Adapted from Thinking Together by Rozlynn Dance & Tessa Kaplan.
We've all been there. Teaching elementary school math can be unpredictable and challenging, but you're not alone. The most important thing is to promote a respectful, compassionate community of learners and know that it gets easier. Here are a few tips and tricks that keep us going when the going gets tough.
What do I do when a student keeps saying "You're wrong!"?
If you hear a student say something disrespectful such as “You’re wrong,” ask them if they can rephrase it in a more respectful way. Directing students to the sentence stems posted in the room is a great resource for rephrasing disagreements respectfully. If a student persists with this kind of disrespectful talk, have a one-on-one conversation with them about how their comments affect their classmates. You might ask them to apologize and spend some time reflecting on what they might say next time instead.
What do I do when students have trouble retelling or repeating thinking?
When students struggle to rephrase their classmates’ thinking, encourage them to think of a question they can ask to help clarify what the student sharing is trying to say. Ask, “What questions can we ask ________ to better understand [his/her] thinking?”
You may also want the first student to share again, or you may want to provide more time for your students if you notice that they are not able to repeat. Another option is to call on a different student to rephrase thinking, encouraging the student who is struggling to listen carefully to another student’s rephrasing. You can then then ask the initial student to try again to rephrase something in their own words. Practicing retelling/rephrasing with other topics of discussion also helps the kids become more familiar with this routine.
It can also help to remind students that you will be asking them to retell their class- mate’s thinking before the student shares. You might say, “Remember, after Sasha is done sharing, I am going to ask you to turn to your partner and tell them how Sasha solved the problem.” This can help students focus and think more deeply about their classmate’s strategy as it is being shared.
What do I do when one student keeps taking over during turn and talks?
When this happens, you may need to have a conversation with this partner pair, giving them strategies to use to help them remember to take turns. You might suggest that the more talkative partner always talk second even if the teacher assigns a different partner to talk first. You might also keep this group seated close to you on the carpet so that you can give quick reminders during turn and talk times that one student needs to wrap up so that the other one has time to talk.
Giving each partner a specific and equal amount of time to talk can also help prevent one student from taking over. Turn and talks are very important in our math discussions and require a lot of modeling. Praising those partnerships that are equitable with talking and listening tends to encourage others to do the same.
What do I do when students call out the answer to a question?
Especially at the beginning of the year, there can be a lot of thinking “thieves” who call out the answer before some students have even read the problem. When this happens, calmly remind these students of your expectations and why they are important. This behavior will decrease and you continue to build community and place emphasis on everyone’s right to learn, but once in a while there is a student who gets so excited they can’t help themselves. Often, the students begin to reinforce this expectation among themselves, and more often than not our students who tend to call out the answer are conquered by peer pressure.
What do I do when a student laughs at someone’s mistake?
If there is a respectful community created in your classroom that celebrates mistakes, this doesn’t happen often, but if you find a student laughing at a mistake, you might invite them to leave the math community and then talk to them personally about how they would feel if someone treated them this way. With behavior like this, be firm and direct with students. Explain that laughing at someone’s mistakes is not acceptable in the classroom and that there will be consequences if the behavior continues. It is crucial that the class understands that mistakes are a wonderful thing that should be shared in order for us to grow our brains.
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Learn more about Thinking Together at Heinemann.com
Rozlynn Dance is a first grade teacher in Federal Way, Washington with more than a decade of elementary classroom experience. She has worked closely with colleagues developing curriculum and providing mathematical professional development for K–5 teachers. Follow her on Twitter @RozlynnDance
Tessa Kaplan is a K–6 Instructional Coach in Shoreline, Washington who is passionate about helping young children truly believe in themselves as mathematicians. She has 10 years of classroom teaching experience in public schools in Brooklyn and Washington State. Follow her on Twitter @TessaKaplan84