Helping students to get started, and keep going….

If I had a dollar for every time I heard “Miss, is this right?” I’d be a billionaire. Every teacher I’ve talked to has shared that this was a particularly acute issue this school year. Hands up all over the room and when I got to them, 9 times out of 10 the question was “Miss, is this right?”

I suppose after 2 years of working in an online vacuum, kids wanted to know that they were using the proper procedure before continuing with the rest of the problem set. I imagine they missed the timely feedback while they were working from home.

So how do we help to address this need for feedback without running ourselves ragged? I came up with a few different strategies this year but the key was enforcing the. Let’s get into them.

**Self-checking activities**:

Puzzles, riddles, color by number, mazes, matching activities and scavenger hunts. All of these activities are self checking and provide students with instant feedback. Students will know very quickly if they are on track, which helps them to build confidence and figure out how to move forward without teacher support.

Some of these activities are collaborative and some are individual tasks. Switching them up is key to preventing students from getting too comfortable with any one format. Any worksheet or textbook problem set can easily be turned into one of these activities, or better yet, you can find tons of them on Teachers Pay Teachers. (I have these activities and bundles of activities available on my TPT store)

Start class with a Do Now on the day’s skill, then move into one of these activities. Kids can use the example of the Do Now to get them started, and will quickly know if they’re doing it correctly or not. Whenever I use these activities, the number of hands up in the air is reduced by 90%.

**Collaborative Activities:**

Structured group work, like scavenger hunts, matching activities and collaborative rich tasks bring groups of students together to work through a problem set. With the proper structure, these collaborations will encourage students to seek clarification from each other, not you.

Begin with a rubric that sets clear expectations for how groups work together. Accountable talk stems are also helpful to guide the conversation.

Then give the group a task such as a matching activity. Students work together to solve problems and match them to their answers. If students disagree on the answer, it’s up to them to defend their thinking and figure out who is correct. Teachers should only be called over if the group is in a deadlock.

Collaborative group work is also effective with rich problems that have multiple steps and different approaches to solving them. For these problems, students can share different approaches and compare their answers.

Teachers will need to be diligent about redirecting students to the rubric throughout the collaboration. When a group calls you over to say “miss, we can’t agree” you will have to redirect them to use their notes or a teacher chart and revisit their work. Resist the urge to direct them to the answer. Choose a hint instead. Over time, if you do enough collaboration in class, students will get used to this and won’t ask for your direction.

**Interactive Notebooks:**

One of the greatest resources to build perseverance in the math classroom is a great notebook. Interactive notebooks, Cornell notes, binders, folders, etc. Whatever your system is, as long as kids have something with examples and solutions in it, they can use it to support their work.

The key is forcing them to do so.

At the beginning of the year, when a student asks “miss, how do I get started with this?”, tell them to open their notebooks and turn to the page where the examples are for this topic. Walk through the example with them, and see if they can translate that example to the problem they are currently trying to solve.

When reviewing multiple topics, it may be necessary to direct them to the table of contents. Help them to use the TOC to find the necessary examples to help them with the problem they are trying to solve.

If you are consistent about redirecting students to their notebooks when they have questions, they will eventually build the capacity to do it on their own, without asking. You are, essentially, teaching kids to help themselves. I mean after all, what do we take notes for??

**Calculators:**

How many times have you been called by a student who doesn’t understand their wrong answer just to find they performed a simple miscalculation?

Happens all the time.

Especially after 2 years of remote learning.

Empower students to use calculators to help. Let me explain.

If you are teaching Quadratic equations, and you want a student to fill out a table of values for the function y = x^2, they will not be able to do that if they aren’t fluent with integers and exponents. When they enter -3 they may come up with -9, instead of 9. And that will throw off the entire lesson on quadratics.

In this way, the student who isn’t comfortable with integers, is not doomed to fail quadratics because of it. But this doesn’t need to be the case. Teach them to use the calculator to calculate (-3)^2 and their table of values will come out correct.

I’ve always found that after using the calculator to work through solving equations and graphing functions, kids tend to learn how integers work anyway. Just by seeing all the examples they plugged into the calculator. Does more good than trying to memorize integer rules.

All of these strategies require diligence from teachers. It’s very difficult to stand by a struggling student and say “check your notebook” or “did you ask your group mates?” We became teachers because we wanted to help. We want to explain. But which serves a student better in the long run?

These strategies help kids to help themselves. And isn’t that the whole idea?

Find all these activities, rubrics and more on my TPT Store!

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