Deborah Loewenberg Ball, on being less helpful:
In other words, we need to help teachers know how, when you help too much, you’ve actually made the problem into a different problem. But how do you help enough so that the problem is do-able? It’s sort of the interaction between the task and learning how to question and being aware of what your questions are doing to the task. I think we’ve all had the experience of giving so much structure and help that the problem becomes a simple routine problem when it wasn’t originally.
Cathy CampbellAugust 18, 2010 - 7:27 pm -
Thanks for sharing this quote. I remember being in the classroom and knowing that I had been successful at being ‘less helpful’. Students were working collaboratively as a community of learners, they were generally engaged, and confident that they could succeed at a task with my support. I also knew when I wasn’t successful, either providing too much structure or not enough. In my current role as consultant, how do I help teachers become aware of this interaction between the tasks and learning how to question and the effect of these questions on the task? How can this be shared with others? Can it be taught and practiced?
DebbieAugust 18, 2010 - 10:19 pm -
My role at school involves both teaching and mentoring and coaching other teachers. Many of my colleagues refuse to move away from traditional “3E” lessons which involve the teacher Explaining how to solve a problem, giving one or two Examples for the pupils to copy down and then sitting for the rest of the lesson completing the first 50 questions from Exercise 3c on p26. They say that their pupils can’t work independently, that the learning wouldn’t happen, they’d talk about other things…
(Long paragraph, I’ll try and be more brief!)
I am currently looking at how to support teachers in “training” their pupils to work on open, unstructured problems, perhaps collaboratively. I feel that independent problem-solving can be taught and practised.
I’ve started off with identifying different skills and strategies for working in this manner in maths. I’m summarising these on a Learning Mat for pupils’ desks and will encourage teachers to choose one facet and make this an explicit Learning Objective for the lesson they teach. In this way I hope that students are aware of the techniques involved and gradually their repertoire of skills will increase.
Tim EricksonAugust 20, 2010 - 6:11 am -
Yeah, DLB! And especially because the right amount and kind of help seems to be different for every kid.
I’m also reminded of the old, 80s distinction between a problem — where when you start you can’t see your way to the end — and an exercise, where you’re applying skills. DLB is asking us not to convert problems to exercises through well-meaning intervention.
Dan MeyerAugust 20, 2010 - 7:05 am -
My sense, after consulting for the last few months, is that, a) it can be taught but b) it’s easier to model and c) practicing it is tricky.
The very first thing we do in my workshops is work through a math problem where I model the WCYDWT questioning process. Then we debrief that experience.
As for practice, one of my favorite sessions at NCSM last year was titled, “Coaching Teachers to Ask Questions That Provide Just Enough Help to Move Students Forward” (seriously, how great is that title?) by Denisse Thompson and Charlene Beckman, where we tried to come up with incorrect student reasoning to problems and practice asking questions that would nudge them toward understanding.
My question, currently, is: can it be taught and practiced online, asynchronously? It would be great to be at a place where any random teacher anywhere in the world could dedicate an hour to practice hitting the balance between too helpful and not helpful enough.
Tim, good word there. I like that metaphor.