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I get it, I just can’t explain it

2013/10/13

You’re reading my first post on my new education-focused blog.  I hope you enjoy it all, because I ended up writing a lot more than I had planned.

I’m writing with inspiration from an 8-week project being steered by MTBoS.  I’ve had a couple personal blogs over time, but this one will have a decidedly different focus.  I first discovered this project through Dan Meyer’s twitter feed.

Following with the prompt for this week, My first entry is going to discuss a favorite rich question from my class.

It’s my 6th year teaching.  It’s my 2nd year at my current school.  I feel more organized, more focused on my content, more in control of my classes, and like my kids are learning multitudes more than in any other year.  Part of it is the experience behind me.  Part of it is reaching a 2nd year at a school (only happened one other time so far) with prospects as certain as could be expected that this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

But quality learning requires more out of everyone.
It requires more effort out of the students.
It requires discipline on my part to know what questions I will and which questions I will NOT answer.
It requires quick thinking on my feet to help address and triage questions around the room when 6 to 9 groups are working on a problem.

This week all of my classes had an introduction to a process called reciprocal teaching.  In RT, groups of 3-4 students complete a small number of problems (so far no more than 4) in a period.  They are required to follow a procedure where they:
– CLARIFY what they do and do not understand
– PREDICT what they think the answer will be or what it will look like
– SOLVE using math operations and procedures (NB: this is usually the only process required by a math problem)
– SUMMARIZE their thinking and their math
– CONTEXTUALIZE the final answer

All of the writing requires complete sentences.  And it is D-I-double F-icult to extract the thinking at first.  During the first couple problems, I end up having a lot of conversations like this:

“Mr. Ratliff, can you tell me if this looks right?”
“Oh, Josh, I’d love to help you, but you haven’t written anything about what you do or don’t understand or made a prediction about the problem.”
“But I don’t need to do that.”
“Why not?”
“I already understand this.”
“Excellent!  How can you explain it to me?”

By this time I either get an explanation, which I ask them to put into writing, or I get something like “I can’t explain it, I just know it,” to which I reply “I’m not convinced.  Why don’t you visit with your group and I’ll come back by in a few minutes to see how you are all doing.  If you’re still stuck at that point, I’ll be glad to give you a couple pointers.”

A colleague at another high school with similar groupwork mentioned that he requires all group members to raise their hands before he will stop by.

Right before setting my Algebra 1 students loose on Day 2 with problems 3-6, I handed them back their problems from the previous day and then showed them these 6 examples from the previous day (students saw work from a different period).  The performance on Day 2 showed vast improvement even with more difficult problems.  FWIW, the respective scores of these 6 pages (out of 10) were 1, 1, 9, 9, 10, and 2.  Note that the math only constitutes 20% of the possible points.

I’m excited to hear about what you have to think about this, if you’ve used something similar, if you’re inspired to do so, or any constructive feedback you have about this sort of activity.

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2 Comments
  1. Howard permalink

    I love the layout of your worksheet. Gotta try me some of that.

  2. I also liked the layout of your worksheet and how it really helps to structure the students’ thinking.

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