Let Students Do the Work!

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Letting Students Do the Work

Most of us can probably remember a time when we were taking a high-stakes test and were told to stop working and put our pencils down.

As teachers, we need to put our pencils down to make sure students are doing their work. Too often, teachers respond to student queries by showing them how to complete a task or solve a problem. Even teachers committed to fostering student thinking can fall into this trap. It can be quite challenging to refrain from indicating exactly where a student made an error within a series of steps or from resolving a mathematical disagreement during a discussion, but to do so would eliminate learning opportunities for the students. We will invariably make such an error, especially when feeling the pressure of time, but our intentions to avoid doing so should be firm. We do not want to be so helpful that we lower the cognitive demand of a task (Zucker 2012). Note that the blog of well-known TED speaker Dan Meyer (dy/dan) has the motto less helpful.

How We Teachers Do Too Much

There are other ways we can do too much of the work. For example, when we:

  • Provide too many sub-questions, which keep students from having to make sense of a problem.
  • Provide a template such as a coordinate graph, when students should be deciding on the tool to use.Untitled-1
  • Do not give wait time, but rather just give the answer when no one responds immediately. The term wait time was coined by Mary Budd Rowe (1986) when her research established that merely waiting three seconds after posing a question increased student responses. Today, many educators recommend four to seven seconds for students to formulate their thinking. Such time may help to alleviate some of the differences between genders and support English language learners. Too often, teachers call on a quick responder or provide the answers themselves, rather than wait for a greater number of students to process their ideas.

Excerpted from The How-To Guide for Integrating the Common Core in Mathematics for Grades K-5 (Shell Education, 2014).

Your Turn!

What tips do you have for supporting student autonomy and success?

Check out Linda’s professional work published by Shell Education! 

let students do the work

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Linda Dacey

Linda Dacey, Ed.D., is a professor of education
and mathematics at Lesley University where she
teaches courses for inservice and preservice teachers.
A national and local leader, she is the author
of numerous instructional materials designed to
support the teaching and learning of mathematics.

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