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…