Friday, March 9, 2012

Being Less Helpful.

One of the big ideas that we dealt with at the Common Core Mathematical Processes seminar was the idea of giving students "rich" problems that they can interpret, struggle through, solve, check and then resolve if necessary.  But hand-in-hand with that idea is the thought that you're not standing over them holding their hand. Students need to be able to use their resources (book, notes, neighbor, etc.) to try and think through problems on their own before asking for help.

But that's so hard.... both for them and me.

I've "trained" my Algebra 2 kids to do the opposite. If they see something they don't get right away, they raise their hand to ask how to do it.  Me, in my search to be helpful, run over to them to try and clear up any misconceptions.  Half of the kids either haven't even read the problem yet or have and think that they don't know how to do it.  I literally run around the room like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get all of their questions answered.  Never mind the fact that they have notes with example problems, a book with example problems, and people sitting next to them that might have a clue.

On Tuesday that all stopped.

I warned them. After we'd gone over some homework problems and I passed out the assignment, I told them that I'd screwed up. I'd taken away their responsibility to actually think on their own and given them an "out". This was doing them a disservice and removed from them their obligation to think about a problem before automatically raising their hands.  I told them that if they got stuck, I wanted them to do a few things.
1.  Read the problem.
2.  If they didn't know what to do, take a moment and think about it.
3.  If they still didn't know what to do, check their notes and try and find a similar problem.
4. If they couldn't find one in their notes, do the same thing in their book.
5. If they couldn't find one in their book, check with a neighbor.
6.  Last resort:  ask me.

As you can expect, they weren't all that happy about what I'd told them.  (Somewhat) surprisingly, though, a couple of the kids spoke up and said they understood.  That helped some of the resistors, but there was still some grumbling.

Did that end all questions?  Did the kids start thinking on their own?  Well, you know.  It's going to take time.  My plan is to stick to my guns and continue to encourage them to struggle.  (Note to self:  re-read this post on August 21st next year!)  I've created some monsters and that won't change over night.  But they're starting to use their notes and each other as resources to help solve problems.

The amount of homework that had been completed the next day was much lower than normal.... kids had given up when they hit a rough spot. I'm hoping that if I'm consistent with my actions they'll realize that it's not going to change and they're going to have to step it up.

I'm hoping.

4 comments:

  1. I did this with a group of 6th graders a few years ago and it took time, but it worked. I was getting the impression that mine were asking questions in order to get out of actually starting their work. When they had to ask their peers for help, they preferred figuring it out themselves. Go figure! Anyway, good luck and hang in there!

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  2. It really is tough for them, though. I never have given much help. I an somewhat infamous among students for my "maybe," "what do you think," and "sometimes" responses. They want math especially to be black and white with yes or no answers. Mine don't usually seem to get over it throughout the year. I hope yours are more adaptable!

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  3. I tend to be less helpful (most students adapt quickly, but many parents grumble!), especially when we are learning/developing a new concept. If they figure our out on their own terms, they understand & remember better.

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  4. I love the steps you give them to guide them through figuring it out on their own! Thanks!

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