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A Week with Mrs. Jones: Part 1; Investing In Confidence

Teachers have the most important job. That's a bold statement, but it's one I can get behind. It's challenging, frustrating, rewarding, and chaotic. When I left the classroom to pursue Instructional Coaching, I felt it was important that I still had a connection to the classroom to remind myself just how much teachers do.

To maintain that connection, I have partnered with a friend and fantastic teacher, Mrs. Sara Jones. She has a lively, chatty, witty group of 20 third graders. We started the year with Listening to Learn interviews, Marilyn Burns and Lynn Zolli's new teacher tool to learn how students reason. We used the data to determine what instructional decisions Mrs. Jones would make to support student reasoning. In December, we played math games to review learned concepts. It was a great opportunity to she how students were reasoning about math. Recently, I spent mornings for a week in Sara's classroom to dig more into fractions. We learned so much about how students have grown, how they are thinking about math, and what it looks like for students to make connections with fractions. There is so much to unpack,(read more about the week in the following posts) but I think I want to start with the one thing that brought Sara and I to tears.

At the end of day 3 together, students were asked to complete an exit ticket. Their job, after listening to success criteria that broke the standard down, was to identify where they felt confident and write about their choice. See Maddie's response below.

When I read this exit ticket, I shuffled it to the top to show Maddie's teacher the next morning. I was struck by the detailed description of what Maddie says she can do.

Mrs. Jones told me that early in the year, Maddie very rarely shared her thinking and it seemed that so much was foreign to her. While Maddie would solve problems, often she chose the longest way to do so which would result in little interest and maybe even a groan here and there. Maddie just didn't have confidence and would tell herself she couldn't do it.

As a result, Mrs. Jones intentionally planned for experiences that allowed Maddie, and other students to share their thinking often and with various groupings of students to practice and get feedback. For example, their morning routine consists of examining a number of the day, Every Day Counts calendar, and various other mental math exercises where all ideas are shared and valued. Sara ensures that each student has the opportunity to say what they notice and honors those responses. Simultaneously, students are seeing the mathematical authority of their peers. During classroom lessons and explorations, Sara's students are asked often to turn and talk to discuss ideas. Sara models and uses mathematical language that demonstrates different ways to reason about math.

Sara added that her routines are pivotal in building confidence in the students. Each day, her students talk about a problem while they eat breakfast, they practice fluency, and then move to the carpet to talk math through the calendar. If we really unpack how these intentional practices lead to confidence, I wonder if the safety of a classroom community, that shares their meals together while openly talking math in the same way each day, makes space for creativity and safety in taking a risk. Students begin to build their confidence each time they contribute to the conversation with their unique ideas.

When I asked Mrs. Jones what made her so excited about Maddie's response, she said that this exit ticket was a testament to the power of intentionally building confidence in students. Sara took Maddie from the student who rarely engaged due to the fact that math seemed too much for her, to a student that clearly and confidently knows what she's doing and how she's doing it by clearly communicating. In writing, no less!

If you are or have ever been a teacher, you know a Maddie. Oftentimes, the feelings of frustration, or apathy, or anxiety in math stem from a lack of confidence students feel in engaging in the math with their peers. If teachers see the value in building student confidence, they can intentionally plan time in the classroom where students get those opportunities to think and reason about math and communicate it to others in a judgement free zone. Whether it is a morning breakfast routine, an after lunch Every Day Counts calendar routine, or the start of math instruction number sense routine, teachers have the power to build student confidence when they let students talk about math.

It is in these moments, where the teacher makes space for students to own their thinking in the classroom, that the learners see themselves as having ideas to contribute. I am convinced that confidence is one of the most important factors for students learning math.

Stay tuned for more math experiences in Mrs. Jones' class!

Take care!


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