Time to Think


As I read a blog tweeted by @bjnichols this morning – Holly Green shared how thought bubbles often show “our deeply held beliefs and assumptions – determine how and what we perceived and guide how we think and act.  They can limit our ability to achieve results.”  So often in education, we are set in our ways and refuse to hear others’ ideas / opinions that could refresh our way of thinking.

I went on to read another post she hade made Slow Down, So You Can Go Fast.  Though she’s writing from a business perspective – this truly fits what many educators have experienced/chosen for the their own classrooms. 

Doing some “fall-cleaning” at home this week, I ran across a small set of lessons which caused me to pause.  I guess I had kept them because of the feedback received from my first principal, Ms. Jenkins.  The thing I appreciated about her – she always pushed you  beyond what you thought you were capable of doing.  She didn’t tell you how to improve, she caused you to reflect on your own practices. 

This particular set of activities were presented as part of my PGP for the area of student self-assessment.  I’m sure the idea had come from an NCTM resource since we didn’t have internet in the school at that point in time.  One lesson was for a General Math class, we were adding fractions.  The directions read that once students completed the problem, they used a fraction wheel to verify their answers.  Another was a quiz on solving equations which required students to verify their solutions, and space to re-work any that were incorrect – no grading required for me.  A final activity asked students to reflect and write about their learning.

In my first years of teaching I took time for student self-assessment, I required students to “check” their own work and I incorporated writing into my lessons.  So why is this an area I am focused on improving so many years later? 

This past summer, I shared a presentation with my school district to begin a conversation about SBG.  In it I shared shared how by covering content for the external accountability – we have created an imbalanced system – skewed toward
summative assessments…we have become instructionally insensitive.  (Lederman & Burnstein, 2006, Popham 2003, 2008)

When we cover content:

  • ›Intentional scaffolding which leads up to the big ideas are reduced to a checklist of what we need to cover for the test.
  • ›Quality activities that develop student thinking “take too much time” and we eliminate them – by telling students how we want them to answer the questions.
  • ›Forfeit time to use the power of corrective, descriptive feedback which alters instruction and promotes learning, allowing students to make connections and see the why. 

I shared these things not being judgemental of what others were doing/not doing – but this was a trap I had fallen in to myself.  Somehow I quit thinking about what I was teaching.  Yes, I’m sorry to say – I started “filling-out” lesson plans just to fulfil a duty.  I was making a list and checking it twice, then moving on.    I relied on the examples in a text to guide my classroom – I had traded the “time consuming” activities that really allowed in-depth student thought for covering the content. 

In order to move students forward, I must focus on what’s most important – develop / find the tasks that allow students to really “get-it.”  I have to give them feedback – either written or verbal – yes, that takes time.  

I like the Frank Noschese’s idea of giving students the chance to check their own quizzes and give themselves feedback.  This makes me more of quality control – I can view their comments – verify or comment myself.  Students writing their own feedback requires immediate reflection of their own work.   I am able to get an even better view of their thinking. 

At KCTM last weekend, Jana Bryant (Daviess Co. HS) shared an activity she called “Math Hospital.”  She collected student samples with errors and compiled a worksheet – students were asked to “diagnose” what was wrong with the problems and make suggestions to the students. 

This idea is also supported in some PD I am taking part in as part of the Kentucky Leadership Network using lessons from the Mathematics Assessment Project.  Students are given student samples and asked questions such as “Why do you think Alex chose this?  What suggestions would you make to Bill?  What information did Carl not consider?”  These lessons provide suggestions for reflections on others’ work – that will hopefully transfer to student reflection on their own work. 

I realize some educators feel these lessons are too “scripted” however, I believe like we model thinking for students, these lessons model thinking for educators who have fallen into the “no-thinking zone.”  Participating in the PD provided and implementing the lessons and reflecting will help me begin developing my own lessons.

Providing students time to think about their thinking is valuable.  Slowing down for these opportunities will proove valuable in allowing us to ‘go faster’ in future lessons.  This is the essence of Standards Based Grading – taking the time for feedback and reflection.   When I give students the chance to determine their own areas for growth, they are more likely to “buy-in” to the assignments / practice I provide for them to develop.

Slow down…take time to think…so we can go faster…




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