I'm expanding my math superhero list to include Kaneka Turner (@kanekaTurner). I reserve the right to add more heroes in the future too. Kaneka is awesome for lots of reasons but the one that sticks out today is that she is so comfortable with herself as a learner that she is willing to take her struggle public so that the rest of us can benefit and so that she can benefit from feedback she might get from the rest of us. All because she really cares about kids and their math learning. I'm not going to drone on and on about her post. Instead, I'm just going to leave the link here so you can read it for yourself. I couldn't actually do it justice if I tried to summarize. Suffice it to say that we share the same struggle and the struggle is real. I commented on her post and I will paste my comment below. Read Kaneka's post before my comment though. She really is far more knowledgeable and articulate than I am.
Math Learning and Students with Disabilities by Kaneka Turner
Actually, check out her whole site, reasoningmywaythrough.
Darn it all...I didn't copy and save my comment before I submitted it. It hasn't posted on Kaneka's blog yet. If/when it does, I'll share it here. If it doesn't, I'll try to recapture my thinking the best I can in a few days.
Like really, darn it all! Now I've let too much time pass and it is going to be work to share my thinking.
The general gist is that I loved Kaneka's approach to helping students who do not quickly grasp the concepts that we present. She takes the time to talk to her kids individually and she tries to question them so that she is able to propel their learning. She does not do the work for them. She avoids over-scaffolding. Sometimes she runs out of questions. Sometimes she has to walk away. leaving the student to struggle on his or her own until she's able to come up with another question. This is not to be confused with giving up.
Meanwhile, there is this constant push by some educators to provide "explicit instruction" for students who struggle. Honestly, largely due to my bias, the term "explicit instruction" is like nails on a chalkboard for me. What I hear some educators saying is that there are students who are not capable of making sense of math without scaffolds. These students need step by step instructions so that they can mimic procedures that come more intuitively for others. These students need help and more time memorizing facts. These kids need vocabulary instruction and they need lots of practice.
I'd argue that most of these kids just need more TIME to make sense. The are capable of doing high level math. It may just be that they cannot perform at the breakneck speed many educators move at. We move through content fast because there are so many standards to "cover". Our students need to play with numbers. They need to play math games. All of them do. There are many excellent games and fun routines that build understanding and confidence so that all students learn to dig in to problem solving. Time to experiment and question and to notice and wonder helps kids to make sense of math. All kids need time to make sense. It cannot be rushed. AND we CANNOT do this work for them. Explaining, step by step, how to solve a problem does nothing to raise the bar for our students.
What I really dislike (I'm working hard to not use the word "hate") about explicit instruction is the way that it is delivered. In my experience, it is individualized instruction that looks entirely different from how I individualize instruction for students who need their thinking pushed further. Instead of these one to one meetings or interviews, in the classroom learning space, these interventions happen out in the perimeter or worse yet, outside of the classroom. I've got to imagine that it doesn't feel great to always be the kid pulled over to the small table in the back of the room. And when kids are pulled OUT they are torn from their peers and separated from the "real" learning they know is going on in their classroom. They are made to feel different and they sense that it is because they're not equal to their peers. Kids are not fools. They are smart. This is damaging. They ARE missing the REAL learning. They now have EVEN LESS TIME to make sense of math. Their peers notice they're gone. The kids who are having "explicit instruction" done to them are missing out.
Maybe I'm being super short sighted. Is there explicit instruction out there that doesn't look like kids copying the way their teacher solves a similar problem.? Is there explicit instruction that is not bogged down with mindless practice? Is there explicit instruction that doesn't involve stupid worksheets or computerized interventions (digital worksheets)? Are there examples of explicit instruction that don't require kids to refer to a state approved reference sheets to practice a taught strategy that he or she doesn't even understand?
Do The Math by Marilyn Burns might be an exception. Our district can't afford it or at the very least, hasn't made this kind of intervention (in math or reading to be fair) a budget priority. It is expensive but man does it look good! It also looks like it is fun. Shouldn't all instruction involve FUN?
Want to check out Do The Math? Here is a link.
And just like that, I'm off topic.
My big take away: unless I'm terribly wrong about what explicit instruction is, I don't think it is good for kids. I don't think the practice of scaffolding is helpful. I don't think that teaching kids "tricks" to solve problems respects their learning. I don't think there is a place for memorization in the absence of conceptual understanding in our math classes. I don't think that giving kids "many opportunities to practice" mindless procedures is helping any kid to meet that lofty standards outlined in the Common Core.
I'm pumping the brake. I'm going to give my students more time. I'm putting my foot down, whenever possible, to champion true inclusion. I'm going to question my students and REALLY listen. I'm going to give myself time to think. I'm going to stay focused on and capitalize on what my students CAN do. Sometimes, I'll walk away because I won't know what my next instructional move is. I'll try not to be hard on myself when this happens. I will not resort to telling my students how to solve a problem. I will not over scaffold. I'll walk away and give myself time to think. My students deserve thoughtful instruction. I'll be back. Always.