Friday, September 09, 2011

Student Comments

As I was reflecting on the last two days in Algebra 2, I was not comfortable with where they were at as far as solving equations in one variable. Yesterday we worked with equations that had parentheses and/or like terms on the same side and from what I saw as I walked around the room, I felt there was some confusion or difficulties with it. I hadn't totally decided what to do about it today when I had left yesterday and never really came up with an answer, but on the way into work this morning, the brilliant idea hit me - Gallery Walk! (Thanks to @druinok and Bill Thill for sharing this activity with me over the summer.) See, those half hour drives to and from work pay off sometimes...

After procuring some 12 x 18 paper from the art teacher and finding some problems to use, I was ready to go. I wrote out the problems on the paper and gave each pair of students a paper. I directed them to individually work out the problem on their own paper, compare answers and work, come up with what they felt was correct and to write the work and solution to the problem. After the pairs were done, I gave each person some post-its and directed them to walk around the room, look at each problem's work and solution and offer constructive and/or positive feedback. We talked about not being mean (2 times 3 is 6, you idiot is not acceptable or helpful...) and about making sure to let people know when they did a good job. All was good until this point....

As they walked around the room, many people briefly looked at the problems. Most people wrote things like "good" or "awesome" or some other brief but positive comment. All three of my classes had problems where mistakes were made. In my first class, the errors were caught and mentioned on post-it in a positive manner. In my second class, errors were caught but not by as many who viewed the problem. In my third class, two papers had errors in the second step and neither one was caught by a student when I went by (on one of them, a student remarked on the error after I had been past). In fact, on both of those papers, almost every post-it was "good" or "nice work" or "awesome." I ranted talked about how simply putting "good" or "nice" when there really were errors was worse than making the error. I talked about how important it is to carefully review the work you are looking at so you can be helpful. But I left feeling like what I originally thought was a good activity and use of class time was a waste.

My students have no idea how to look at (someone else's) work and determine correctness. They can certainly give positive comments and goofy comments (and there were a few of those too). The ones who found errors did give constructive comments - but mainly in the sense of pointing out the error. I am at a loss, especially with my last class who did not seem to take the feedback portion seriously.

I really did like how the activity did go. Students were engaged with the problem given to them. I'm not sure how much discussion happened in some partner groups as to who had a correct answer and why, but I believe there was some discussion. The lack of (good/real) feedback has me a bit down though. What would you do if you were to do this kind of Gallery Walk in your class?

3 comments:

druin said...

Two suggestions...

1) Like in a real art gallery, you learn by sketching the piece in front of you... so how about having them do the gallery walk with a clipboard and they have to work the problem on their own paper, then put a post-it note on the original?

2) Start with the original problems posted around the room and give each group a different colored marker. Have them do the first step, then rotate, review the previous step(s), then do the next step. That way their work is dependent on the previous groups, so they might be more engaged in looking for correct work in the previous steps?

Just some thoughts :)

Bill T said...

Nice to hear from you Lisa!

I like both of those suggestions from @druinok.

I'm thinking about your goals:
You want all students to detect / describe / resolve errors in other student work on solving linear equations.

Both of the suggestions by @druinok above give students something specific to focus on - ether checking the previous step(s), or in comparing another student's work to their own work.

I'm wondering - here's an idea: suppose students could look at 2 to 4 versions of solving the same problem - perhaps fabricated student work, perhaps real. (Maybe one with a major conceptual error or two, but with a correct answer at end, one with a correct process but an arithmetic error, maybe one with a conceptual error, wrong answer, one totally correct) Maybe have students try to identify which one(s) are correct, - and at which step did the others go wrong? Number the steps - that way students must refer to a specific step? Also, does this need to be done as a gallery walk? would an overhead / handout work also?

christopherdanielson said...

You wrote, I ranted talked about how simply putting "good" or "nice" when there really were errors was worse than making the error. I talked about how important it is to carefully review the work you are looking at so you can be helpful. But I left feeling like what I originally thought was a good activity and use of class time was a waste.

I'll take the opportunity to share a formulation that has been helpful with my college students this semester. On Facebook, you can hit the "Like" button. But doing so doesn't give any evidence that you actually read what you say you liked. In math class, that won't be helpful. We need to comment substantively on each other's work. As a starting point, in order for a comment to be substantive it needs to give evidence that you read what you are commenting on. By this criterion, "Good job" is not substantive. Nor is "Nice work".

The hard part is then holding myself to this standard when I grade their work.