During our class discussion this week about equity and access, I was particularly interested in the idea of setting specified group norms for the classroom. In looking more into creating norms in the classroom, I found an article from NCTM’s journal Teaching Children Mathematics titled “‘This is easy’: The little phrase that causes big problems.” This article discusses how the comment “this is easy” from a student in the classroom immediately discourages other students who may have been struggling with the problem. To combat this, the teacher and students discussed what the students meant when they said the phrase. The two most common reasons were that students either saw the problem as something familiar they had already encountered or that they had an idea of how to solve the problem. The teacher encouraged students to use more precise language to explain more about how they viewed the problems. After this change, students began to see how everyone has varying abilities and that different tasks may be more difficult for other people. Students also began to acknowledge how saying the phrase “this is easy” affected others and began to encourage other students who were struggling.
While the situation described in the article takes place in a second-grade classroom, these ideas can still be applied to secondary classrooms. As we discussed in class, it is important for students of all ages to all have an opportunity to attempt a problem. Similar to the “no hands, just minds” technique, ridding classrooms of the phrase “this is easy” creates an environment where students don’t feel as much pressure from their other classmates or that they can just sit back and rely on the “smart” students to get the answer first. I believe that this idea would work well paired with collaborative learning. After a discussion with students about how easiness is relative for everyone, they will be more likely to help other students in their group who are struggling with the problem.
I was surprised by this article and the ideas that were discussed. It seems like such a simple and obvious idea, but it had never occurred to me how damaging this phrase can be. In my mind, when math students are claiming that something is easy, it is most likely because they’re excited to understand a new concept or problem and they don’t necessarily intend the phrase to be harmful. Regardless, it is important to discuss with students how the language they use can discourage other students. Additionally, it’s important that teachers be aware of what they deem “easy” in front of their students. When I first began tutoring, I found myself saying “Oh! This is easy” to students when they asked a question, when instead, what I really meant was “I understand why you’re stuck” or “I understand what the question is asking and know how to help you.” Now looking back, I see how that was disheartening to the students I was helping. From now on, I’ll focus on getting both myself and students to use more specific language to express what their opinions are on approaching a problem.
Link to the article referenced: