A few weeks ago I stumbled across the idea of a hint token. Think of it as a get out jail free card, but for the classroom. While working on a task, groups can trade one for a hint from me.
Loving this idea, I immediately went to implement it. This, I thought, would be a great way to give students more ownership over their learning and hopefully learn to rely more on one another. The first time around we were studying sequences and I gave each group two hint tokens in the form of Jolly Ranchers (thanks Sam).
What happened was something unexpected: no tokens were used.
They may have simply wanted to eat the candy afterwards, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t doubt it. That said, what was most impressive was how they worked interdependently to solve the problems. I was essentially ignored.
Afterwards, I realized how empowered I was. The kids need me far, far less than I think. Understanding something and feeling something are very different phenomena. I’ve always known that my students should need me less, but I now know how that feels. It’s incredible. I even communicated this to the kids and saw the realization in their faces. They felt the same way.
This experience has had a dramatic affect on my teaching. What’s ironic about this is that you’d think I would move to incorporate hint tokens every day. The thing is, I’m not. Instead, I ensure that students have the opportunity to own their learning and sit longer in each other’s thoughts. It usually consists of 10 minutes of focused, small-group discussion and productive struggle during every lesson (I have 42 minutes class periods). During this time, I provide no any assistance of any kind.
As a result, it’s common for me to pull up next to a group, watch and listen. Before, they would be inclined to ask me something simply because they could. Now, they forget I’m even there. I silently assess their thinking the entire time – which reminds me of a live version of video-based PD.
It’s a win for everyone. They purposefully and interdependently think through a problem, which spurs engagement and ownership, and I get valuable insight into their thinking that serves as a driving force for the rest of the lesson…and beyond.
Thank you hint tokens. Thank you for facilitating this change in the culture of my classroom.
I’m left thinking that this shift may be directly related the class chemistry I’ve developed this year – which has cultivated a willingness to learn and explore amongst the kids. In other words, the tokens could have simply been what I needed use in order to realize the new path that learning is taking in my class. I don’t know. Maybe next year I will need the tokens. We’ll see.