Learning is the Work: Moderation of Student Thinking

This week I was fortunate to “practice what I preach” and engage in responding to student thinking.  Whether it was moderating a piece of student evidence that was unfamiliar to me with a group of principals, or actually being in a classroom with the students and then deeply analyzing their work and their mindset towards math, I was reminded that this close attention to student thinking is what our work truly is about (not to mention it was fun, rewarding and empowering!).  Engaging in student work not only helped me to understand math in a deeper way, it also got me thinking…

1. As educators every one of us is changing the way that we think about how we educate; we are figuring out how to balance being responsive to the student thinking needs (and closing the gaps that we identify) and knowing that we have a curriculum to “uncover” with our students.

Recently, a very thoughtful (and growth mindset oriented) educator commented, with hesitation, that planning her instruction is truly changing.  She shared that she determines the end of the “unit” objectives or “essential understandings”, and then follows this up with day to day planning that responds to what she is observing in her classroom. Often, the big idea results from her assessment of where the student thinking is at. She was feeling concerned about this way of planning as she didn’t have a daybook done several days in advance.  As she spoke she mentioned the number of resources that she was taking home every night to research the most effective practices to provide for her students for the next day…in order to move them closer in their understanding of the essential question.  The question was whether or not the curriculum objectives would all be met this school year.  It is the ongoing tension that exits between meeting our learners where they are at and responding to those needs, and attempting to ensure that they are meeting the expectations of the curriculum documents.  We have all likely been guilty of wondering “what have these students been doing” in their past grades.

As I think about this challenge in the context of math, I wonder if it is because we are learning so much more about trajectories of learning in math.  We all understand (and are moving towards fully embedding this into practice) the need to conduct diagnostic assessments at the beginning of units, followed by numerous formative assessments throughout the unit as check ins…but how are we using this information?  We are beginning to recognize the misconceptions in the math, and we are filling our “toolbox” with research based practices that will help aid our students in developing understanding…will this learning help us to “save some time” and to thus have our students meet more grade appropriate curriculum expectations?

2. If this theory is correct, the need to ensure that every educator is engaged in learning about math in a deep and sustainable way is imperative – this begins with the collaborative analysis of evidence of student work.  To genuinely engage in this analysis, we need to move away from our ongoing “culture of niceness” (Earl and Katz, 2007) where we share our anecdotes of what occurred in the classroom, to an environment that is all about the evidence of student thinking through their work demonstrations. We need to give more attention as well to separating the person from the practice.  I often return to the research of Katz and colleagues as we are challenged to accept the discourse that happens in learning communities as a necessary type of professional conflict that “places thinking and practice under scrutiny in a way that builds and refines understanding.  Moderate professional conflict lies at the heart of collaborative inquiry…” (Building and Connecting Learning Communities, 2007, pg. 76).  I would offer that this culture is also an indicator of the growth mindset of participants.

3. As an educator and parent, the message about the need to embed literacy and numeracy learning into our daily lives has been supported for a number of years. I remember engaging in Esso Family Math as a principal, watching families play games and enjoy math together.  These conversations are critical to help students to develop vocabulary at early ages (yes, our K students can use vocabulary like “hypothesis”!), to see math everywhere in the world (yesterday we discovered that the shape of our garage is a pentagon!) and to generally develop an understanding that math is important.  I wonder what impact these conversations have on the development of a growth mindset in learners?

Moderating student thinking is truly an essential part of the development of our understanding of mathematics.  Each time I moderate I learn more about misconceptions, about the struggle that our students have with place value, and this week, about how vital it is that our students are given opportunities to develop their spatial sense (have you had a chance to read the Paying Attention to Spatial Reasoning? WOW! Are your students playing Mindcraft in their spare time?).  What was also confirmed for me is the need to continue to focus on explicitly teaching and supporting our students in representing their thinking on paper – which is going to be my next moderation work.

