But What If I'm Wrong?

This week I attended a two day workshop with Robert Kaplinsky. I. LOVED. IT. Luckily for you, I am a sharer...meaning you will be reading a lot about what I took away from the workshop over the course of multiple posts.

Speaking of professional development, how many times have you been in a workshop, PD session at your district, or even a faculty meeting within your own school and you were too scared to share your thoughts?  This fear sets in when we are asked to share our opinions with others.  It's a panic. What if we say something that others do not agree with, or worse, is actually wrong? Eeek!

"If I say nothing, nothing bad will happen to me." -Kaplinsky

Many of our students feel like this...a lot of the time.  What a catastrophic blow to mathematic discussion and productive struggle! Thankfully I spent some time with a talented group of teachers discussing how to handle it. The goal is for students to think freely and move forward without depending on the direction of other students or adults; intellectual autonomy.

  • Community: In a classroom where students feel safe from judgement and ridicule, they will share more freely and will be able to learn from mistakes rather than shutting down.  Set the standard for mutual respect.  Tell everyone up front that nothing short of respectful behaviors will be tolerated, so everyone feels comfortable sharing in class

  • Respect mistakes yourself: Model for your students how to respectfully address mistakes and misunderstandings.  I tell my students that I learn (currently, not in the past tense) the most from the mistakes I make and that I want them to learn a lot!  We not only respect mistakes, but we embrace them and learn from each other.

  • Value the process: Too often we focus all of our attention on the answer.  Is it right? Is it wrong?  What did you get? We take for granted that if a student finds or is told the correct solution, that they are learning. Focus your questions on their thinking and their problem solving process rather than only asking students for their answer.

  • Encourage talking: Students should be talking more than teachers.  The only way for students to gain intellectual autonomy and feel comfortable sharing ideas is by providing the time and space for that to happen.  I promise, this time will be the best investment in your students' learning you will make!  It is well worth having to extend the lesson for another day to take that time for peer to peer, small group, and whole group discussion. 

For too long math instruction has been almost exclusively direct instruction.  Students haven't been encouraged to share ideas that are different from their textbook or their teacher's.  These subtle changes are the first steps to growing mathematical problem solvers. We would LOVE to hear any other ideas you have in the comments below.  Don't be afraid.  This is a safe place to share.

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