I approach a group of students discussing a problem in my class. I listen. I watch. I interpret their thinking. I sense a misconception. I ask a question to clarify what and how they are thinking. Hopefully, in the end, they reach a higher level of understanding of the problem and I reach a higher level of understanding of their comprehension.
Just like other teachers, I often do this sort of complex analysis of my students in under 10 seconds. I’ve been trained to.
That said, what if I could improve this skill I have learned over the course of my career? What if I could somehow train myself to be more attuned to student thinking?
That brings me to my next project. I’m partnering with MfA this year to bring some exciting, new PD to my school. It involves using video to record student discussion and interaction around a specific task (with no focus on the teacher). Afterwards, a group of teachers gather to watch the video, brainstorm about critical moments that occurred, interpret student thinking, and formulating questions that could be asked to clarify the thought process of the students.
It’s all based on the research by Elizabeth A. van Es and Miriam Gamoran Sherin. Here’s a follow up article they wrote on selecting clips and an overview of their work.
The idea is to slow down student thinking to the point where deep analysis can happen. My hope is that teachers at my school, along with myself, are able to use this process to improve our abilities to interpret student thinking and how we address it during our lessons.
Here are some of the challenges I foresee.
- Introducing it to teachers. You can only introduce something once and first impressions have impacts that can last until June. I must make it good.
- Teachers accepting the idea that interprepting student thinking often contains loads of uncertainty, and that this is okay. Not everything needs a final answer.
- Developing engaging prompts for the group when the conversation is lagging. This may depend on the quality of my preparation beforehand.
- I don’t see overall engagement being an issue, but you never know.
- Being able to record and edit video clips in a timely manner. Luckily, at least in the beginning, MfA will be helping with this. But how sustainable is this type of PD in the long term?
Here are a few other unrelated thoughts.
- How will teacher analysis differ if the focus is on student understanding versus misunderstanding, if at all? Does this impact “next steps” after the session?
- Speaking of next steps, how will those look?
- Can I channel teachers to certain moments in the clip based on my preparation beforehand? Would this be useful?
- I may facilitate the initial sessions, but I want to learn perspective from my colleagues about how a student may be thinking. My MfA experiences have been scintillating in this regard. There were things mentioned that I would have never thought of.
- This PD involves using video in the classroom. When most teachers think of video, they think of the teacher being recorded as s/he teaches with best practices as the center of attention. This is not that. It should be interesting to see this dynamic play out.
- Each session I’ve attended with MfA has focused on one group of students discussing a task. How would the session change if we examined multiple groups of students from different classes – all discussing the same task? How would this affect the analysis?
- This type of PD hinges on teachers understanding the content, in my case math. That notwithstanding, is there a way to run something similar that focuses on student discussion, but has a more interdisciplinary approach? Perhaps CRE/advisory?
4 thoughts on “Slowing down student thinking…learning to notice”