“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” —Mr. (Fred) Rogers
By Kaneka Turner
We are never more “on” than when we are teaching a lesson. All of our senses are heightened and all of our energy is focused on understanding students and being understood by the students we are teaching. Often times, it is not until the lesson is over that we have the mental space to look back over the student work samples and anecdotal notes, or replay scenes from the lesson in our minds to gain insight. I was reminded of this recently when I was invited to test out new problem-solving structures from IM K–5 Math’s Grade 4 Unit 8 in my colleague’s classroom.
Prior to teaching the lesson in Ms. G’s classroom, I shared the following reflection questions. These questions could serve as potential “look fors” and specific points of discussion after the lesson:
- Who got to do math today in class? How do we know?
- What norms or routines allowed those students to engage in the mathematics?
- How might I adjust these norms and routines so all students do math tomorrow?
Students had been working on using annotation to slow down and make sense of problems before solving. Ms. G and I had also discussed increasing the number of students who have an opportunity to share ideas during lessons.
She shared, “I feel like I need to guide them through each question in math and ask all the questions with them, or they won’t pay attention or ask the questions themselves.”
Ms. G’s motivation for using the gradual release model for math was to ensure that all students were on the “right page,” and not practicing wrong. That said, in an effort to hear more student ideas, we agreed that I would deviate from this approach. I would try an inquiry-based lesson structure.
“I heard or saw the thinking of every student in class today.”
Ms. G explained that it is not uncommon to get a work sample from every student by the end of a lesson. However, after this lesson she could account for every student’s voice, which was unusual. She seemed to be noticing the subtle difference between what we learn about students from the work they submit, and what we learn from the ideas they share with each other when given the opportunity to talk.
The choices students were given during the lesson structure had a direct impact on student voice. Ms. G shared that offering students a selection of talking points in partner groups seemed to allow every student an option. She went on to explain that, in the gradual release model, she only heard from either a couple of students, or the whole group responding chorally. This left room for individual students to be confused without her knowing.
In the gradual release model, Ms. G was able to check that students were practicing correctly. In the inquiry-based problem-solving lesson, Ms. G noticed that more students discovered their errors and corrected their thinking during the lesson. The students demonstrated more ownership over their learning. Additionally, Ms. G knew who these students were because she had a chance to listen to their ideas in progress during discussion.
My time in this classroom reminded me of the opportunities I had as a new teacher to observe master teachers in practice. I would often leave overwhelmed by everything I wanted to change, from the border on my bulletin boards to student seating. Intentional pedagogical moves were often eclipsed by all the things that felt important as a novice teacher.
The teacher reflection questions allowed Ms. G and I to have a focused conversation around student voice. The conversation allowed me space to press on her beliefs about the students who get to speak in math class and those who do not. She was able to see herself and also to offer me a lens into my own intentions around students’ voices during the lesson.
Purposeful Design of Teacher Reflection Questions
As we design elementary lessons, we have been thinking deeply about the types of insight we can gain from reflecting on different aspects of a lesson. As a result, each elementary lesson has 1–2 teacher reflection questions that are designed to support individual teacher reflections about math content, pedagogy, student thinking, teacher beliefs, and student positioning.
Reflection questions focused on math content highlight aspects of a given standard and how parts of a standard fit within the landscape of the full standard. They also support teachers in thinking about how standards fit within the coherence of the grade level and the cluster across grade levels.
Reflection questions focused on pedagogy encourage teachers to think about the instructional moves they make when enacting lessons and how each of these moves impact student learning.
Reflection questions focused on student thinking point us back to the ideas students raise within the lesson. They encourage teachers to think about the strategies and representations students use and how to leverage each in future lessons.
Beliefs and Positioning
Questions focused on beliefs and positioning attend to matters of equity and access. These reflection questions challenge teachers to see and hear all students and to consider how choices they make during the lesson have the power to position students as competent.
Teacher reflection questions are designed to be used as individual reflection tools for teachers. They may also be used as a catalyst for meaningful grade-level and coaching conversations. Special attention is paid in each elementary unit to vary the type of teacher reflection questions to ensure teachers have balanced conversations throughout a unit and across a school year.
Our hope is that teacher reflection questions offer this opportunity to teaching partners and teams, coaches, and individual teachers. The questions offered in the curriculum are a start. I imagine, as teachers engage in the work of reflecting, the art of reflection will flourish across buildings.
Select a teacher reflection question to discuss as a team. Each member of the team writes a brief reflection using the designated question as a guide. Discuss reflections and how what you have learned can inform an upcoming lesson.
Kaneka believes that math can change the trajectory of a person’s life, empowering them to view themselves as capable.
For over 19 years, she has had the privilege of leading in and out of the classroom. Her journey as an educator includes experience as a classroom teacher, teacher of gifted education, elementary math coach, Title I elementary math specialist, and district math specialist. In addition to her work in local school districts, she has also served teachers as an author facilitator of math professional learning for 15 years.
Her work on the IM K–5 Curriculum amplifies her dedication to changing lives through teaching, coaching, curriculum development, and professional learning.