I appreciated many of the points brought forth in a New York Times article I read earlier this year titled, “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” The idea that has stuck with me the most is moving away from a traditional, scripted way of teaching math to providing a more discovery-based learning environment that values thinking procedures over correct/incorrect final answers.
When I was a student and endured my math classes, most of my teachers followed the traditional scripted routine that the author of the article calls “I, We, You.” After checking the homework from the previous night, the teacher shares some knowledge about a new topic (“I”), then asks students to follow along and solve problems simultaneously (“We”). Finally, the teacher assigns something like 1-50 (odds only) and provides student work time (“You”). The teacher is typically exhausted after a day because he/she is doing all of the work during the “I” and “We” time, and then he/she is scrambling during the student work time to answer questions and check responses for correctness.
I’m excited when I visit classrooms using a different pattern for teaching mathematics – “You, Y’all, We.” In this model, the teacher provides a problem for students to explore for a few minutes on their own (“You”), encouraging perseverance and risk-taking. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable response. Students then confer with classmates (“Y’all”) and try to come to a consensus. The teacher then synthesizes ideas provided by the students (“We”) and the classroom makes sense of the problem together.
In this way, teachers serve as facilitators for student-led discovery and learning, rather than providers of information.
I encourage all math teachers to move away from focusing on procedures (providing equations, giving meaningless shortcuts to solving problems) and move toward focusing on thinking routines and processes. Students should be afforded opportunities to make sense of problems on their own and with classmates, and they need to be encouraged to make connections to the world around them. Students should be prepared to think logically when a problem is presented to them; just plugging and chugging numbers into provided equations does not encourage that type of critical thinking or problem solving.
What opportunities do you provide students in your classroom to think critically and to construct meaning on their own? Would you feel comfortable acting as a facilitator rather than a provider of knowledge? What other ways might you incorporate “You, Y’all, We” into your classroom instruction?