By: Amy Bilek, Math Instructional Coach K-8 at Frances Xavier Warde School in Chicago
Math classes should be alive with debate and discussion. Good math instruction requires collaboration and communication. The 3rd Math Practice in the Common Core State Standards requires that students, “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.”
How can we foster this in our classroom, especially when we are teaching with social distancing? Whether teaching online or in a social distanced classroom, here are three ways to encourage communication between students.
1.) Assign Roles
When students have a clearly defined role which they are responsible for, there is more equal engagement in the discussion.
My favorite two roles to assign are: “the teacher” and “the skeptic.” “The teacher’s” job is to explain the given prompt in a very clear and precise way. The job of “the skeptic” is to ask questions that push the teacher to justify and prove their thinking.
I have found this structure really pushes the conversation deeper than simply students taking turns answering the questions with their partners. Any opportunity to encourage debate is great for fostering engaging mathematical discourse.
2.) Shared Workspace
When students are socially distanced, it is harder for them to collaborate on a single piece of paper. Thus, we must get creative about how they can work together on a shared workspace.
If in person, 1 student be the “recorder” and writing down ideas on a vertical white board. Using a vertical surface should hopefully allow their group members to follow along and contribute at a safe distance.
3.) Practice, Feedback, and Reflection
As with anything someone is trying to improve and grow in, the feedback cycle is so important. Students collaboration will improve if there is intentional time for self-reflection, peer feedback, and teacher feedback.
For example, when preparing to use break out rooms in a program like Zoom or doing group work face-to-face, be intentional about laying out expectations and fostering a safe, supportive classroom environment.
Then, attempt a small group discussion around a task that is visual and easily accessible to all learners, such as a Which One Doesn’t Belong question.
Following the activity, have students self-reflect and give feedback to their peers on how they were as group members. Have students continue to work on this improvement cycle by intentionally setting aside time for self-reflection, peer-feedback, and offering teacher feedback.
With practice, reflection, and consistent feedback, students’ contributions to collaborative work will continue to improve as well as you’ll see growth in their general communication and social emotion skills.
We know that working together is an essential 21st century skill and important for deepening mathematical understanding.
The many challenges of social distancing require us to be a bit more creative about how to still find opportunities for high-quality collaboration.
I hope these 3 suggestions give you some new idea you are able to try with your class!