John T. Spencer is quickly becoming one of my favorite people to quote. Observe:
Whether it’s exponents or square roots, you can’t deny that it’s powers to the people. #andthathastocountforsomething
Classic stuff. He said this when I revealed my current unit, exponents, to Twitter. I’ve been more focused on pedagogy lately because that stuff matters. Further, I’m finding that, as I’m growing into this educator business, I see the benefits of sharing stuff more than keeping my practice to myself.
For instance, two weeks ago, I decided to give a reflection sheet to my students to end the unit on percents. I tried “journaling” and found myself with far too many papers and not enough feedback from students about their actual learning. Thus, I created a one-pager with questions from some of the discussions we’ve had in class. Then, I ended it with a metacognitive piece asking students what they thought they could do to improve the teaching and learning of the topic. After handing it out, I decided I wasn’t going to actually read it.
Instead, I’d let my colleagues read it before me.
Another piece people never tell you about being a math coach / teacher leader is that you eventually have to find a way to shake their pre-established values about how students learn best. I sat around with my colleagues, anticipating responses to my “sharing.” I prefaced that I’m not in a position to mandate these pieces, but I thought it best to let students reflect about their practice. At first, I gave them a sample one, knowing how they’d respond. Some saw my reflection sheets as a complete waste of time, especially since some of them can’t even do basic operations like add and subtract. Others were a bit more optimistic than that, but were apprehensive to try anything that stepped out of their comfort zones.
Another person in my position might have pulled back from even introducing the idea, but just like I would do in the classroom, I instead showed them the results of what my students did. Sometimes they forget I teach a class, too, and not the stereotypical “gifted and talented” but a class that sincerely has diverse needs. For a good minute, they sat there, silently reading responses, none of which I read beforehand. I then asked them how they felt after reading the responses. Now, many of them noticed how insightful the students were, and how many of them have some grasp of the material. They also wished I went slower in most cases, though one of them wished I went faster.
Overall, the students were honest about their own grasp of the material. Secretly, that even surprised me. Yes, I asked them appropriate questions and guiding questions throughout their reflection the previous morning, but I was happy they felt empowered enough to say “I need you to slow it down, give more examples, and let us talk to each other about the responses we got.” That’s exactly what I would love to do. At my best, semi-structured anarchy reigns, where students, boisterous and energetic, argue and grapple with the math problems with each other. I prefer that to the uber-silence of nothingness that is the usual signature of classroom management.
Appropriate that John mentions power to the people in my unit for exponents. Because I’d like to grow those relationships that much faster …
Mr. Vilson, who equal parts proud and paranoid when people discuss his stuff in private quarters …