Incorporating Thinking Classroom in Middle School Math Class
"Listening in on these conversations and viewing the words, numbers, and pictures on their Wipebooks, it is easy to see which strategies each group is using and provide guidance and hints as necessary. "
“I know this curriculum like the back of my hand.” There is both comfort and anxiety in this statement. True, I have taught math at the Grade 6 level for the better part of two decades and bring a great deal of confidence to the material. There is not a question or student roadblock that I hadn’t faced dozens of times before, and most of my students moved the needle substantially during their time in my class with regards to their own understanding of mathematical concepts. Sometimes, however, this familiarity can lead people to teach on auto-pilot and this was not a feeling I enjoyed. It was time to bring some spontaneity back into my math classroom, and that’s where the good people at Wipebook came in.
Introducing ThinkingClassroom #VNPS
I was immediately excited by the level of engagement among the students when I introduced them to the new protocols based on the book Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics by Peter Lilljedahl. Moments before our first session, many students expressed either a deep level of anxiety related to numeracy or a profound dread after a year in which they had received numeracy instruction online.
However, once we randomized groups and huddled in for our verbal instructions, it was off to the races. In the days since, it has become apparent that the students are much more likely to take risks in a safe, small group setting using the Wipebook VNPS. The way that they are able to approach and engage with a problem collaboratively and in a non-threatening way is extremely important. I have seen students focus on showing their thinking and discussing solutions with their classmates, and this allows them to clearly identify any missteps they might have made along the way when I walk them through the correct solution and the instructional phase.
Wipebook Changing Math Class
During our numeracy classes, I largely feel like the host of a party. All around me, small pockets of people are fully engaged in conversations and I have the opportunity to breeze from group to group much of the time. Listening in on these conversations and viewing the words, numbers, and pictures on their Wipebooks, it is easy to see which strategies each group is using and provide guidance and hints as necessary. This in-the-moment assessment and intervention would be impossible if the students were working in their notebooks, as teachers then become dependent on students asking for help.
Small Groups FTW
The reality in many classrooms is that whiteboard space is at a premium. Many classes only have a single whiteboard at the front of the room. Every teacher wants to encourage student modelling and student leadership, but the idea of calling a single student to the front is in no way conducive to risk taking, developing a sense of confidence and security, or collaborative problem solving. Thanks to Wipebook, my classroom currently has nine such stations around the room, which is positive for a number of reasons. One obvious benefit is that when the students are all modelling their thinking in a small group, the number of eyes on their work drops significantly, which allows most students to feel safe to share their thinking and work towards a solution.
Furthermore, with groups dispersed on every wall of the classroom, you have effectively “de-fronted” the class, which further lowers the intimidation factor. The real benefit to having this many spaces for students to work in is that these small groups encourage a team mentality. We implement a rule that the student who is talking cannot hold the marker, which means that they have to explain their thinking as clearly as possible. My students are already honing their skills in this regard, asking “did you mean…?” questions for clarification and accepting all students’ suggestions along the way.
We are only days into this new school year, and I already feel like I know as much about my math students as I would after months of more traditional numeracy instruction.
Sometimes, adding a simple element to your classroom can completely change the experience for the students and teacher alike!
Jason Howse, Harbour Landing School, Regina Public Schools.
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