If you ever see my desk you will find a bunch of sticky notes. They are not reminders so much as errant thoughts and little quotes I like enough to write down to ponder ~~while I avoid over work~~. In example:

“He doesn’t get mad when things are hard. He just works. And I think that’s something I don’t have and not enough people do have.” – John Green on his brother, Hank

Yesterday I was looking through the app from Cuethink and admiring how it seems focused on getting students to communicate their mathematical understanding. Many of the things I enjoy most in the math sphere involve articulating mathematical understanding. The Math Forum‘s Notice and Wonder. Number talks. Task Talks. Doing math with others. Listening to my niblings explain how they figured out a puzzle. Crouching down at a group’s table in class to just *listen*. The following sticky note resulted:

“I think adults sometimes forget what it is like to not know something.”

When I think back to most of my math classes in middle and high school, they were warmup, homework checkoff, lecture with 3ish examples, homework time. Pretty much every day. I have no memory of ever doing a project in math. Not getting math meant going in for help and listening to an explanation again. Watching a new example. Sometimes trying to explain my understanding was involved, but having so little experience articulating my own conception of mathematics that was usually a non-starter. Not knowing to knowing was just a matter of listening more carefully or repeating some more examples, no?

When I think back to my first few years in the classroom as a teacher I can say it looked a lot like that. But I still didn’t give space for student’s to articulate their understanding (at least not students beyond those with Hermione-esque tendencies). I went into teaching because I enjoy working with teens and I love math. I stayed in teaching because I started learning how to give space for students to communicate their understanding and found that listening was *fascinating*. Watching a student going from not knowing to knowing and figuring out their path is one of my favorite things. Especially when they take paths I would never see because I know.

I’m curious how many people out there yelling one thing or another about education and classrooms and educators remember what it’s like to not know something. Or perhaps it’s better to ask if they remember what it’s like to not know something and also not know how to get to knowing something. As much some claim school is about content I will argue it’s more about going from not knowing to knowing and the many strategies life will demand one learns to survive and do good and be awesome.

So what stickies do you have at your desk?

Great post here Ashli. I think it’s so important to remind ourselves as teachers what it is like to not know something. When I first started teaching, the thought of going to a math conference and not knowing an answer or as much math as someone next to me was scary and intimidating. As I continue to grow as a teacher, I have come to better embrace and welcome the thought of not knowing as much math as the person sitting next to me for at least two main reasons:

1) it reminds me how my students can feel

2) I love the idea that I can collaborate with that person and learn something new or see a solution I never would have thought of.

When I do math teacher trainings, I really see how important it is for math teachers to struggle with tasks so they can be reminded how our students feel and the power of collaborative learning. Thanks for this post.

So what stickies do I have at my desk?

Sticky 1: “Pause, before asking students a question.”

Show/tell your students you (as the teacher) need a few seconds to think of the question you’d like to ask. I’ve noticed students respect when I am formulating a question and how I want to ask it. This quick pause gives everyone a mental rest and it helps strengthen both the delivery of the question and the reception the question.

Sticky 2: “Give students think time.”

Ask a question. Ask it once. And give students a chance to think. Don’t ask a different question. Don’t ask the same question in a different way (see sticky #1). Don’t give hints. After enough think time, the next person that talks should be a student, be it with a partner, small group, or whole group.

Sticky 3: “Don’t repeat what students say.”

Repeating what a student says, weakens both that student’s voice and the teacher’s voice simultaneously. Instead of the teacher repeating what a student says, ask another student to do so. Work on training students to be ready to repeat what a classmate says. Repeating and amplification are two different things. A teacher might amplify what a soft-spoken student has said, but it might be more powerful for a nearby classmate to do the amplification instead.

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Yay for stickies! I am especially fond of your first one. I found students to be rather considerate when I’ve asked them for time to think in the past. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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