Many Questions, Few Answers

So in trying to be a better teacher this year, I have a few questions that I would LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE like, seriously, LOVE if you could add your input either here or on twitter (@mathymeg07)

1) I’m really trying to “you, y’all, us.”  But Y’ALL is soooooo slow.  I hear them having great conversations on example three for 10 minutes, but I want them to see example four before they leave, too!  How do you not worry about time?  Or how can I better plan or pace my class time?  I am trying to book it through bellringers, homework questions, discussion/lecture/practice and definitely not having enough time to finish or even squeeze in a quick formative assessment (other than me going around and looking at their work in groups).  And I don’t want this “oh, the learners will learn at their own pace and just take as many days as you need” because I have approximately 217 objectives to cover in Algebra II.  (FYI, we switch between 47 and 52 minute classes every other day).

2) The class is finally rocking and rolling and 25/26 have the correct answer.  What do I do with the one kid who doesn’t get it?  Move on and tell them I’ll help at the end, but I won’t really because I’ll run out of time?  Tell them to come back later, but they won’t?  Have someone (or me) explain the problem even though 25 of them have it solved correctly?

3) Also, what about the one kid that is always finished first?  I have one kid that has already finished the application practice we’re going to work on tomorrow.  I don’t mind that he has because I’m also the type of person that will work through something you give me until I am done, whether or not it is assigned.  I would just like to make class time more worthwhile for him.

4) What do you do with the kid that answers every. single. question?  Or, I guess to describe it better, the kid who thinks out loud.  Loudly.

5) I tried whiteboarding mistakes and I really liked it for the groups that were making the mistakes.  However, some students complained that it confused them when we went over them.  How can I make whiteboarding beneficial for the students that got it and for the students that are still struggling with the concept being whiteboarded?  (side question: could we come up with a better name than “whiteboarding” so it doesn’t seem like I’m using questionable spy tactics with my students?)

6) How can I get over the feeling that I am letting some kids flounder by pushing so much of their learning onto groups and away from directed teaching?

Again, I would appreciate ANY AND ALL COMMENTS, SUGGESTIONS, OR MAGIC POTIONS!!  Thank you!

Category: Reflections | Tags: ,

9 comments on “Many Questions, Few Answers

  1. Hi! I’ve got two ideas for #2 and one of them might help out #3. So for that 1 kid, can you do lunch study hall? Then another idea, is to pair up that kid with the one who finishes early so that they can “tutor” the kid that doesn’t get it.
    Sorry its not magic, but just some things that popped into my head as I read your post. I share some of your questions too so I’ll be eagerly waiting more responses!!

    • We are starting our study hall next week, the challenging part is getting kids to come. Maybe make a pass that makes it seem not optional? I will make another post with answers I get so stay tuned. Thanks for the reply!

  2. Time is totally the enemy in Algebra II. I found posting answer keys and class notes online helped. I would also try to find one child’s homework that was exemplary, take a picture of it, and post that on line. Or you can photocopy answer keys to distribute when appropriate. As far as the early-finishers, I would hunt around for some challenge problems and just have them available to discreetly hand to students who are ready for them. They can be directly related to the current lesson, or not – but for the student who wants to keep working and pushing ahead, they will keep them engaged without going so far ahead of the class that they actually disengage.

    Change takes time, and adjustment – if you are uncomfortable, it means because you are really pushing your boundaries – hang in there!

  3. Put some students online on Kahn Academy or something similar during part of class. That way one can work on stuff that he or she didn’t get #2 while the other can delve deeper into a concept #3. As for the student who constantly calls out answers #4 try a behavior mod contract, having hiim or her right down answers instead and hand it to you each day (this did work for me btw) or duct tape 🙂

  4. Hi Meg! In terms of getting through everything, I totally hear ya. I taught for a few years at a school where we had four 45-minute class periods per week. Why don’t I just throw a textbook at them and hope some learning gets in by osmosis?? I would suggest looking for things to cut, as much as you feel like you have to do everything. For example, I found bellringers were totally expendable for me. Class started with students discussing their homework questions (answers were provided in advance, which also saved time) while I circulated and did administrative things. I also tried to be strict about time allotted for specific parts of class… 10 minutes for homework discussion (total for both in groups and then together) on a digital timer. If I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough time for the lesson, homework questions would get moved to the end of class (postponed until the following class if the lesson ran long). Basically, the lesson is the meat and potatoes of class. Everything else can get cut to the bone, but I feel very strongly that the lesson needs to be coherent and developed. Again, pace out each part (discover/explore in groups, summarize as a class, apply/connect) as much as you can, but I do think that some lessons will go over and sometimes those are the most amazing, memorable ones and you’ll cut something elsewhere and it’ll be worth it.

