Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Let your students become the teachers!

Today I had a great day during math class.  The reason - I sat on a table and observed.  This is the view from my table.  Isn't it beautiful?  Let me tell you what is happening, or rather, let me tell you what happened before this picture to get me to my state of bliss.

It all began last week.  I set out on the task to teach my 4th grade students two digit by two digit multiplication (34 X 56=).  It was hard!  And I came home everyday exhausted!  I explicitly taught them the why and the how of two digit multiplication.  I began with a good Common Core lesson using area models on graph paper, then arrays on white paper.  Then I showed them the connection between the models and arrays and expanded algorithms,  and I'm not going to even attempt to explain here.  We covered all the strategies listed in the Common Core Standards for math to prepare them for the formula I would be teaching today.

So I began today modeling on the whiteboard how to multiply problems like 45 X 33 =.  There was regrouping involved and as I showed them all the steps I drowned them with all the appropriate academic vocabulary.  After I modeled a few, and had them do the problems with me on their own whiteboards, I began to back off.  I did half the problem with them and invited them to individually finish the problem.  Some were successful, some not yet.   Then I began letting them do the whole problem.  As they finished, they held their board up and I would excuse them to come to the front of the class.  These successful students then became the teacher.  I enacted a system in which students who wanted me to check their answer raised their hand, and those that needed help from the "student teacher" stood up.  All of a sudden there was structured chaos all over the classroom as there were "teachers" running over to help their friends with hands raised and myself running over to keep up with the students who were "getting it" all over the room.  It was beautiful, fun, and exhilarating.

I kept teaching with this model of instruction until more than half the class became "student teachers".  Then I told that select group to come up to the front of the room.  I said that we would play a game, a game of teacher and scholar.  The objective was for the teacher to buddy up with a student and teach that student the material.  The challenge, if that student could successfully complete a similar problem by themselves after 10 minutes, than both student and teacher would get table points.  The battle was on!  The student teachers dispersed out through the classroom ready to find their scholar and impart their wisdom.  It was especially nice because since there were more teachers than scholars, some scholars had two teachers to learn from.  This is the picture that you see above.

I love this picture because if you look closely at every student everyone is engaged.   I love the scene of the three boys closest to me completely enthralled in their discussion of Common Core multiplication.  I could just imagine the one who's face is turned toward me telling his scholar, "Yes, I see your point, and next you have to regroup", or something like that.  I especially like the shot of the the two boys where one is pointing to the board as if saying, "Look at that!  You're not multiplying 1 by rather 10, that's why you must use the zero as the place holder", or something like that.  Then look at that girl in the middle of the boy with the plaid shorts and the girl with the striped shirt.  She doesn't have a chance of not learning the material with these two motivated teachers.  Observe their body language, the boy is like encouraging while the girl is like "Focus!"

This student teacher/scholar arrangement is a win/win/win for everyone in the class.  It is obvious what the scholar receives from this practice, she gets a one on one tutor to show her how to complete the problem.  She has an expert right beside her to watch her every move and not let her make a mistake that she continues making and thus forming those hard to break detrimental habits.  The student teacher also wins from this arrangement.   She gets the status of course of being an expert.  But more than that, she gets to explain to someone how to complete the problem.  Explaining is harder than one might think.  She has to know how to complete the problem, then organize the process in her brain.  She has to then come up with the correct academic vocabulary to successfully express herself.  On top of that, she has to evaluate her scholar's answer, and if wrong, figure out where the mistake is.  Being the teacher is a rigorous job!

Lastly, I get a win for the situation too.  Just look at that picture!  I'm not there at all!  I spent all week preparing my students for this lesson.  I deserve a bit of R and R!  Well, its true, but as I'm resting my tired feet, propped up on a chair, my mind is working.  I'm watching them, analyzing them.  I 'm thinking, are they ready for the next lesson or should I reteach?  How am I going to address those that don't yet get this concept after the tutoring session from their peers?  So, even if you can visualize me here, in this classroom, with my students on automatic pilot, teaching and being taught, I am still working.   A teacher never rests, even when her students become the teachers.

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