Listening Carefully to Student Thinking

Recently, I have been reviewing a new “CCSS-Aligned” middle school curriculum and find myself completely frustrated with the overabundance of scaffolding and lack of student thinking required on every assignment. Not having the days/weeks it would take for teachers to engage in the mathematics as both learners and teachers, I needed a short, powerful way to show that this is not how students should experience/learn mathematics.

As I looked at the fraction page like this, my thought was “Why just two ways?” quickly followed by “Why those two ways?” quickly followed by “My students are doing this now, flexibly.”

IMG_0598Right then, I realized the perfect proof of why NOT to do this, was the work my students already do when given the freedom to reason about a problem and do more than just procedurally compute an answer. So, I put the proof in their hands.  I simply asked them to solve 2/5 x 7/10 as many ways as they could. Some got creative after a couple of ways, and by no means am I saying some of these are “efficient,” but they show so much flexibility.

new doc 9_4 new doc 9_5 new doc 10_4new doc 10_1

This felt perfect. Why would we want to miss out on all of the great conversations that can happen around this work by making them answer in just 2 ways, and more specifically, those 2 ways they show you how to do…step-by-step?

and THEN this happened which validated my thoughts even further and instantly made me reflect on my friend Christopher’s talk at ShadowCon (video coming soon) around listening carefully to student thinking…

The students were working on 2/5 x 7/10 as I was walking around the room observing their work. I glanced over a student’s shoulder and saw “Doubling and Halving” written on her paper with the correct answer. Assuming it was doubling/halving in the sense of doubling one factor and halving another factor, I was excited to see the use of the strategy.

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I asked her how she did it, she said, “I double/halved” and I was about to move on to get ready for our sharing. When I glanced down, however, it was not at all like I had imagined. I asked her to explain further…“I halved this numerator and doubled this denominator [points to 2/5] then I doubled this numerator and halved this denominator [points to 7/10].”. Ok, now THIS is much different than I thought!!

I had her share, and others immediately said they had double/halved also but did not get those fractions to multiply and wondered if that worked every time (I love that they ask that now:). I let them play around with it for a bit but since we had some division work to do I told them to keep thinking about that and we will revisit it tomorrow. By the end of the next class period, I had a student come up and say, “She didn’t double/half really, she quadrupled/fourthed.” I asked him to write down his explanation for me because it was lovely.

IMG_0647IMG_0648So glad I listened carefully and didn’t makes assumptions on her understandings because how amazing is this work? I am also so glad that I can appreciate a curriculum that allows for these reasonings and conversations to happen.

-Kristin

7 thoughts on “Listening Carefully to Student Thinking

  1. The Math Maniac

    Your first sentence is exactly how I feel about our “amazing new CCSS aligned curriclum” for grades 5-8. It is a terrible! There are pages and pages of here is how you solve the problem followed by terribly scaffolded problems where kids are supposed to be filling in the blanks. It is painful to see and I can not believe this is what my district went with for a math program!

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  2. Atlas Educational

    Kristin, you are NOT the reason those poor directions were written. They were written for teachers who have NO concept of what you’re doing even after you explain it to them. I love the CCSS, but I detested the micromanagement. I hereby release you from following mindless drivel for the rest of your days. Go about your business. You already know what you’re doing way beyond what they could possibly explain to you. Keep up the great work! I love reading about your classroom and you’re SO lucky to be blessed with the freedom to do what you’re doing.

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