    In response to question #2, I think it depends on what you think is holding back the last kid. If it’s a mathematically interesting roadblock or misconception, it might be very worthwhile to examine it together as a class and have other kids figure out why this approach doesn’t work. If it’s just something very specific to this kid and wouldn’t be useful for others to analyze, I agree with Robin’s idea of study hall or lunch time.

    Q3) For kids who are done fast (or who don’t need as much practice as other kids), it might be good to have activities in your room that are interesting and challenging and can be worked on independently, such as Problems of the Week or contest problems or a copy of Art of Problem Solving. Tons of recreational math stuff out there.

    Q4) Aahh yes, kids who have no filter. Does it matter who they’re seated with? If they’re bored? I’m assuming that you’re talking about a kid who’s blurting out without raising their hand, not someone who just raises his or her hand too much? I would talk with the student and find out if he or she is able to identify triggers or ways that you could warn him or her discreetly that the talking is getting out of control. Have them practice counting to five silently every time they want to talk. Also, kids that do this often respond better to praise for improvement (even if they’re still the loudest kid in the room) than to castigation for once again, blurting out. They are probably blurting in every class and are probably tired to death of being in trouble for it.

    Q5) @bowmanimal had a great post about having kids reflect after whiteboarding (, writing down notes and examples that would be helpful to them rather than just having a mess of wrong work.

    Q6) For me (and lots of people will disagree with me here), I felt like I couldn’t really let kids walk out of the class feeling very confused or like the lesson didn’t seal properly. Yes, confusion is wonderful, be less helpful, etc etc, but at the end of the day, the culture of the school was not accepting of kids feeling frustrated after class was over, and I chose not to fight this. That meant that the lesson had to conclude with some clear summaries and next steps and conceptual understanding that kids felt good about. It didn’t have to come from me, but it did have to be mathematically correct and tie things together in a way that felt satisfying. Of course there were days that this didn’t happen and that sometimes meant the next day’s discussion was richer because kids REALLY wanted to know and had been thinking about it since the previous lesson. But the culture of the class was that we would work very hard to have things make some sense. The group vs. class thing wasn’t a big deal as long as kids felt like they were learning and that the structures that were there were in place in order to help them learn. And I think that knowing that any floundering they were experiencing was temporary because there would be closure at some point soon (and definitely before they left my room) helped them feel more comfortable with it.

    I think that’s all I have for now 🙂 Feel free to tweet me if you want to talk about any of this some more.

  5. Meg

    I’ll chime in point-by-point here

    1) If something HAS to give time-wise I would urge you to minimize the amount of time spent on going over HW from the night before. Have answers ready, deal with a minimal number of key Qs and offer help during/after school. I feel pretty strongly that the number of major HW Qs will decrease if you give more time in class to productive work together.
    2) If you can, concentrate on how much closer the 1 student is to being right. I have to believe that if 25 out of 26 get something right, then the 1 person probably made some real progress as well. There is almost certainly support in class from classmates as well as from you. You cannot abandon the student who is struggling, but you also should not slow down the other 25.
    3) Two ideas here – if the S is done because s/he loves the material have some challenge problem/s available to let the S extend ideas. If the S is done early just to get things done, have him/her roam the room checking in with peers. Maybe lend a hand to a few stragglers. Maybe focus on the 1 student from point 2.
    4) I struggle with this. I don’t like hand raising, I prefer bouncy conversations where people chime in as long as they are not talking over others. I have had some success approaching these students privately and urging them to slow down and give others’ space. This should be accompanied by an understanding that after a little wait time this S is your go-to person. I think that can help.
    5) Not sure what your are referring to with the phrase whiteboarding mistakes. And you are right, it sounds like a vaguely sinister CIA style tactic.
    6) Give a little time, give it an assessment cycle or two and you will almost certainly see evidence that learning and growth are happening even if you are not the fountain of wisdom/facts/strategies for your students. Not to diminish you (or any of us) but the students usually will do just fine if we are (to borrow Dan Meyer’s phrase) less helpful.

