Friday, November 04, 2011

Student Comments Part 2

Earlier in the school year, I had done a gallery walk activity with my Algebra 2 students (see this post). Our HS football team has made the playoffs for the first time in 17 years and we had a pep rally to celebrate and encourage them. This meant that I wasn't meeting with my last of my 3 Algebra 2 classes. So, I thought I might try this again.

Since we have been working on solving systems of linear equations, I set up three sets of problems - 6 solve by graphing, 6 solve by substitution, and 6 solve by elimination (only by adding or subtracting - we haven't talked about multiplying yet). I brought up the random word chooser and let each person as their name came up choose a partner. Each partner set came up to the SMART Board and rolled a die twice. First time was to determine what type of problem they got - 1 or 2 got a graphing problem, 3 or 4 got a substitution problem, and 5 or 6 got an elimination problem. Second roll determined which problem they got (I had 6 of each type). Each group got a 12" x 18" piece of construction paper with their question taped to it, markers to write their work on it, and the graphing groups got a piece of graph paper (I had 1 cm square graph paper in my room) and a ruler.

It took between 10 and 15 minutes to get them to work through their problem and get it on the paper. After all groups had their work on the paper (or mostly did), I began passing out post-it notes. Before I sent them around, I talked about how just writing "good job" or something like that was similar to clicking "Like" on Facebook - which Christopher Danielson had mentioned in this comment. I stressed the importance of being specific and really looking at the work people had done. I mentioned that just writing positive comments when something was wrong doesn't help the person do better and that it was important to constructively point out errors. I thought I had done a pretty good job of getting across what I wanted them to do.

I guess I didn't do as well as I thought because by the time I got to my third one to comment on, there was already a sizeable stack of post-its and most of them said "good job" or "nice work" or the like. I read 2 lines of the problem and found a very obvious (well, I thought it was) error - the student had put a 2 in front of the y when there wasn't one to begin with - and once again, not one student had found it. So I stopped them and reminded them to really read the work because I had found a very obvious mistake and not one student had found it. I also told them that if they were looking at a paper for 30 seconds or less, it wasn't anywhere near enough.

They did get slightly better and we spent the last couple of minutes talking about what good comments looked like. In particular, I was looking at a graphing problem and the people working it out had only graphed one of the two lines. There were two comments on the paper that said something to the effect of "there should be two lines here" or "you are missing a line." and I mentioned those by name. Normally I don't ask the students to reveal who wrote the comments and this time I did ask because I wanted to commend them.

For the second class, I made a couple of changes. First, I put a timer up on the SMART Board set for a minute. I told them they needed to be looking at the problem and commenting for at least a minute. Secondly, I specifically mentioned the comments from the first class that were good solid constructive comments on what was done wrong. Although I saw some students doing a better job of really looking at the problems and checking through, there were still an awful lot of "good job" type comments. I also came across at least one problem with errors that students had not caught until I got to them and stopped and reminded them to really read through the problems. I also saw some negative comments (along the "you suck" type idea) but not until after students had left.

I had hoped that maybe with a better setup students would do better on commenting on each others' papers. I was disappointed. At least with the timer, the students seemed to slow down and actually try to read through the work a little better, but it still wasn't what I had hoped. Maybe I need to go back and do an activity like Bill T suggested here where students see 2-4 versions of the same problem and they need to find the error. I'm not totally sure here.

I suppose I really need to think about what my goal was here. I think I had 2 goals: for students to practice solving systems of equations using the three methods we had talked about (which did happen - they did only work on one problem and therefore one problem type, but they did do this) and for students to critically critique each others' work. The second one didn't happen. I need to re-think how much I want to emphasize that second goal, because if it's a big deal to me, they need to be better prepared. Meanwhile, I also need to decide if this is worth doing again in its current form. I left both periods feeling a little frustrated that the comments didn't go as well as I would like and that they still need practice solving all three methods of solving systems. That's not how I hoped I'd feel after they were done today.

1 comment:

Max Ray said...

Can you tell I'm going through my Feedly catching up on missed posts :)

I can tell you're feeling frustrated this year, with your students' response to your new efforts and with the slow pace of change... I think sometimes people pitch their efforts in engaging students as though they walked into class, did this magic thing and whammo! They awakened their students' sleeping genius and from that day forward, everything hummed along with students leading and the teacher as a proud assistant!

My experience in reality is that there are some combinations of problems and activities that end up with students surprising us, and the vast majority of the time, we get met with crickets. We're often asking our students to take risks and do things they've literally never done in math class. It's scary for them and they don't know how to do it. A win one day can seem to translate into MORE resistance the next time!

I go into classes to teach model lessons to other people's kids, so I get students on their best behavior who are willing to take different kinds of risks, and I get to plan my lessons with a team of experts. And they still have awkward dead air 50-60% of the time! And a feeling of, "why couldn't I unleash any math from these kids... they did it last week." So... this stuff is hard!

I do have one tip that has sometimes worked for me (a bit better with younger students). Rather than ask for feedback (which many kids are used to getting only in the form of a grade), ask them to do something specific and new. Like, "find one specific positive thing you like and say. I notice you did ___. I like that because _____. Then find one thing you are wondering about and say I wonder ______. Your wondering could be something you aren't sure why they did it that way, or a possible error, or a new idea their work makes you think of."

Hope that helps!