Many students enter mathematics classrooms with a sense of trepidation. For some, their discomfort reflects a larger sense of detachment from school. They may not feel welcomed because of the gaps they experience navigating between their home language or culture and the expectations at school. The social milieu of school may make them feel like an outcast, as they see peers who seamlessly “fit in” while they remain on the outside. Unlike the sports field, their community center, or the stage, academic settings may make them feel untalented and incompetent. For other students, school itself is fine, but there is a distinct dread upon entering math class. Math has never made sense—or it made sense when it involved whole numbers, but as soon as the variables showed up, all hope was lost. A standardized test score that deemed them “below grade level” may have demoralized them. They may get messages at home that “we’re not good at math,” setting up any potential success as familial disloyalty. For some students, they love the subject, but must contend with others who do not see them as fitting their ideas of “a math person.” They have to combat stereotypes constantly to be seen as a legitimate participant in the classroom, as they defy expectations.
In his most recent book, The Curious Classroom, Harvey “Smokey” Daniels dives deep into the who what where why whens and hows of student-directed inquiry. With each chapter, he lays out the next step in a ten-rung ladder to help you get your class from zero to inquiry as quickly as possible.
We wanted to know more about why student-directed inquiry is good for kids, and what teachers and schools have to gain from this approach to learning, so we asked him! Here’s what he had to say:
Like many English teachers, grading essays remains the part of my job that I enjoy the least. It isn’t just because of the time it consumes or the drudgery it involves. It’s because I’m afraid I’m going to do harm to a student writer under my care.
Years ago, my oldest son was in my sophomore honors English class filled with many of his friends. These were kids I had watched grow up since the second grade, kids who spent time at my house, played in my backyard, making crazy zombie movies that disturbed the neighbors, and now traveled with us to debate tournaments early on Saturday mornings. Perhaps because of my long connection to this group of kids, I put extra effort into grading these students’ essays, spending many Saturdays marking errors and giving copious feedback while I waited to judge rounds at debate tournaments. I knocked myself out for these kids.
Small Changes, Big Differences: In this series, Meg Lemke interviews leading thinkers in education to ask them what small changes can make the biggest difference in student learning.
“When you know where you are going, it’s easier to get there,” says Samantha Bennett, literacy expert and professional development leader. We asked her to name one small change she thinks could make a big difference in education. Her answer: “planning backwards.” It’s a concept that may seem obvious—we do it every day, walking out of the door. You need to think about where you want to go, and then set your direction to get there. But what is intuitive can be trickier in execution. By the time we get to classrooms, we’re still too often getting lost.