What Can You Do, Now?

The other day in Math B (mostly 8th graders) we spent a decent chunk of class time working on something rather boring. But somewhere in that boringness, something awesome happened.

I had prepared two related, but non-identical handouts, each with ten problems related to CCSS.8.F.04. Prior to class, I decided I would use the first handout as source material for a few examples and the second handout as our pool of practice problems.

After the first example, I paused. Instead of moving immediately on to a second example, I told my students:

“Alright, kiddos. Look through the second handout and put a mark next to every problem you think you’re now equipped to tackle.”

No big deal, right? Well, I’m starting to think it might be. This simple request produced a not-so-subtle shift in their approach, one that I think may have had an important impact on their mindset.

Instead of moving through a full set of examples, and then turning our attention to a full set of practice problems, where comments like “I’m confused,” “I’m stuck,” “I don’t know how to do this,” and (especially) “You never showed us one like this!” might abound, my students were actively hunting for problems within their reach. And if my informal observations are on track, then in the context of that active hunting, my students extended their reach a bit farther than normal.

Is this a one-time fluke? Or is asking students to search for what they can do a subtle way of boosting what they’re capable of?

Call for Comments

If you have any thoughts on what I’ve described above, whether anecdotes from your own class or links to research, drop a line in the comments!

Comments 9

  1. I definitely think there’s potential here! Wish I’d read this prior to today’s math lesson. Like goldenoj’s suggestion as well. Thanks for sharing, Mike!

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  4. I like this. Sometimes I have a “rate your understanding” page attached to tests my students will undertake and instead of them reading it after the test, I have them check through it before the test. I think this also has a positive effect in mindset too.
    I’m curious about the worksheets you used. Can you share?

  5. Martin, I like the sound of the “rate your understanding” page. I’m curious to know what’s included on it. I use something similar (but short and sweet) at the bottom of my assessments. (I use standards based grading.) Here’s a sample: http://note.io/1K6GMyt

    The worksheets were mediocre at best, so I’m hesitant to share. 🙂

  6. I did something like this recently with my ap calc students. They had to read through a practice ap test and mark certain problems. My goal was to have them actually read mathematically and anticipate what the problem was going to have them do with a little mental math. I look forward to doing this with other classes, using your timing of during the lesson rather than after. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Very similar to something I do to help students prepare for AP Stats exams. I provide all 6 free response problems from a past year. Rather than having them solve them, I ask them to read each problem, and place R (red light), Y (yellow light) or G (green light) next to each task. I want students to identify which problems they feel comfortable with and can tackle quickly, as opposed to ones which may require a deeper game-plan. It also helps students think about how they will budget their time.

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