Is moderation part of your repertoire of Instructional Leadership work? What is it telling you?

Until next week…

 

10 responses

  1. There are a couple of pieces that resonate for me. What I love is the responsive piece to student instruction which for me is the moderation of student work in a less formal way. It is what drives the work that we do. I also appreciated the dialogue about backward design, the notion of planning and what that looks like. There is also the ongoing concern about covering all the expectations. This week our first group of educators worked on the analysis of what students were telling us about how they learn. It was very insightful. It took us to looking at backwards design and rich performance tasks. Although we spent time on the culminating tasks we recognize the crucial work that has to happen to get us to the end.
    Inquiry in the classroom is messy and it may be hard but it has to be ok for you as the educator to be responsive to the students. I had a great conversation with a teacher about her work this year and how so much more happens in a classroom based on inquiry. You cover more than you could hope for and it becomes an enduring understanding for your students. I know that more time needs to be spent on moderation – in my past experience with moderation it has brought me a deeper understanding of groups of learners in the classroom.
    What an exciting week of learning for ALL!

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  2. If teachers are not widely reading this week’s blog I strongly encourage principals to share it with their staff. Great insights into moderation of student thinking!

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  3. Moderation of student work is so important and it has “evolutionalized” how we teach and plan. Gone are the days when you struggle over student work, especially math , to figure out what you have to do because the final evaluation shows you 80% of the student s didn’t get it. This allows you to work and share your ideas with others. It even forces you to think deeper into finding a solution to what the student work is showing and then zero in on what they are missing and the appropriate strategies. I have often said we over teach the wrong things in math because we do not effectively follow through on our assessments and end up teaching things the students already know or have taught in another subject area.

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    1. This speaks to the whole idea of a one size fits all! We have to look at groups of students and take the time to find out what students already know and have an understanding of so that our time can be spent on expanding student thinking, knowledge and skills.

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    2. And makes me think about that shift to carefully delivering curriculum (which we have always worked so hard to do) to carefully assessing where our students are at in light of where the curriculum needs them to be and then teaching to those needs….so that we use our precious time with our students so carefully and thus don’t “over teaching the wrong things”…it is a way of thinking about what “meeting the needs of our students” really means. Is this why diagnostic assessments are sooooo vital? And why we are thinking so deeply about how we use formative assessments?

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  4. So much to think about and reflect on. When we engage in the process of moderating student work from an asset stance we begin to deeply value the child as competent, capable and curious. It supports the learner and the educator in moving forward with the learning and celebrating the impact our practice has on student growth as learners and their development as individuals.

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  5. keeping “competent, capable and curious” at the forefront always…I am practicing having that asset stance when I moderate as often go right to identifying the deficits – what the students don’t know” for the sake of time…but equally important (if not more so for our own motivation) is the need to identify the strengths so that we can celebrate and give the students feedback on these!! It is a retraining of our minds.

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  6. Moderation is essential as I am able to see student thinking and then teacher reflection and thinking… which leads to responsive instruction of the next steps for our learners . This is a great way to see what our learning needs as a staff.

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  7. In my math course I recently read an article from OAME that stressed the importance of parental support in promoting student success in mathematics. The article was written by a math researcher who actually participated in the Esso Family Math Program with his daughter and experienced first hand that “learning is the work.” It highlighted the importance of creating a culture of learning in the classroom by promoting risk-taking and viewing errors as opportunities for learning. It also talked about promoting a flow of communication and bridging the gap between home and school. In reflecting on my last year of learning as a SWST I think there has been a shift in learning. My own teaching has become more balanced and responsive to student needs but I wonder how do we share the benefits of these strategies with parents.

    A good article for parents and educators. –
    “Up, Down, Sideways: Difficulties of a Daugher and Dad in Learning Mathematics”, Daniel H. Jarvis (OAME 2005)

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  8. Thanks so much for posting Leslie and providing us with a reading. Looking forward to reading this article.

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