In this episode for teachers, listen as Steve is joined by professors, Ann Monroe, Joel Amidon, & instructional coach, Candies Cook to discuss how to best promote students being doers of mathematics. Read “Shame, Shame, Go Away: Fostering Productive Struggle with Mathematics” here.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with teachers in and out of their classroom settings. I have a great respect for the complexity of teaching and I know that all great teachers are continuous learners. I invite you to join me as I explore my thoughts and insights on a variety of topics, connected to teaching and learning. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:33 Promoting students being doers of mathematics. On the podcast today, we’re joined by three educators who authored an article titled “Shame, Shame, Go Away: Fostering Productive Struggle with Mathematics.” I’m excited that all three were able to join us here on the call today. We have Ann Monroe and Joel Amidon from the university of Mississippi and Candies Cook, a math instructional coach who is currently in the doctoral program. When I read their article, I dropped a note right off to them and I was so pleased that they were able to join us. So welcome folks.
Joel: 01:08 Thank you.
Steve: 01:10 Joel, I’m wondering if you could start off our conversation by describing the term you use in the article “Doers of Mathematics.”
Joel: 01:21 You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, actually. I’ve been reading a book by Mandy Jansen called “Rough Draft Math,” and she puts it really well. And she talks about this idea of bringing this idea of rough drafts into the math classroom. So you can think about unfinished thinking rather than finished thinking. And her main thing is thinking about it as math is participatory. Like, we’re going to do this together and we’re going to be doing mathematics. And I think the thing about a lot of the language you hear and, and, and kind of talks about this when she talks about shame is it’s either you are a math person or you’re not. And it’s like, our argument is like, everyone is a doer of mathematics. If you’re breathing, you’re inherently a doer of mathematics. And the fact that we can create structures in our classrooms so everyone is doing mathematics, participating in mathematics, that is what we’re looking for. And we’re all – even as the teachers, we’re all just different levels of doers and knowers of mathematics and by interacting with each other, we’re all going to get better versus me being on my own and figuring out am I in or am I out of this elusive math club? No, no, no, we’re all in it and we’re all doing and that’s the kind of culture we want to foster within our classrooms.
Steve: 02:32 Candies, I’m wondering if you could jump into that culture that Joel’s just described there and as a math coach, what is it that you are seeing and hearing kids do that kind of reinforces we’re going to get to the outcomes we want? I’ll give you a term that I use is, student learning production behaviors. So I’m big on getting teachers to look at what it is I want kids to learn and then figure out what is it that students do that generates the learning. So I’m wondering as a coach, when you go into classrooms and you’re watching students, what is it you’re looking to see and hear students doing that tells us we’re moved in this direction. What does that engagement look like and sound like? Because engagement’s a word I find people use way too broadly. You know, I can have students who are quiet and moving a pencil, but I’m not sensing that’s what you’re necessarily talking about in engagement.
Candies : 03:33 Okay. So when I’m thinking about engagement it’s like, are the students engaged in discussions in the classroom? Are they able to explain the mathematics behind what they’re doing? Are they able to help each other with the math? Generally I can see if a student is off task or acting out or that type of thing. That’s kind of how I know when students are disengaged. And so we want to make sure that all students are able to contribute whatever that looks like – contribute to the classroom engagement when it, when they are working with teachers.
Steve: 04:09 Ann, you kind of brought the shame component into the work in the article. What does shame look like when it shows up for students Ann and what would you see teachers doing when they recognize that that’s present?
Ann: 04:28 Yeah. I think for children who feel like that they are not where their classmates are, when they start to size themselves up, that becomes a problem. And so when there’s comparisons made about skill level, that can produce shame in the classroom. And so children, the behavior that a teacher would look for would be avoidance. Avoiding doing the mathematics. Sometimes, like what Candies said, sometimes that manifests itself in off task behaviors. Sometimes children manifest that with being disruptive because the disruption can create avoidance. You know, they’re disrupting instead of participating. Sometimes that shame can be demonstrated in withdrawal. Students withdraw from the activity or the – and it’s, you know, avoidance, withdrawal have similarities but they’re two different pathways away from shame. So, you know, withdrawal could be turning inward not communicating, looking maybe like they don’t want to be bothered. So these things are things that teachers can look for and they’re signs that a student is feeling shame and that shame means that the child feels that they’re not worthy, that they’re not able, there’s a diminished sense of self worth that comes with shame. And so we want to make sure that we take action as a teacher. How do we pull that child back in, right? How do we get them back into the community of doers as Joel was talking about. And it’s it’s about acknowledging what they bring to the table.
Ann: 05:58 Valuing what they have. It doesn’t have to be what everybody else has. It should be different from what everybody else brings to the table. And teachers who value those differences, value the little comments a student makes, values the different way of solving something. Even if it’s a little off track, they thought of a different way. It’s using those encouraging and positive words. And it seems simple. It’s what good teach teachers do anyway. And they probably don’t even realize that they’re helping in that way and helping a child have a way to very painful and destructive emotion.
