The other week, a colleague from an online learning community asked the group how to deal with students who seem to just complain about not “getting it” in the math classroom. That got me to thinking about how I learned to best help students who may or may not be helping themselves. There is one single question that I have learned to ask…
All math teachers been there. You’ve taught what you thought was an awesome lesson. You stated the essential question. You had an awesome hook. You made crucial connections to past learning. You elaborated on anticipated hang-ups. And you provided an active summary.
Then it happens. A student blurts, “I don’t get it.” So you’re left wondering one of two things.
Does the student really not get it? Was there some part of the lesson that was unclear? Maybe the student was taking copious notes and therefore missed a minor detail.
Or is the student just avoiding cognitive engagement in the active summary by complaining? Maybe this student was adding to her Snap story during the lesson. If only students like this understood the planning that went into your lesson.
One Simple Question
Actually, I can’t take credit for this question. I heard it asked by Dave Ramsey on his radio show. A listener called in and was going on and on about his financial woes. When he was finally done with his country song litany of monetary misfortunes, Dave asks him, “How can I help?” The phone line went quiet for a moment. You could tell the caller was taking a quick inventory. Was he just calling to whine? Or was he seeking specific expert financial advice to fix it?The Click To Tweet
Ever since learning this one simple question, I have used it to engage both types of students. I have found that the question is applicable for both scenarios outlined above.
If the student really doesn’t understand something, the question encourages cognitive engagement. The students will pause. Hmm… the teacher just validated my legitimate question and wants to know how to help me. Let me think about what specifically is challenging my understanding. Then I get a good question that enables me to diagnose the student’s sticking point.
If the student is looking to avoid work, the question hopefully encourages self-reflection. The student will pause. Hmm… the teacher just validated my phony work-avoiding ploy and wants to know how to help me. Crap! I don’t have real question. He’s on to me! I’ll just say never mind. While professional educators don’t think that way, adolescents do. They would prefer to avoid being perceived as stupid by the focused students. This is a faulty perception, because every good student has the heart of a teacher.
Try this “ninja” technique and leave a comment to let others know how it worked for you.