Success = Hope
It is my experience that most people hate math class. But why?
One big reason is that math class is where you’re most likely to be called on and have the wrong answer. Math class can feel humiliating and hopeless!
One antidote is not complicated at all: just give everyone ample opportunities to be right! Being right is a great feeling. And being right after some kind of “productive struggle” can be downright exhilarating!
Here are some easy ways to stack our classes with success – especially for those struggling learners:
- Build good relationships; let them know you are on the same side!
- Set up a classroom environment where mistakes are our friends. That can alleviate some of the anxiety of being called on.
- Use a (mostly) random method to select students. This works best with a good pause between the asking of the question and the calling on an answerer. This takes the pressure off in a few ways- it gives time to think since they don’t have to race to the answer, wrong answers (but good thinking and a discussion) become routine because anyone is up for grabs, and you build trust as a safe person who won’t make them feel stupid when they share their thinking process. You could use the old draw-popsicle-sticks method, or a seating chart randomizer like Smart Seat, or just a check list to make sure you get to all the students. Best of all, you still have the prerogative to stack the deck whenever you want- pretend that the name of the student who’s goofing off randomly came up, or the struggling learner that you know got this one right. Use this to everyone’s advantage- you’re the professional here!
- Incorporate low threshold activities where everyone can participate right away. This slide show from Middle Tennessee Math Teachers has lots of great links. (By the way, I LOVE “What do you notice, What do you wonder?” It can elicit great things I haven’t thought of, especially when we celebrate everyone’s contributions.)
- Warn struggling students that you’ll be calling on them next, so they are not blindsided and can pay closer attention to the question.
- Start simple. There’s no reason you can’t turn the lead-in review information into a question. Call on your struggling learners for that one.
- String them along. Don’t let them be wrong! Break it down into the small steps, rather than just asking for the answer.
- Ask them questions you know they know the answer to! Perhaps you’ve been circulating around the classroom and already glanced at their paper. Or maybe it was the problem you just complimented or helped them with.
And above all, celebrate, celebrate, celebrate! Rejoice in everyone’s contributions. Find the good thinking underneath the incorrect answer. Treat them like their comment has made your day. To me, it’s a real triumph to see the shy or downtrodden student come around to participate in math class.