How Not to Hide Out in Plain Sight
Here’s what I learned when a colleague video-recorded my class recently: we teachers miss a lot! In the video I could see myself responding in great detail to one group’s work, helping them see what they’d accomplished and leading them on to the next steps. As I walked away, the camera stayed focused on the students. Seconds went by. No more math work happened. They were lost. I think they all thought that someone else knew what to do. But the students just looked at one other, all clueless. In another vignette when I was focused on one group, the guys at another table were pursuing tangential activities, to put it kindly.
The video has pushed me to strategize about encouraging 100% participation so all students can progress. I analyzed routine practices in my math lessons, thinking about the likelihood of any student to fall through the cracks. That’s a possibility during problem strings because while everyone follows along, some may not be independently solving a problem. It’s a possibility when students work alone because I can rarely visit every student during a lesson. As the video revealed, it’s a possibility when they work in groups of four because the chatter that sounds constructive while I’m hunkered down with one group could in fact be the chatter of confusion or off-task topics. Furthermore, even the productive groups may be coasting on the shoulders of one or two students. It’s certainly a possibility when I’m speaking to the whole class or demonstrating something on the whiteboard. Who knows what they’re thinking?
I’ve arrived at the conclusion that partner work offers the best defense against non-participation. It also provides the best possibility of fast help and feedback. If neither partner is actually engaged, I’m likely to notice, since I’m focused on only a dozen or so teams. If one partner is strong and the other is weak, the stronger one is likely to demand participation of some kind from the weaker because she really doesn’t want to work alone. The weaker partner is more likely to ask for help while working with one person, while they might be timid around two or three friends. The ideal, of course, is having two enthusiastic partners who push each other to some new ideas, even when the pushing of two different ideas gets heated.
Lisa Lord is a grade 5 Bridges teacher.