Elementary Math, Math Talk, Number Sense, Pedagogy, Uncategorized

Student Ownership of Their Learning

Happy Monday friends!!

I’m a planner at heart. I have way too many wheels moving to not have a color-coded calendar or to not meal plan. Like a lot of us, I am juggling a lot of different balls every moment of every day.  I have to-do lists out the wazoo, which includes a written out plan for blog posts to push out. This week, the focus was supposed to be focused around the use of mathematical vocabulary in our classrooms. I have 3 planned to come out this week as I don’t want to wait 3 weeks to get them out to you. The first one is written and ready to go, but something else jumped on my heart this morning and I have to get that out first.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I love country music. It’s pretty much the only music I listen to. At a wedding this weekend, I knew none of the pop music. I’m just not that cool. Every day I listen to the Bobby Bones Show and go about my business of getting the kids ready for school, cleaning, or working at my desk on things related to how educators can Make Math Meaningful. I enjoy the positivity and laughter that the Bobby Bones Show provides and it’s clean, meaning… I can listen to it around my kids. Bobby has guests on weekly and does a great job asking not so typical questions in his interviews.

This morning I was listening to this past Friday’s episode which happen to have Kathie Lee Gifford on. I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes by hand as my dishwasher was loaded to the brim from the weekend. (We had 6 soccer games this weekend to attend and a wedding out of town. We were busy.) Anyway, Kathie Lee Gifford was the guest and Bobby was interviewing her. She was speaking about her father and how he wanted her to earn her way in life and to learn hard work. She said her daddy told her this and it really struck me. I literally stopped washing the dishes. Dried my hands. Paused the podcast and went over to a pad of paper. I backed the podcast up a bit so I could write out word for word was Kathie Lee said. Her dad told her, “I love you too much to deny you the privilege of making mistakes. Be willing to, because that’s the way you’re going to learn almost everything you’re going to need to know.”

Wow!! Isn’t that great advice. Her father loved her enough to have her learn lessons on her own. He didn’t want to make her path easy for her. He knew that she needed to learn things in her own time and in her own way.

Let’s think about how we can take this same idea to the math classroom. When we, the teacher, tell our students a rule or a procedure that’s just another opportunity of the adult telling the child what to do and how to do it. The ownership is in the hands of the adult. When students are put in a situation where they discover something… Where the student has the start of a lightbulb moment… When a student starts to make the connection to something they already know… The discovery of mathematical concept is the key to unlocking learning and potential. If we take that opportunity away from our students, we are taking away their ownership of their education. We are taking control away from them and putting it back in our hands. Allowing students to struggle, progressive struggle is important in their learning and growing. Without struggle there is no growth. It is our job to set students up in situations where they are in a community where they feel comfortable and brave enough to risk being wrong.

This is a saying that was posted in my class for years. I’m always challenging my students so they can grow, not only as mathematicians, but as readers/writers/scientists/thinkers and human beings.

If we pause a little bit more. If we ask, “How do you know that?” a few more times. If we allow students to COMMUNICATE with one another and ask them to use REASONING and PROOF, imagine the learning that can happen. If we expect MULTIPLE RESPRESENTATIONS and MODELS and for our students to PERSEVERE through hard moments, imagine the type of thinkers we are growing. Asking students to think about their thinking and looking for PATTERNS and CONNECTIONS to help give them a boost when they are stuck, they gain ownership of their learning. They take control of their education. When we ask students to think critically about their math, we are asking them to be PROBLEM SOLVERS. We are asking them to be mathematical thinkers, not just doers. If these words sound familiar to you, they should. This is all language from the 8 Standards for Student Mathematical Practices.

Are there going to be hard moments when we shift our teaching to support their learning. Absolutely. It’s not an easy thing to do, sit back and allow the progressive struggle. I promise if you do and if you encourage your students to THINK FREELY & FLEXIBLY you will see the growth right before your own eyes. If you take few extra minutes each day to let more students SHARE THEIR THINKING, you’ll see they will catch their own mistakes. They’ll be able to help a few other classmates start to make the connections. I know that time is short, but from my experience if we can slow down throughout the first semester of the year, it allows up to speed up later in the year after we have established these norms in our math classrooms.

My question to you now is, how can you not allow your students to struggle? You as their teacher need to show them what to do when they’re “stuck”. What does that look like and sound like. What steps can they take when they aren’t sure what to do next. Be their guide. Be their leader. But also, let them struggle. You’ll be amazed as to what they’ll be able to do by the end of the school year and how much growth they will make.

If you’re looking for more on how to create this vibe in your classroom, take a few minutes to read through Creating a Math Community.

Leave a Reply