Last night, Chris Robinson shared an experience with an administrator who observed his math classroom. He had been doing an activity called Noticing and Wondering with his students, something that Max Ray of the Math Forum has written about extensively. Noticing and wondering is a great discussion starter. You share a mathematical object or situation with children and open up the floor to their curiosity. They can connect the mathematical thing with their own ideas, then a teacher can shape the conversation by building connections to formal math.
Here is the administrator’s feedback:
Now, I am not naive. I understand that our lack of consensus about good teaching leaves a lot of room for interpretation about what is working and what is not. The administrator was obviously perplexed by the wide berth Chris gave to his students to wonder about the math. Kids do say and think goofy things, as do all people. But sometimes our odd ideas need a good airing to connect to what we are learning.
Normally, seeing Chris’s tweet would frustrate me. What do we need to do to drive a wedge between people’s confusion about students being compliant and being engaged? What do we need to do to help educators understand that the path to deep understanding is often not a straight line, and that to connect ideas to our lives, our own thinking –– goofy or not –– needs a chance to come out?
Yesterday, however, the administrator’s problematic response did more than frustrate me. As I told Chris (and the others on the thread):
In my class Teaching as a Social Practice, we have been discussing the consequences of our lack of consensus on the nature of good teaching. We often examine what gets put out and circulated as good teaching and hold it against various research on things like how kids learn or how teachers can teach responsively.
I showed this Doug Lemov video related to his best-selling book, Teach Like a Champion, with the intent to dissect the underlying assumptions about teaching and learning. The 100% technique is a way of managing students’ attention during instruction. Take two minutes to watch it.
What do you notice? What do you wonder?
I notice that these are all White teachers and that the students are nearly all Black.
I wonder why the teacher (above) is signalling this boy to have his hands folded. I wonder if there is any research anywhere showing that folded hands will help with his learning.
I notice that when this teacher reprimands this student for not having the answer to a question (1:11 on the video), she jumps immediately to the assumption that the girl needs to work harder. I wonder why the teacher doesn’t ask her if she has any questions about what was being asked or if everything is okay today.
I notice that this teacher says the following to his class as a motivational speech (1:44):
I can bring it to you but I can’t give it to you. You’ve got to reach for it. If they were free at Toys R Us you would reach. I’m giving you the same kind of gift, just not wrapped up. The gift of knowledge.
I wonder what is going on in this metaphor. I am wondering if I ever have seen wrapped up gifts at Toys R Us. I wonder if other overly analytical kids in this class also got lost down this rabbit hole of wondering.
I wonder if the kids would like the gift of being able to keep their hands unfolded and moving their bodies more freely more than the gift of repeating after the teacher in the name of “knowledge.”
What does all this have to do with Chris and his interaction with his administrator?
Teach Like a Champion has been a huge seller, especially in urban schools. It’s highly rated and ranked on Amazon and I have talked to numerous new teachers who report getting handed a copy by administrators. There is even a new edition Champion 2.0.
Activities like noticing and wondering open up classroom discussions and invite kids (goofy ideas and all) to think. Techniques like 100% in Teach Like a Champion limit permissible activity and thinking by students. Contrasting the two is a productive microcosm on current debates about teaching. The issue is particularly urgent in urban classrooms, where methods like those promoted in Champion emphasize the control of Black and Brown bodies by White teachers instead of the celebration of children’s own ideas. This is especially troubling given what we know about disproportionate discipline of these children.
With this vision of teaching dominating the landscape, it becomes increasingly difficult for teachers like Chris Robinson to invite their children to think with him in the classroom without the risk of being reprimanded.