Week X2: Gather ’round, childrens

One of the bigger misconceptions about the Thinking Classroom approach (that I’ve already seen come up in discussion at my school) is that students are never shown a glimpse of how the teacher thinks about the subject. Peter refers to this as “leveling to the bottom” (I think he means leveling from the bottom), or consolidating at the end of an activity. In class, I’ve sort of defaulted to calling it a “recap”.

The way this tends to work: wait until all groups have reached a “stop goal”, which is usually to have found the solution to the main problem (but not all of the extension questions). Then tell everyone to “gather ’round” (or something like that – usually I cheese it up a bit) until you’ve got them at least loosely clustered around you at the whiteboard(s).

Then the show begins.

Frankly, at this point you could argue this is lecture. The difference is, it’s lecture about something students already know. You’re telling the story of what they’ve just done, from the beginning, using student work as illustration sometimes, reworking something yourself sometimes. The retelling lets you weave in mathematical language, helps students who were falling behind see the whole picture and perhaps even catch up, and provides a chance to highlight what you want to highlight as the Main Ideas of the day.

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • Students, for the most part, are listening. It’s been a tougher slog lately with the more abstract curricular questions, but with the better problems it’s been simple to maintain students’ attention. (Possibly the challenge has been that on the clunkier material, my summary is clunkier as well…)
  • The “gather round, kids” mentality creates a different space for the students even if they’re hardly moving at all. In my classroom, there isn’t room for students to all circle around the front, so when I do this move there’s really only a minimum of actual physical movement. Some are still seated at front-row desks, a handful are still at the back as they got annoyed with window glare and worked on paper … but they don’t behave the same way as when they’re told to just “sit down”.
  • The recap helps reify (yeah it’s a great word) the thinking that’s been done, to an extent, but it needs follow-up: the mindful notes, the outlines so they can put it into a larger context of what’s been learned in a span of days or weeks. (This is not news to anyone doing Thinking Classroom stuff, just worth noting for myself.)

There’s a lot of nuance possible in how you approach these recaps which, fortunately, isn’t required to simply give it a go. If you like telling stories you’re probably well set to just give it a try and think about how to improve your technique later, like after a few weeks of just winging it. (Or, I don’t know, maybe future me would be super embarrassed at how clumsy these recaps were. Good thing they weren’t recorded.)

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