As a middle school teacher I know that it’s difficult to make time to individually connect with each of your students since you may be dealing with 130 to 180 students (depending on how many classes and how many in each class). Elementary teachers usually don’t have the volume of students that middle or high school teachers have but because mathematics is usually just one of the subjects they are responsible for delivering to their students, their time is similarly precious when considering adding yet another task to their never-ending list of things to do.

Often I ask teachers who think that using the Math Forum’s online feedback/mentoring functionality, what writing their students are already doing. For example,

* do you have students keep journals? How often do you collect them? How often do you comment on them?
* do you have students write responses to problem solving prompts on paper? as classwork? as homework? as projects? How often do you collect them? How often do you comment on them?
* do you have students reflect on feedback and revise?

Another thing I ask teachers who are contemplating this is, how organized are your students? If they start writing in your class on one day, do they have the paper with them the next day? Do you keep their papers in folders and they stay in the classroom? Do they keep their papers in their own notebooks?

The reason that I ask these questions is that it’s possible that using an online system just might save time in the long run.

My main tip, however, is in how you provide feedback. I recommend that teachers make only two comments per student following the format:

I notice ….
I wonder ….

The “I notice” statement notes one thing that you value in the student’s solution. In other words, a sentence of praise. The “I wonder” statement is a question with the intention that as a result the student will reflect on their draft, revisit it and add more. Along with this, I recommend that teachers check these two boxes in our system so that they bypass using the full rubric:

    Choose not to score this submission.
    Hide the scoring grid from students.

I suggest this abbreviated method for several reasons, including

* it doesn’t take very long per student
* it reinforces problem solving as a process
* … but … most importantly, the student’s thinking and problem solving remain in THEIR possession and is not transferred to the teacher

Recently I’ve realized that when a teacher repeats everything a student says or when they give detailed feedback, in some way they are taking over the student’s thinking. If the student is to embrace the Mathematical Practices of …

1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

they have to continue to own their work. They have to reflect and revise!


What does this really have to do with my blog post? Nothing! I just love the photo. This is a sea dragon that I saw at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Click on the small photo to view a larger version.) I just love dragons!