One thing that we touched upon this week in class was found in the chapters we read from ‘Strength in Numbers’ that participation in your classroom can be tricky. It can be difficult to make students who seemingly do not care answers questions and volunteer. This creates a “participation gap” where the students who participate, participate a lot and the students who do not participate, never participate. It is no surprise then that this correlates almost one-to-one with achievement as students who participate are the students who gain a deeper understanding material and know it (that is why they are volunteering answers).
The ‘Strength in Numbers’ story about the teacher who drew out participation from all of her students really intrigued me to find out more about how to get your students to participate. Especially when you have students that are all very different in terms of personality, race, backgrounds etc..
I found this article called, “Narrowing Participation Gaps” by Victoria Hand, Karmen Kirtley, and Michael Matassa that does just that. The url is: http://www.nctm.org/Publications/MathematicsTeacher/2015/Vol109/Issue4/Narrowing-Participation-Gaps/
The article discusses three specific ways to encourage and increase participation by all students which, in turn, will narrow the gap. First,
- Organize Mathematical “Contributions”
- Participation is not only talking or answering questions
- More than one way to get math answers
- Prompt students unclear answers with directing questions
The first bullet point makes the point that teachers too often ask a question and evaluate the student’s knowledge based off of who answers and how they answer the question. It is important to remember that math is all about process and teachers need to evaluate how the students got to their answers. There are other ways of participating in class other than speaking as well. An important quote that goes along with this explanation is, “This orientation also prioritizes correct uses of academic language over students’ sense making”.
The third bullet point is one that was not said, but I observed from the example in the article. These directing questions can be uber-focused on the words that students use such as “length” and “width” as it may have a different meaning to the student than it does to the teacher. Thus, these clarifying questions help the teacher know what the student is saying and it helps the student understand what he/she is saying. This can also help narrow the participation gap when students aren’t afraid that they will be “wrong”, but rather they will get guided to the right answer. It is important not to simply give the answers to the students as they are learning absolutely nothing there. Confusion is the best way to learn.
2. Expand “Smart-ness”
- Expand perception of who is “good” at math
- Complex Instruction in groups
- Assigning roles
- Reward different ways of thinking
Group work, in general, causes more participation, as each member is responsible for their own work. This is very true for what roles are assigned and each student has a responsibility. In my opinion, group work sometimes creates less participation as the “smart student” does the work. Assigning roles changes this and allows students to see the way others think and it will expand what they deem as smart as well.
3. Engage Instead of Motivate
- Takes away the blame on students
- Change the classroom as opposed to the student
- Don’t label students
While I agree it is important not to label students, I do not necessarily agree with “engage instead of motivate”. Yes, there is a time and place where you do the work along with the students, but giving motivating problems is good as well. I believe there must be a balance of both to really get the students to participate. The article talked about how teachers should allow foreign language speaking students to solve the problems in their first language and then to explain it in english and I think this is a great method. Bottom- line I believe you still have to motivate your students and it is not all about doing the work with your students because then they will start to bank on you for the answer and that will only hurt their learning.