.
How much should we expect kids to explain their thinking?
This all leads to something brought up in this piece on a practice from Common Core of asking students to explain their thinking. My experience in over 15 years in education is that teachers can “train” students to answer many kinds of questions given enough time and energy. What has been killing us (and the kids) is that this means your spending a lot of school time essentially doing test prep.
I’m going to sum up the idea behind this article in about a sentence or two. Students are being asked to explain their thinking when solving a problem, because there is a complaint that we’ve emphasized procedure far too much in mathematics. But, this requires a level of thinking that developing brains may not have, so at best what a teacher ends up doing is teaching them a writing procedure to explain the mathematical one, which doesn’t mean they’ve gotten it conceptually either.
I don’t know how I feel about the whole of the piece, but I will share an experience I’ve had in having the students do writing in mathematics. I give them a reflection at the end of most topics/chapters asking what worked, and what didn’t. Most of the answers are minimal. The kids who don’t get it, really can’t explain why but the kids who do, can’t necessarily answer why either. I was thinking of giving them sentence starters (like the answer frames the article talks about), but then really, it’s a multiple-choice.
Image credit: 3 is the magic number