Student Voice and Building Classroom Norms

Last week, I wrote about Pair Drawings, one of my favorite ways to establish classroom norms at the beginning of the school year.

Starting on the first day of school, I want my students to know these two fundamental norms. (1) Learning mathematics is a collaborative effort. It’s something we do together; it’s not something that I do to you. (2) How you respond to frustration when you’re struggling reveals more about your talents and character than your ability to avoid struggling altogether.

Simply telling my students these norms won’t be as effective as having them practice these norms and uncover them for themselves by reflecting on their experiences. That’s why I appreciate Pair Drawings so much.

But the learning students make from this activity won’t endure unless we do two things:

1. Allow students to see themselves reflected in these norms.
2. Post a physical, visual reminder of the classroom norms in the right place.

Here’s a way to do that.

Pair Drawings: An Activity to Build Classroom Norms

Welcome back math nerds!

This is my favorite time of year. Clean slate, clean classrooms, fresh ideas, and refreshing optimism. I also love this time of year because I love building classroom norms and setting the tone for the classroom culture that is necessary for productive and rich mathematical thinking and discourse.

Starting on the first day of school, I want my students to know these norms:

Learning mathematics is a collaborative effort. It’s something we do together; it’s not something that I do to you. 

How you respond to the frustration of struggling reveals more about your talents and character than your ability to avoid struggling altogether.

But I don’t want to tell my students these norms; I want them to practice these norms and uncover them for themselves by reflecting on their experiences.

“Pair Drawings” is one of three activities I use in the classroom to build culture and outline norms at the beginning of the school year.

Which Passion Describes You Best?

I facilitate a lot of lesson studies, lead workshops, and orchestrate other professional learning opportunities with teachers around the country. I’ve learned that teaching is a professional and personal act of passion. We teach who we are, and we have deeply held cultural beliefs about our work. Teaching is an action that is informed by our beliefs, and before any good, productive professional learning can happen, we need to hold space to share these personal beliefs with each other.

I often start my work by having teachers reflect on their passions and identity as a teacher. In the past, I’ve used the National School Reform Faculty’s document called Passion Profiles, but I’ve found the document has some limitations. So I created my own based on their amazing work and my experiences of what works.

I’ve inserted the full activity in this post.

What do you think? Is this valuable to you as a teacher? As a facilitator or leader? How can we make this better? Feedback welcomed. Please share your thoughts in the comment section or keep the conversation going on Twitter (@mathgeek76).

Hector and Our Greatest Professional Dilemma

What do we do when the needs of our students conflict with the mandates of our profession?

I share this dilemma because I think it’s important that we do so as educators. Too often, we privatize our experiences in isolated silos, unwilling to expose our sense of conflict and turmoil as we navigate the messy dilemmas inherent in our work.

Failure seems safer when no one is watching. We need to have the courage to make failure cheap.

Beyond the Blame Game

A friend and I were reflecting over a beer at Twitter Math Camp in July about how to get more elementary teachers to attend this amazing conference.  (Click here to know more!)

He’s an inspirational colleague with a background in special education at the elementary and middle school level.  We were talking about content knowledge.  He said, “My ability to teach math has always been limited by my lack of content knowledge beyond middle school.”  After pondering a beat, I replied, “Me too.”  Knowing my teaching experience, he leaned back with a skeptical smirk and looked askance at me.  I continued…

The Objectives of Objectives, Part Three: Joy

One of the reasons why we teach is because we want our students to experience the JOY of mathematics. Mathematics should be about questioning, wondering, and the joy of discovery…and math classes should leave students wanting to know more math and do more math thinking. We cannot build an appreciation of math through content standards alone. Math classes should be filled with opportunities for students to have voice and a choice. At the very least, they need a voice in making meaning of problems and a choice in how they go about seeking a pathway to a solution.

But sometimes we (or our textbooks) squash all the joy out of a math lesson. We rob them of their right to notice math things, wonder about math ideas, or do messy math stuff. And lessons that focus on “measurable outcomes” with “explicitly defined objectives” often euthanize mathematical curiosity.

The Objective of Objectives, Part Two: Headache First

Welcome back Math Geeks! I’ve been thinking a lot about the objectives of lesson objectives, and I’m committing to writing a series posts to spark a conversation. I’m curious about how you frame lesson objectives to maximize student thinking, and I invite you to tell me. If you missed my first post about ways to make the learning objective an invitation and not a mandate, I encourage you to check it out here.

Dan Meyer has written extensively about the importance of creating intellectual need in the mathematics classroom. If we are going to ask students to use mathematics to solve problems, we need to let students internalize problems through inquiry and exploration BEFORE we teach them the mathematics. As Dan suggests, if math is the aspirin, then how do we create the headache?

The Objective of Objectives, Part One: Invite

Why we teach must align with how we teach. In other words, our professional identity (the reasons why we became teachers in the first place) must be congruent with our choices and our practices in the classroom. When purpose and practice are not aligned, both teachers and students waste energy fighting needless friction in the classroom and learning suffers.

One habit where I continue to see a misalignment between purpose and practice centers on how we post, frame, communicate lesson objectives to our students. All teachers want students to be inspired, motivated, engaged, and curious, yet I’ve witnessed a lot of teachers euthanize student intellect by spending the first 5 minutes of a lesson reading aloud and unpacking a lesson objective that is written on the board.