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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Magical Incantation

So this week I'm basically the luckiest girl in the world, because Ben Blum-Smith is on staff at SPMPS, and he observed me teach and then we had a conversation about it. (I know. Be jealous.)

He offered a concrete suggestion enabling student dialog which I want to share. I am pretty good at getting kids to talk to each other about math in pairs or triples...

but I've always struggled with conducting good conversations with the whole group -- getting kids to talk to each other about math in front of everybody. (Aside from the two kids in every class who always raise their hand for everything.)

What we have been doing in this class is having everyone work out solutions to a task on the board. (Classes are small enough (7-11 for my classes), I've partaken of the vertical-non-permanent-surfaces kool aid, and kids at camp are exhausted because it's a three week slumber party, so keeping them on their feet helps with the awakeness.)

When everyone is done-ish, we gather around someone's solution and they walk us through it.

So let's say that a student presents her solution or approach to a task to the whole group. Generally they speak too fast, and gloss over important bits. When they are finished, I have uncovered many, many unproductive questions to ask the rest of the class:

  • Does anyone have any questions for Bianca? (crickets)
  • Miguel, what do you think of Bianca's solution? ("I don't know. It's fine.")
  • Does anyone have anything to add? (more crickets)
  • Did anyone approach it a different way? (Actually I never ask this anymore, because I pick usually two students with different approaches to present.)

But here is the magical incantation that can pick this lock:

Hey, so-and-so, would you explain your understanding of Bianca's solution?

This is a lovely question. I tried it out at every available opportunity today. Interpreting another student's written and verbal solution requires all kinds of nice cognitive work. I imagine that as kids come to expect that they might be asked this question, they're more likely to be more attentive to others' explanations. And, it offers a nonthreatening invitation into the conversation where a student is immediately clear on what she's expected to say.

Ben mentioned that he didn't really grok the power of this move until well into his classroom experience, and I think I'm kind of in the same boat. I'm sure I've heard of it before, but now I'm in a place where I can really deploy it surgically. Well I mean today I deployed it in kind of carpet bomb fashion. It's like a new toy I can't put down. But I'm going to enjoy the process of integrating it.