  6. A1: I had similar issues with the pacing during class period, trying to give students chance to look at homework/practice for feedback and also trying to tie in formative assessment. I stole something from Chris Shore (@mathprojects), combined it with Dan Meyer’s SBG lists. Here’s the general idea:
    NO MORE:
    1)homework questions. If need be, students can check themselves from answer keys. I stopped focusing on students had to understand material 1 day after working with it.
    2)exit tickets. I didn’t use them to reshape the learning. Neither did the students. It gave me information, but I wasn’t the one that needed the formative part of the assessment.

    New practice:
    1) Warm-up/starter/bell-ringer = Formative quiz. Daily. Topic=last weeks content. Question changes slightly each day, and increases in depth slowly until Friday. At most question(s) should take 5-10 minutes (closer to 5) each day. Students trade papers and grade each other on Mon-Thurs. If the response is perfect (or dang close, like really really close) score = 4/5. To receive a 5/5 student has to pass on Friday (which I score). I never collected papers until Friday.

    Issues resolved:
    1) Attendance: Tardies went down with accountable assignment at beginning of class. If student missed, there were no negative scores. Most students had at least 4 tries, and really only needed to get it one of those times. If a student wanted to go back and try a skill again, I usually let them. However, retakes were limited to 1/day (so student needs to practice and retain skill along the way).

    2) Delayed understanding / Falling Behind: Both Chris Shore and Dan Meyer suggested delaying the skill/topic so that the assessment focused on material from the week prior. This allowed students to practice material (through homework) and not add too much pressure of having to “get it” in 24 hours. There was also a lot of peer collaboration during these skill assessments on Mon-Thurs quizzes. Students immediately saw what they missed and could make adjustments for the next day.

    3) Grading (for understanding): I didn’t need to grade homework or classwork for understanding. Assessing accuracy and performance for skills was now limited to about 30-40 minutes per week when I graded the quizzes on Friday. It was easy for me to look back at a student’s work from that week and how others had scored it. I didn’t have to grade all the days, just check quickly for ones that a student had given a passing score (unless of course the student passed the quiz from Friday; no need to look back if the student achieved mastery).
    4) Incorporating more writing in the classroom. It was great getting my students to write, along with showing calculations, daily. These “Skill of the Week” quizzes kept the students talking about the big idea skills instead of getting their understanding split up into individual daily tasks.

    This wasn’t easy to start. I had to put together a lot of questions and eventually learned how to program them to be dynamic (calculate new values, change prompts and diagrams) into a program called ExamView. This can also be done using spreadsheets and other methods. You could also just create new questions using a word process or other presentation setup. I did this daily. Other teacher I know did it 2x-3x / week and still had some good results.

    If you ever want to chat about it more let me know.

  7. 1) I would just cut out homework completely. Then you only have to deal with your bell ringer which could be a review problem or formative assessment like Jed mentioned or whatever. Definitely use a timer. It’s hard to keep ourselves to a time limit we say out loud without the timer. I use it every day.

    2) Is there any time within class where you can pull that one kid? Maybe while the 25 are practicing, you can work one-on-one. Or maybe the next day during the bell ringer? If students are working in groups, there is a good chance they will help each other as well.

    3) For that kid, don’t give the work all at once. Then they can’t work ahead. Or any of the other ideas already mentioned.

    4) I would be careful not to stifle this kid because they may learn by repeating what you say and thinking out loud. I have a student like that and I’ve worked with her to say steps in the process out loud without saying the final answer. It may help some students to hear the steps again from another perspective but her saying the answer made slower working students shut down.

    5) Maybe it’s the point in time that your doing the whiteboarding. Could this be a review activity before a test? If it’s at the middle of learning, there are some who still don’t have it yet and the mistakes confuse them on the correct process.

    6) Why do you feel like students are floundering? Does any of your data reflect that? It might be feeling guilty, like you aren’t doing your job. I’ve struggled with that too but I now consider myself providing the opportunity for learning along with my guidance. But the students have to do the work to learn. Can you give students answer keys during class work so they can compare their answers and find out where they really need help? Could you try the stoplight cup idea so you know which students are feeling the most frustrated and spend more time with them? If group work is a change for your students, it could be that they are floundering with having to think. Students aren’t used to that. It takes them a while to get used to that and to the fact that you won’t immediately rescue them. But you will rescue them. I think over time it will get easier for you to recognize the limits of their frustration and when you can push them or you need immediate intervention.

  8. […] @mathymeg07 posed some questions the other day.  They were good questions, and had some great comments that are worth your time to […]

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