When Two Heads Are Better Than One
Jamie Walker, posted April 24, 2017 —
Hearing students whine about math being hard is
akin to hearing nails on a chalkboard. Because it drove me crazy, I decided to
head it off.
At the beginning of the school year, we have a
little conversation about how math is hard. I start by acknowledging my
students’ feelings. “Math is hard. I
get it. I found math to be challenging in school.” I can see the confusion on
their faces as they realize that their teacher just said that math was
challenging for her. However, I follow it up with an explanation. “It was that
challenge that made it so great. You know that feeling when you finally get
something that was hard, that wonderful aha! moment? I love that feeling, and that is why I fell in love with math. I love
a good challenge, but I also know that I can’t always do it alone. In here when
things get hard, we work together to find answers, and we help each other
learn.” In a society that values the individual, this can be a difficult
concept to get across to students. It is my job to help my students learn to
Collaboration is extremely
beneficial. Through collaboration, students are introduced to another valuable
resource: their friends. Together, students can learn from one another and
deepen their understanding. Collaborative learning values a good argument. It
allows students to test their theories, validate their conclusions, and
critique the reasoning of others. However, collaboration is a skill
that must be learned. In this post, I will discuss some strategies for
encouraging productive collaboration.
How is your classroom set up? If you wish to
promote discussions and collaborative learning, your classroom set up should
lend itself to this. Think about what type of collaboration you would like to
promote. If you prefer whole-class discussions, perhaps it would be best to
shape the classroom into a giant U. This gives all students an equal seat at
the table. If you use such partnering strategies as “think, pair, share,”
pushing desks into groups of two will facilitate partner discussions.
Mixed-ability pairing is also a useful strategy.
Research shows that both high-achieving and low-achieving students benefit from
peer tutoring, but only if the abilities are not too far apart. If the gap
between students is too large, it can result in frustration for one or both. It
can also result in one student just giving the other the answer. This situation
requires closely monitoring students; step in to help guide discussions when
necessary. Remind them not to simply answer for the other student, but to help
the other student find the answer. Model this behavior, and have them try it.
Collaboration can truly challenge your
students. If the activity is just a little beyond their skill set, the students
will need the assistance of their group to complete the task. This sets the
stage for valuable discussions. Inevitably, one group will be uncomfortable
with this format and seek out guidance from me. Rather than doing a
mini-lecture, I ask guided questions to help students formulate a theory. Once
they have a theory, let the group critique the theory or further justify it.
When working with groups,
it helps to give the students well-defined roles within the grouping to promote
accountability and equality. I usually place one student in charge who is
responsible for making sure that everyone is working at the same pace and that no one is falling
behind. It is also useful to have one person make sure that everyone has been
given a chance to speak. This will facilitate more balanced discussions and
In my posts, I have discussed the value of a
good argument in a math class. To have a proper discussion, there must be
collaboration. Although a little competition can be a good thing, I prefer a
classroom in which students are working together to overcome a challenge. Anything
worth achieving in life will be challenging. I want my students to not only build
resources so that they become resilient when faced with a challenge but also actively
seek out challenges in school and in life.
Jamie Walker, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a mathematics teacher at
Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, Illinois, where she teaches algebra
1 and geometry in a 1:1 environment. She shares literacy strategies on her
webpage http://mathematicsplusreading.weebly.com/ and tweets from @walkerjamielynn.
Walker has a passion for increasing literacy in mathematics and works to
collaborate and share on the Twittersphere.