I’ve postponed replying to this blog, because I’ve so much to say….

I think you summed up alot of my thoughts nicely. Teaching as Suzanne pointed out, just may be providing an environment students feel safe and encouraged to try, where being wrong isn’t an issue, but an oppurtunity…. One of my favorite quotes is that “mistakes are the portals of discovery” I think we should encourage the skill of thinking, not the skill to regurgitate correct responses. ]]>

Saying some like a student should be in control of their learning raises a lot of issues. It seems that teaching does not insure learning and that, in fact, we often learn without a particular person doing teaching. In fact, I can refuse to learn (nice piece by Herbert Kohl on this). Gary Fenstermacher tried to tease apart teaching and learning and came up with teaching and studenting. Teaching then becomes something a teacher does (I am really abbreviating his argument) and studenting – which includes learning – becomes something students do. We, as teachers, impinge substantially on studenting and hence on the choices students make. However, it seems odd to hold a position that students don’t make choices as regards the significance of what they ‘retain.’ Perhaps, in a way, education is about providing practice space within which our students can construct, for themselves, ‘life enhancing’ choices.

]]>I wonder if an adult’s learning environment should be any different that a child’s learning environment.

]]>At the Math Forum we’ve been working with teachers to encourage them to “listen” to their students. One way to describe it is having students involved in “accountable math talk.”

I’ve been working with a 6th grade teacher since October. I started by observing her classes and during our initial debriefings we agreed that her students weren’t talking enough. They weren’t engaged and one thing she wanted me to model is how to get students talking.

I used our Noticing/Wondering activity (Did we do that in the PoW course you took with me online?) I actually used that activity with prompts from their math book. I would show the students a visual and ask them “What do you notice?” My goal was to hear their thinking. On a few more visits I did this off and on and then she tried it. We both knew that there was a difference between when I did the activity with her students and when she did it. It wasn’t just that I was a “guest” — we finally realized that I wasn’t listening FOR something but instead I was listening TO the students.

As we talked she realized that she was finding herself listening for certain thinking and when she heard it, she moved on. She wasn’t letting the students’ thinking lead where the conversation might take them but, instead, was sticking to an agenda.

As she became more comfortable with questioning techniques that brought out student thinking because she was starting to listen to her students, she spent one entire class period doing just that. It was an important turning point for her. At the end of the day we had time to debrief and she commented on how tired she was! I said that I wasn’t surprised and I used that to have her think about what she had done and what the next step might be.

We agreed that she needed that full day of trying out the questioning techniques just to really get a sense of how it all works. We also agreed that more students needed more time to talk. How do you achieve that? Have them talk to each other! At first she wondered how that might work. She wouldn’t be able to hear them each or guide them each. Hmmmm….maybe that’s an important point. Does a teacher have to be in control of what each student says at each point in their learning? Should the student ideally be the in control of their own learning?

PS. You might find this article interesting:

http://mathforum.org/articles/communicator2010.html

Just to set the context of my comments here — I’ve been out of a regular classroom setting for a little over 10 years having left full-time teaching on June 26, 2000. (Yes, I remember the exact date because my last year of teaching was full of stress!) As part of my Math Forum job I have times when I’m in classrooms as much as twice a week and then other times when I might be in a classroom once a month. And, I talk with classroom teachers with whom I’m working and because it’s over time I have been able to listen to their frustrations and/or have watched them deal with stress that is being imposed consciously or unconsciously from a system and/or individuals in a system.

In one conversation I was having recently I remember saying that in my ideal world, there should be a reverse of the stress that inevitably trickles down to the end of the chain — the students.

My mind is wandering back to when I was a California classroom teacher and the State had demands (Algebra for All!). Those demands were communicated to the district administrators who, in turn, communicated to the school administrators who, in turn, communicated to the teachers who, in turn, communicated to the students. Sometimes the panic and stress increased exponentially or so it seemed. I remember trying very, very hard to let some of the panic and stress diffuse when it got to me. I just did not want to pass it on to my students because I knew it was not positive energy. Doing that is not a simple task.

I wonder what stresses your colleagues are under. Are they being asked to implement a math program they aren’t yet familiar with enough to feel comfortable? Are they being asked to use a learning strategy that has been adopted as a school-wide program that adds another level of details they’ve not quite embraced? Is there a “test-prep” program that has been implemented without consideration of how it might mesh with the math curriculum in use? Or … something else?

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