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Dedicated to Teachers

Why Our Hints Don't Help


“Why don’t you just tell us the answer?” How often do you hear this in your math classroom?

Or this: “Oh, okay...I get it! Wait…what?”

Recently at Shadow Con, Heinemann Fellow Michael Pershan talked about how providing helpful hints to our math students is a bit of a lost art. According to Michael, there are four reasons we’re not as good at giving hints as we could be:

  1. Our hints are too vague
  2. Our hints kill thinking
  3. Our hints don’t have reasons
  4. We improvise too much

In his talk, he suggests three ways to improve the hints we give our students:

  • Add context
  • Add reasons
  • Be just specific enough

His big idea? Hints will be most effective when we take time to plan them in advance—allowing us to better address the three areas above. Watch Michael’s entire Shadow Con talk and then answer his call to action below.


Michael’s call to action:

Recognizing that your time as a teacher is limited, Michael is leading the charge to create the Internet Repository of Really Good Hints. Click here to share your most effective hints online; they’ll then be organized and published for everyone to use.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Michael Pershan is a math teacher at Saint Ann's School in New York City and a Heinemann Fellow who blogs at mathmistakes.org. Follow him on Twitter @mpershan.


Shadow Con is a teacher-led mini conference that was hosted this year during the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in Boston. Shadow Con included six talks from six speakers, each offering a provocative call to action and continuing opportunities to support other teachers with that work online. To learn more, or to watch other talks, please visit its web site.

Topics: Feedback, Heinemann Fellows, Mathematics, Math, Michael Pershan, NCTM

Date Published: 06/15/15

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