Sunday, March 11, 2012

Balancing Talk with Time to Think

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Susan Cain recently published Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and this has got me thinking about the exalted benefit we have placed on talk in our classrooms.  Indeed we have made it extremely clear - I hope - that students need to be expressing themselves orally in order for them to solidify their acquisition of academic language and content.  However, her challenge is a fair one.  Not having read the book, and only perused her blog and her Ted Talk, I do think it's important to give equal value and opportunity for quiet reflection, and teaching of independent work habits alongside our focus on teaching students how to clarify, challenge, and deepen ideas in a group setting.

Just writing that last line makes me realize how much harder this is to accomplish then it is to teach children to learn and think independently.  In a group setting, you have to learn how to LISTEN and sincerely consider the arguent or point of view of another while comparing that idea to your own.  I mean, really, do you know many adults that do this well?  So, I'm hardly ready to abandon the benefits of Productive Group Work, but I think we need to talk long and hard - oops - I mean first think long and hard about where quiet reflection and independence fits into the learning equation.  Then, we can have that conversation about how this best fits into a learning model.

What jumps out at me from the start is that writing plays such a pivotal role in this process.  As students think about new ideas or connect new ideas to currently held thoughts, they benefit by putting their first thoughts in writing.  This can be followed by sharing that writing with one other person, before embarking on the more complex dynamics of a group discussion or group project.

Smart In Math

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Came across this excellent list on what it takes to be "Smart in Math" at Math Mama Writes.

'Smart in Math' Before students work in groups, it's important to help them understand that we typically have many misconceptions about what it means to be 'smart'. Typically, people think that someone who is 'smart in math' ...
  • answers questions quickly
  • always gets the right answer
  • doesn't have to work at it
But, really, people who are good at math ...
  • are persistent
  • wonder about relationships between numbers, shapes, functions, ...
  • check their answers for reasonableness
  • make connections
  • are willing to try things out, experiment, take risks
  • are resilient
  • want to know why
  • contribute to group intelligence by asking good questions
  • notice and learn from their mistakes
  • try to extend and generalize their results
Students may also need to know how synapses (the connections between neurons that are created each time you learn something new) are strengthened by repeated use. A new connection isn't strong until it's been used:
  • multiple times
  • in multiple ways
  • after a time away
Those first three bullets are not only way off the mark they are detrimental and harmful to the "smart math student". When those students who seem to always get the right answer come up against content that stops them in their tracks, they don't realize how much hard work is needed to keep the engine of their "smartness" running.  Of course, this reminds me of Carol Dweck's work aroud the fixed and growth mindset.  I also appreciate the sense of wonder and discovery that is embedded in the second list.  When I come across the intricacies of math in nature it just boggles my mind - just don't ask me to come up with a proof using all the proper postulates.  That task still gives me nightmares.