I think everyone knows how I feel about math. I get a little nervous just thinking about it. However, one of my favorite research-based articles of all time is actually written by a math teacher. Imagine my shock.
Steven C. Reinhart, a middle school math teacher, did what all good teachers do. He committed to making his instruction better. But since he is a math teacher, he had to be all methodical about it. Luckily for us, all of that crazy methodology resulted in a lovely article published in 2000 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics entitled "Never Say Anything a Kid Can Say." Essentially, the article discusses the merits of student-centered instruction versus teacher-driven lecture. While I really do encourage you to read the article on your own, let me highlight my favorite parts and then share some implications for the ELA classroom. But seriously, you have to read this. It has the potential to be a game changer for you.
The Fundamental Flaw: Reinhart talks about being a major rock star. You know the type...really knows his content. Smart as a whip. Can talk intelligently about a topic for hours (or 50 minutes). And therein lies the problem! Over time, he noticed he was learning a ton from explaining his content and working the problems. His students, however, had learned very little. He realized that if his students were going to learn, then they would have to be the ones explaining and working--not the other way around. Simple. Genius.
So how do we turn the tables? How do we move into more of a facilitator-type role? It's all in the types of questions we ask and the types of responses we require.
- Never say anything a kid can say. "Every time I am tempted to tell students something, I try to ask a question instead."
- Ask good questions. "A student should be able to learn from answering my question."
- Use more process questions than product questions. "Process questions require students to think at much higher levels."
- Replace lectures with sets of questions. "What percent of my students will actually be listening to me."
- Be patient. Wait time is critical. It can feel awkward for teachers to wait on a response but that quiet time is thinking time. From a different perspective, shifting your instruction from you to them also takes time and requires patience.
Think through your own lessons. How many times do you do the work when your students should be the ones doing it? For example, I watched a beautiful little 7th grade lesson today from a great teacher. She showed a wonderful video clip that showed examples of metaphors, and then she provided a definition of a metaphor. But that was a perfect opportunity to hand it to the kids and say--take 60 seconds and jot down what you think is a good definition of a metaphor. Now compare your definition with a friend and make any changes that you want. It would have been a simple twist, but that moment would have had staying power. The kids would have owned that moment.
I think we're so afraid that if we don't give it to them, then they'll never own it. The problem is, they'll never own it because we constantly give it to them.
I'm going to let Steven Reinhart close us out today. This is what it means to engage kids, to hand them their own learning, and to have high expectations.
"To help students engage in real learning, I must ask good questions, allow students to struggle, and place the responsibility for learning directly on their shoulders."