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!