Steve: 06:34 You just brought back a a painful experience for me that I have to mark as a part of my shame. I was a first year teacher and a student, a struggling student in my class was refusing to do the work that I had that I had laid out for him to do. And I walked up to him and said, James, you can do this work now, or you can head to the principal’s office. And with that, he reached down, picked up his stuff and said, “see you later, Mr. Barkley” and headed into the principal’s office. And little did I know that sitting in the principal’s office was a whole lot easier than sitting there in my classroom because of what it was that I had created. It was a hard way for a first year teacher. When the principal came up to me later and asked me why James was in the office. And I said, because he wants to be I guess.
Ann: 07:33 I think we all have those first year teaching stories.
All: 07:35 [laughter]
Steve: 07:40 So guys, there’s a couple of words that I pulled out of your your article that I’m asking you to respond to. You talked about fun in mathematics, you talked about authentic problems. Anybody want to just jump in, kind of respond to those?
Joel: 07:57 I’ve got some. So, a lot of times I talk about a good problem and it’s a problem in something without a known solution path. So not the exercises that we have – all the FOILing, expanding and factoring, like, you know, where you had to do 50 of them. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a messy problem. If you want to find examples, we put a lot of examples of where to find those types of problems in the article. But so a place like Illustrative Mathematics has, you know, these like messy type problems where there’s a lot of different ways that you can go about solving them. And then it becomes not the answer becoming the goal, but it is about seeing what’s all the different thinking. What’s all the different ways. So even just a quick example, if we’re all to come up with how we’re going to add up in our heads, 26+15, some of us are going to say, well, that’s 25+15 and add one.
Joel: 08:50 Some are going to say, I’m going to add the 10, and I’m going to add the five or vice versa. It’s just interesting, all the different ways people are thinking. So now we’re valuing the difference in diversity of the ways that people are solving that problem. And so it is kind of like, oh, like, you know, you came up with a different way. And like, so now kids are thinking of how – what are some different ways that I can think about solving this problem, but then also too, they’re thinking about, well, how does that way that they did it make sense? And so all this communication – it becomes kind of fun. I had a student teacher who didn’t buy anything that I was selling during my methods class. She’s like, messy problems, I don’t get it. That’s not how I learned it, that’s not successful I’m going to do the way I know.
Joel: 09:32 And then for some reason, I have no idea, she just tried once. So just tried something where she’s like looking for some solutions and she saw her class erupt. Like she had to like cut it down, like, we’ll come back to it after recess. And she’s like, I’m sorry, but like, that was the funnest lesson I’ve ever had just because I opened up and we had these messy sort of tasks in order to attack as a class. And it was addicting. And so there is that sense of fun. There is that sense of like, ooh, I wonder what’s gonna happen with the thinking of my kids beause they’re brilliant and they just might have different ways of thinking.
Ann: 10:06 And one of the things Steve, so Joel is talking about fun and then the authentic piece, and this is a vignette that was mentioned in the article was, this was prior to all of my first year teaching mistakes, Steve. This is when I was student teaching and I was student teaching with a fifth grade math teacher. And he, every year, the fifth grade at the school went on a big trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia at this environmental camp at the university of Georgia Hill. And it was a big deal and the students always looked forward to it, but they had to raise their own money to go. And so he incorporated their project to raise money, their class project into a huge math project. And so the kids took over, they sold poinsettias at Christmas.
Ann: 10:58 And they did all of it. They had to figure out the calculation of how many they needed to order based on last year’s projections. They did, you know, how much should they charge this year, what are the costs. And so they all have the math involved in working out how to go to this camp they were so motivated to go to. And so this type of authentic problem is amazing. We worked for weeks on this and it was what we did and in the mathematics classroom, in Mr. Goodson’s mathematics classroom. And this was my opportunity to see real, authentic learning prior to me having my own classroom, which was great. I still made a lot of those first year mistakes, but it was, it was sort of that little seed was planted in, this is how you get students motivated. And this is how you get everyone involved. Everyone was involved, people had roles, they worked in groups and everyone was active. Everyone was participating and they were doing, even though they may not have realized what they were doing. And it was that authentic setting that provided the motivation, the constant exercises in mathematics, the constant talking about and communicating and manipulating the content in all sorts of different ways.
Candies : 11:55 Yeah. I was just going to say both of those examples there to me was going back to making, learning relevant for the students. So having those open ended problems or having those problem based projects where the students to work on and having math in different ways and not just, let’s just say, not just focusing on adding or not just focusing on subtracting, like, having it incorporated throughout those projects are good ways to me to have the students be engaged and make it fun and relevant. And another way too is doing gamification in class. So that was always a way to just make it fun and relevant for the kids.
Joel: 12:54 Candies was, before she was instructional coach, she was one of our best clinical instructors for our student teachers. And so Ann had also had a story about a clinical instructor and thinking about as teachers, we also have a role not only to our students that are in our classrooms, but also to those, if you have a chance to have a student teacher to come in to model the kinds of teaching that we’re talking about here to show them in a scaffolded way. Because it’s really tough as a first year teacher, like all of a sudden, if I’ve never seen it before, do this kind of instruction to model that kind of thing, to show that sort of addictive nature, that fun, that can be in those authentic problems. I mean, Candies, I have an example right in my head. We can both think of that one person who was a little bit leery of mathematics, entered into Candies’ classroom, saw the kinds of math that she was doing, the kind of math that we talked about in the article and is now a math teacher in that district. And like, it’s great that sort of modeling that role. That’s a very important role, that clinical instructor role.
