Welcome fellow Recovering Traditionalists to Episode 149: Things to Say Instead of IDK.
Before I start this episode I’ve decided to add a positive comments area to the podcast. With all the negativity in the world it’s nice to hear nice things and I’m no different. Plus it’s a way for me to acknowledge & share what great things you all are out there doing to help Build Math Minds. When I get emails and comments on the YouTube channel that are THANK YOUs it always brightens my day. If anything I’ve done has helped you and your students out, please email in and let us know. It’s email@example.com. This week’s positivity comes from Kelly, she wrote in saying: I can’t thank you enough for all of the work you put into making us all better at helping our kiddos. I share so much of what you have out there with all our teachers. My PD in two weeks will be loaded with ideas from your 10-day kickstart! No matter how much I listen and watch videos about math development, I am always learning and I thank you for that. Kelly I’m so glad you found the Kickstart helpful. That 10-day Number Sense Kickstart is now inside the Build Math Minds PD site for all you members to access.
In this week’s episode we are helping students know what to say when they don’t know what to say….or what to do.
I’m a big proponent of helping students discover mathematics. I don’t believe the best way to teach is to lay out the steps of an algorithm and have kids practice 30 problems doing those same steps over and over again. I mean practice is important but it’s not the best way to learn and understand.
I’ve also seen educators who do the exact opposite. They give students a math problem and let them loose to solve it without any guidance. When a student does ask for help because they aren’t sure what to do, the response from the teacher is “figure it out.”
The two ends of the spectrum seem to be “here are the exact ways to solve this problem, follow it exactly,” and “you figure it out, I’m not telling you anything.” Neither of these tend to work. Instead it’s about finding a balance between these.
We need to give some guidance, but not too much. We want them to figure out ways to solve problems on their own but we can’t let them flounder.
The book 7 Steps to a Language-Rich, Interactive Classroom by John Seidlitz & Bill Perryman gives educators, as the title says, 7 steps and the first one is: teach students what to say when they don’t know what to say.
I was struck by a part of the book when they were discussing step 1 because I saw how it relates to those educators who are trying to find the balance between giving all the steps to solve math problems or giving none of the steps and telling kids to figure it out themselves.
When reading this section I believe their 1st step is a big one to help you get your students to work on problems without your step-by-step direction.
On page 13 they write:
Rather than simply accepting the non-answer of “I don’t know,” we can instill in our students a sense of accountability and teach them how to help themselves. By encouraging students and providing support for them to simply attempt a response or action we enable them to overcome learned helplessness and really become independent learners.
However, it is not enough to just tell students to think for themselves and try harder. We need to guide our students through the language and habits of independent learners so they, too, can become independent learners. Teaching students how to acquire helpful information when they are confused – and teaching them to think about the steps involved in reaching a specific goal – gives them skills they can use inside and outside of school.
We are all looking for ways to banish “I don’t know,” “Huh?,” and “What?” from our classrooms. One simple solution is to teach students how to respond when they are unsure about an answer for a question without using “I don’t know.” There are a number of specific alternatives that can help students get past the “I don’t know” stage. Providing these alternatives, teaching students how to use them, and holding them accountable for using them creates an expectation for accountable conversation.
So instead of just telling students to go figure it out when they say they don’t know, we need to actually teach and model alternatives to I Don’t Know…or as kids say IDK.
If your students have that learned helplessness, where they are waiting for you to just tell them what to do and how to solve problems, you need to spend time actually teaching them what to do when they don’t know because they’ve never really been in that situation before. Or if they have, they know if they wait long enough the teacher will eventually give in and tell them what to do.
They go on to encourage educators to do this from the very beginning of the school year but it’s never too late to start this expectation. They show an anchor chart with examples, however the examples are more generic and some wouldn’t really apply to when your students are solving math problems. On page 15 they did give a couple of sentence stems that would be good to use during math time. Things like “I started working out the problem by _____ but was unsure what to do next.” or “I know _____, but I’m trying to figure out _____.” Those are a couple you could use but I’d like to encourage you to work with your students to figure out what things they could say, or ask for, that could help them when they want to just say “I don’t know!”
If you are a member of the Build Math Minds PD site, Rosalba made a math shorts video about the keys to effective anchor charts, so make sure you go watch that before you make an anchor chart with your students. For those of you who aren’t members, well first off you can join by going to buildmathminds.com/bmm but the biggest key to effective anchor charts is to make them WITH your students, not FOR your students. Do it as a group and my advice for this specific chart would be to give your students a math task or problem, one that you would want them to go off and work out on their own, but instead of actually working the problem, talk together as a group about what your students are asking themselves or saying to themselves when they start thinking about the problem and would some of those things be good things to put on the anchor chart? Then ask the group if anyone has a good question they ask teachers when they don’t know. Give the time and space for your students to share their own ways they think through problems and the ways they ask for help. Let them learn from each other as you work together to create an anchor chart that gives them Things to Say Instead of IDK.
Come on over to my YouTube channel at YouTube.com/buildmathminds and comment on the video for this podcast episode to let me know what your students came up with to go on their Things to Say Instead of IDK anchor chart. Come share so that other educators can hear what kids are saying helps them when they don’t know what to say or do.
Until next week my Fellow Recovering Traditionalists, keep Building Math Minds.