In these initial phases, we are teaching kids how to reflect. To look over their week and explain certain images where they learned, wondered, or were confused about. Many have never been asked to “reflect”, especially in math. As we begin this year, we are trying to introduce this and make it a habit. The hope is that the mathematical language becomes stronger and the thinking becomes deeper and meaningful to understanding concepts better.
How can we help student refocus on understanding versus just an answer?
Too often when we pose a problem and students shout out an answer. We need to ask ourselves do students understand the concept or are they obtaining the correct answer by fitting the symbols and numbers into a structure they know?
In this example, the anchor task was to subtract 34 from 87. The teacher wanted to screen the children first wondering, Do students know what it means to subtract one number from another? To find out more the teacher posted the following problem, removing the numbers.
Do students have the conceptual understanding or just fit the numbers into a given structure?
Students were asked to set up the expression that could represent the situation. The student A on the far right was the only student in the class that seemed to understand. When asked to explain his thinking, many observing teachers felt he understood the concept and that he gave us a platform to generate a discussion.
Do students understand the part-whole relationship here?
Following this analysis, the numbers were inserted into the problem. Subtract 34 from 87. It was interesting to see student A’s work. Much to our surprise, Student A who seemed to understand the concept had a hard time transferring that knowledge to another situation. Notice his equation is not correct but he gets the final answer.
Can student A transfer knowledge from one setting to the next? Look and listen to help guide students to conceptual understanding. Looking at answers does not tell us the whole story.
Less is more. Spend more time on conceptual understanding and listening and watching students versus solving more problems. The answer does not help assess student reasoning or how we can extend or guide the learning process.