Celebrate: Living in the nuance

This week I celebrate the last place I thought I’d want to be in the second week of summer vacation: a classroom learning how to teach algebra. Seriously.  Strange. Even more strange, was the five hours of video I watched after the four-day session. On the same material. And this was all voluntary. Could I actually like algebra? No. Seriously?

I won’t get into the gory details of the importance of the equal sign, or how to build conjectures with students. But what I will mention is the beautiful pedagogy that envelopes Megan Franke and Cognitive Guided Instruction. It fits with everything I know about teaching young people to read and write.

Build on the details of student’s thinking. When we look at student work of any kind, teachers have this natural tendency to find what is wrong. Put it in piles of high, medium, and low and then attempt to fix. I’ve worked hard to contain that impulse in my teaching of reading and writing, but in math, the answer is the answer. Right?

Not. In math, as in reading or writing, the details of how a student came to a wrong answer, has a whole lot of right thinking inside it. A young person may have not answered this problem or interpreted that text accurately, but what they did along the way contains what they know.

Leverage partial understandings by starting with questions that open up a dialogue about their thinking.
“Tell me about what you did here.”
“How did you get that?”
“How do you know?”
Discovering the thinking work done along the way to an answer, contain the understanding. By asking a student to explain their process we see the unseen smart thinking. So much of this reminds me of the reading work of Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton.

Position students as competent. Always. This, reminding me of Katherine Bomer’s Hidden Gems. Holding up student’s work as beautiful and smart positions them as capable. They can do this work. That idea alongside the knowledge of what students need to know should be how we sort student work. What are they doing well (as a reader, writer or mathematician) is ALWAYS the starting point.

Young people are just that, young people with partial understandings of our world. As they build on what they know as they grow. Helping them do that is the exciting work of a teacher. This week I celebrate learning how to find student understanding. To as one smart teacher wrote this week: “Live in the nuance and go for the nudge.”






2 thoughts on “Celebrate: Living in the nuance

  1. Maybe if my math teachers had utilized some of these understandings, perhaps I might have been a bit less math phobic. Your summer is filled with learning and it’s only just begun. Still wondering why you were learning how to teach algebra!

  2. WOW! I love what you said about positioning students as competent. I need to do this more. It is so easy to see everything that our students “can’t do yet” instead of focusing on what they are able to do. I plan to be more mindful about this during the next school year! Great post – loved reading it!

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