Here's what I've found if you want your kids to dialogue about math...they want to know you are listening. The fastest way to shut them down is to ask a directed question, tell them something is wrong, or ask for their opinion and then not take it. Here's what I did:
I asked kids to start writing comments on homework: How long did this take you? Which parts were hard? What mistakes did you make? Did you need someone to help? Was this stressful? Then, accept any comments and don't take them personally. Here's a sample of what I got back:
- I understood most of this.
- I suck at geometry.
- 45 minutes - It wasn't super hard. I took a while but I like solving long problems if I know where to start.
- I didn't understand it at all and 12-23 were really confusing.
- I was confused about the proof so I just skipped it.
- Took me...FOREVER. Well, about an hour and 15 minutes but no tears! (to which I replied "good!")
- It took about 25 minutes...not lost, but it took some thought.
- I'm not sure how long it took...it wasn't stressful though.
What surprised me is how much information I gained from these comments. As teachers, we often look out on a sea of faces that show all appearance of understanding. But these are the faces the kids have learned to put on...if they don't, the teacher might ask them pointed questions! That's scary.
Next, I asked kids to give me feedback about a quiz right after they took it. I had them write, red light, yellow light, or green light to describe how they felt about the quiz. Then I asked for specifics. The kids were really thoughtful. They know I've been writing math curriculum for the past 10 years and I let them know that their feedback is what can help math curriculum get better. Here are their comments:
- Last problem was hard. I could feel it in my memory but couldn’t do it. So I just put down what I knew.
- I felt good about the geometry parts but not the algebra.
- #11 and 13 were not fair.
- It felt more like a test than a quiz.
- I wish I could have studied for this.
- #12 was vague
- I felt like I understood the requirements to make a figure but am struggling on finding distances of segments of the figures
- It was challenging and I didn’t know how to do two problems but other than that it was okay.
- Overall I knew what to do. There was just a lot of work to show.
- Finding the x and y problems annoy me and I hate doing them, especially when I have to find measures after.
- #11 and 13 were hard and took up a lot of my time
Then, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, I told the students how I responded to the comments. I agreed the quiz was too long and future quizzes would be shorter. I agreed to review algebra a bit more before some of the geometric concepts. I also pointed out the last comment brought up a very good point. Because two problems were overly difficult, this kept them from spending much needed time elsewhere on the quiz. So, it wasn't enough to simply "remove" 11 and 13, I needed to give them their "time" back. So, I let them make corrections, tell me where they went wrong, then gave them some points back. As a colleague of mine said, if there is a way I can get a kid to revisit a concept they didn't understand, I'm all for it. So, acknowledging that some of the quiz shortcomings could be a factor in deterring learning allowed students a second chance at a difficult concept.
What's my point to all this written dialogue? Kids need to feel safe it they are going to talk...it's really about a feeling you create. Depending on the students, it can take awhile or not. But it needs to start with questions that only the student can answer...how long? what did you think? how did you feel? I'm finding that writing them is safe for the kids...from there we'll go to dialogue in the classroom.
I'm happy, the door is now open...