September 10, 2012 by ray_emily
Yesterday’s call for help was met with one suggestion in the comments, and one suggestion via twitter. Both are lovely ideas (thanks @stephanie231333 and @reminoodle!) that I look forward to implementing. Even more so, however, I’m looking forward to continuing to grapple with this problem, on my own.
Why the change of heart? Happily (unsurprisingly?), after pinpointing and itemizing my gripes about this unit, I feel much more optimistic and ready to make a change. Now that I’ve moved from moping to actually determining what in particular was not working—a necessary step that I’d pathetically avoided, previously—it’s time to get to work. (And… Yay, blogging!)
Anyhow, my first attempt to be less lame was inspired by @misscalcul8, who has written a lot lately about her aspirations to be less talkative. (She does not need to work on reducing lameness, like I do.) In addition to providing a million examples of how she’s doing this, Elissa writes that, “A good teacher creates opportunities to learn but doesn’t necessarily lead them.” I read this, and I thought, YES!!!! And so, Elissa was in the corner of my brain as I attempted to find a better way to teach, reteach, and review (simultaneously!) decimal addition and subtraction.
I came up with a totally-not-attractive, handwritten worksheet. (I’m seriously ashamed that it is so sloppy. There was, alas, no time to prettify. It served its function – and that’s what matters most!) I passed it out, and explained to kids that I had culled the errors (in the left-hand column) from previous students. (That was a white lie.) I then told them it was their task to analyze the mistakes and write a super-helpful description to the confused student who made those mistakes. That confused student was counting on them!
Here’s one student’s work. (Hopefully you can tell the difference between kid handwriting and my handwriting…)
The idea of helping a struggling student was quite motivating for my kids, and gave my classroom a certain spirit that honestly surprised me. Here’s what I mean: Kids were not just analyzing errors, but rather exhibiting their wisdom and generosity – and taking pride in doing so. They made efforts to present their ideas and their work more thoughtfully, thoroughly, and neatly than usual. (Until I saw the awesome work that kids were producing, it had not occurred to me what perfect training this activity provides for my error analysis sheet, which is a compulsory step for students who want to reassess in my class. It’s almost like I planned it! Except, no, I’m not so clever.)
There was also (yep) a handful of kids who behaved as though the mystery students’ errors were CRAZY, implausible, and beneath them. That, too, was actually sort of pleasant and amusing to watch. (I probably should have discouraged this sort of response. The kids responsible were being so goofy and having such a blast that I just shrugged and let them keep working.)
Oh! I also explained to my kids that, in each group of four, I wanted to see all students on the same problem, at all times. I distributed mini whiteboards, so kids could teach one another improvisatory lessons, on the spot, in case anyone in their group could not locate the error or figure out the correct solution. (Speaking of which: I’ve been doing SO MUCH MORE group work this year, that I’m thinking it might be wise for me to nab Amy Gruen’s lovely idea, on helping students understand what it means to be a good coach.) I saw a lot of interactions that I liked, but some kids could to stand be way more supportive and helpful to their table-mates. I want to encourage that.
Anyhow – in case you hadn’t drawn these conclusions on your own, I liked this activity a lot! Here’s the rundown of how it met my students’ needs.
- Kids who might have simply gone through the motions, in the past, were forced to write a little bit about why various algorithms work.
- Kids who would have likely fallen into the usual traps were (a) spared the trouble (someone already made that mistake! No need to do it again!), and (b) challenged to articulate why various errors are tempting, but must be avoided.
- Kids who would likely have been utterly lost received mini-lessons from peers. (Also, I could spot those kiddos and work with them fairly easily, given that I was NOT in front of the class blah-blah-blahing. Oh – in case it wasn’t clear: There was no blah-blah-blahing. I just let kids dive in.)
- Kids received training and practice in analyzing errors, which is an all-around useful skill – one that I’ve always wished they knew how to do more effectively!
If I have a bit of time to make a less ugly version of this sheet that you can use, I promise I will update this post and add it.