I don’t see these two ideas on opposite ends of a continuum and hope to go further this year in incorporating both into my teaching. The vast majority of my students speak a language other than English at home (head nod to Mandarin) and on occasion I’ve replayed the blank looks from earlier classes wondering where our paths diverted. Countless possibilities exist but, time after time, language is found as a culprit. I can be vague. My language, which may work just fine in the States, leaves ambiguity in its meaning. As a result, students are unsure. This can result in directions repeated a second or third time as I change words to find those that suits the student.
At the end of last school year, Krista and I sat down to a large project focused on the direction (or process) words used in academics. Beginning with first grade standards, we trudged through picking out those words not tied to specific content but found across subject areas. I was actually quite surprised at the number of words found in the elementary standards that my middle schoolers struggle with. This year, I plan to be explicit regarding these words. (A few recent content-specific preassessments again found issues with the process words. Asking students to first highlight words they do not fully understand before asking for assistance revealed many colored direction word.) My word wall has started. I can make sure that students have strong understandings in the words that provide expectations.
At the same time, I hope to follow Dan Meyer’s motto of be less helpful. Former students have expressed frustration from time to time regarding my habit of answering their question with another question but I feel as if there are more areas to remove layers of support.
- More student design of experiments
- Embrace struggle. Let more time pass before providing assistance.
- Continue using rich problems that allow students to find various entry points and pathways.
There will be plenty of times where the need is to be explicit or the need is to be less helpful. The challenge is to find the balance and to make that split second decision.