Steve: 13:53 So Candies, I’m gonna put you on the spot here a little bit. I’m imagining in your work as an instructional coach, you’re going to meet the elementary teacher who tells you she doesn’t like math. And I’m wondering what you see as your instructional coach approach with that.
Candies : 14:13 I would definitely have a conversation and ask them to tell me more about what is it that they don’t like about math. What do you not like about math? Because we do math every day. Like Dr. Amidon said, without even really thinking about it. So I will kind of try to figure out what it is that they don’t like. And I would think on it just a little bit more, but try to figure out what it is that they don’t like about math, because we all do it every single day.
Steve: 14:42 It’s sounding that it’s a lot like dealing with the student who’s saying that. It’s just now kind of multiplied.
Joel: 14:52 I mean, I get that with my math methods class where students are coming in and thinking like, well, either they had bad experiences with math or think I’m never going to teach math and like, I just wanted to get through this thing. Versus, you know, thinking about like, they have this idea of, of caring for their kids and wanting to wanting to be there for them as a teacher, right? But then they’re saying like, I don’t want to deal with mathematics. And like, the way for you to love on your kids is to teach good mathematics. And that that relationship that you have with mathematics might not necessarily be with mathematics, but just this small slice of how you’ve experienced mathematics. And there’s this whole other huge slice of mathematics that you’ve never seen before. And hopefully we get to expose them to it. Hopefully they get to see what their clinical instructors, and then they get to see like, you know, what mathematics, my relationship with mathematics was very narrow and now it’s big and rich and yeah, there’s some parts that are a little bit scary, but that’s part of the journey. It’s this struggle to get through it and just see like, that’s the joy. There could be joy in that struggle. It doesn’t have to be shame.
Steve: 15:50 I’m almost thinking that that person would have the potential to be an outstanding teacher for their students. You know what I mean? It’s like a real sense of empathy.
Joel : 16:03 Absolutley.
Steve: 16:03 I’ve got kids who are sitting here with that same thought in mind and so working myself through that process, may be just what it takes to work the kids through it.
Ann: 16:16 I find working with pre-service teachers, a lot of them are motivated to be a teacher because they had a bad experience and they want to be that good experience for students. It’s just like you’re saying Steve, that you know, I can make a difference. I can let my children have a different experience in my classroom than what I had. And I find that to be a big motivating factor for a lot of our pre-service teachers that go through our programs. When we talk with them about what, why is it that you want to be a teacher, hat’s your motivation? And a lot of them say, I want children in my classroom to have a better experience than I had in school and I want to be that positive influence.
Steve: 16:53 Candies, I also noted that you talked a little bit about rethinking math homework. I wondered if you had a talk about that a little bit.
Candies : 17:02 Yeah. So this whole idea of just having math problems and then just working it. It kind of just reminds me of when Dr. Amidon and Dr. Monroe and I have talked previously about thinking of homework as just like practice, you know? So when you’re in a sport, you don’t, I mean, you always have to practice right before you actually play the game. So thinking about homework and that aspect of this is just our time to practice. If you get, you know, get a right, okay. If you don’t get it right, okay. But when you bring it back to class, have those questions ready for me about what it is, what was your point of confusion. So at what point did you stop understanding what to do next? So I’m thinking about how work as practice for this game that you’re going to play and thinking about math is kind of like a sport. So that’s what I would say, redefining homework is. Versus just trying to get all of these answers to some problems.
Steve: 17:50 It’s a learning task rather than work to be done. Just like your music teacher asking you to practice these scales for 10 repetitions. It’s that work getting done. It’s that engagement in the task that causes the learning.
Joel : 18:23 Yeah and no coach in a practice is going to say, okay, do this for the first time on your own, but do it perfectly. Like, that’s ridiculous. And like, for people that like, you know, grade homework on their correct answers and things like, no, we want you to attempt and we want to expose your thinking so we can all expose our thinking so we can all get better. And that, I mean, you know, that’s the aim, right? That we’re again doing it, doing the mathematics and like we’re doing it together so we can get better together.
Steve: 18:44 Well, guys, thank you so much for joining me. I will put a link to your article into the lead in I’ll also put your email addresses so folks can get in touch with you. I I’ve just done a lot of coaching work in schools and I know that there are a lot of students who are missing out on opportunities because they haven’t dug in to math at a level that allows them to see that it’s just like approaching any other tasks that they want to learn. You know, if I want to be a better writer, if I want to be a better historian, there’s a task I dig in and tackle. If I want to be a better musician or athlete, there’s a task I dig in. And I just see a really strong need for us to to create that same opportunity for kids in mathematics and I appreciate what you guys have done.
Joel : 19:54 Thank you.
Ann: 19:55 Thanks for having us, Steve.
Steve: 19:57 You bet. Thanks for joining me.
Steve [Outro]: 20:01 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.