Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris

Ep 136: How helpful is too helpful?

January 24, 2023 Pam Harris Episode 136
Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris
Ep 136: How helpful is too helpful?
Show Notes Transcript

When do you offer students help and what kinds of help do you offer? In this episode Pam and Kim discuss the balance of what kinds of help to give students and also where to find just the right help as teachers.
Talking Points:

  • Encouragement alone isn't enough help
  • Modeling thinking doesn't mean to take over the thinking
  • Funneling vs focusing patterns of questioning
  • Does your help create mathematicians or learned helplessness?
  • Teachers also need just the right amount and kind of help

Registration for our workshops and Journey is now open! Find what help is best for you at https://www.mathisfigureoutable.com/workshops

See also Episode 113 for more discussion about helping students.

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Twitter: @PWHarris
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Facebook: Pam Harris, author, mathematics education

Pam:

Hey, fellow mathematicians! Welcome to the podcast where Math is Figure-Out-Able! I'm Pam.

Kim:

And I'm Kim.

Pam:

And you found a place where math is not about memorizing and mimicking, waiting to be told or shown what to do. But y'all it's about making sense of problems, noticing patterns, and reasoning using mathematical relationships. We can mentor students to think and reason like mathematicians. Not only are algorithms not particularly helpful in teaching mathematics, but rotely repeating steps actually keep students from being the mathematicians they can be.

Kim:

So, some of our listeners will probably remember that we did an episode a while back, where we talked about being helpful as teachers, and the nature of how we help students. And we center that episode around a phrase that you and I love to use.

Pam:

Yeah, which is, "Do you need time? Or do you need help?"

Kim:

Yep.

Pam:

Do you need time or help? Yeah, and that was episode 113, so if y'all haven't heard that one yet, you are going to want to check out 113 when you're done here. Do you need time or help?

Kim:

Yeah, it's really been a game changer for both of us because what we're communicating with that is that there are two different needs. And we help students identify which kind of help they're looking for. And that's great because sometimes the solution is that we just need to zip it a little bit. We need our students to just have the time and space to think and reason without the pressure of us jumping in all the time. So, we need to be reminded to get out of there mathematical way.

Pam:

Yeah because it's not about speed right? We've had lots of conversations about being good at mathematics is not equated to being fast at recalling a fact, or spitting out an answer, or solving something. But we want to encourage deep thinking, and we want to encourage lots of connections and relationships. It's not about speed. We want to de-emphasize. It's okay if kids are fast.

Kim:

Sure.

Pam:

We don't want to like, "You must be slower!"

Kim:

Right.

Pam:

But we don't want to say to kids, "Oh, if you're thinking deeply about that, if that takes you - okay. What we want you to do here is think. We don't want you to sacrifice thinking for rote retrieval quickly." That's not mathematizing. It's not what mathematicians do. So, yeah.

Kim:

Yep.

Pam:

Kim, so I'm a little concerned that... How do I say this? That some people might hear that asking kids "Do you need time? Or do you need help?" as "Oh, okay. So, what we just do is we need to help kids, they really just need encouragement." The reason I'm saying that is that... I'm not saying it very well, but I remember an instance where... We work with groups of teachers all the time, right?

Kim:

Mmhmm.

Pam:

One time we were working with a particular teacher, and we hadn't worked with the teacher very much. But we had an opportunity to go and observe. And we went in and observed, and the teacher was doing the task that we talked about, we prepared for and everything. And as the students were working on a particular question, the teacher walked around, and would look at the student's work and would say, "Nope. Nope, keep going," and then would walk on. And then, would look at another student go, "Oh, no, no, no, no. That's not right. But you can do it! You can do it!" And then, would walk to another student and the student go, "Like this?" And the teacher would go, "Mmm, no. But I believe in you!" and then would walk on. And it took me a minute to go, "Wait, wait, wait." Now, I'm just going to be a little upfront. This teacher was a coach. Now, I was a coach, so I'm not dogging coaches. In fact, I love coaches. I think coaches are awesome, and I've had a great time. I know sometimes that coaches get a bad rap because they really like to coach, and they get thrown into a classroom, and they don't actually want to teach and whatever. But this particular person was kind of being not... I almost wanted to say, "Dude, if you were on the court with your kids would you just say, 'No, you're doing that layup wrong, but try again!'" Or would you actually help them? Would you give them some help? Like, in other words, help isn't just, "Rah, rah! I believe in you! You can do it!"

Kim:

Yeah.

Pam:

Like, there's some ways that we can help without... Yeah. There's ways that we can help that isn't just... I'm trying to think of a word. That's not just like sort of bland encouragement. "Bland", that's not the right word. I mean, it's not just about being excited and saying, "I believe in you." Like, we can provide help. We can provide just that right level of help.

Kim:

Right. I totally agree. And the first part for me is helping students to make sense of do they need time or do they need some help in some way? Because, you know like I said, sometimes they just need some time. And for them to be able to communicate that back is so useful, but sometimes we get students who actually need some different support. You know, not too long ago, my own son came home from school and he was telling me about an assignment that he had to work on; and he said, you know, he got towards the end of the class, and he was running out of a time, and he needed to finish something up. And I said, "Oh, did you... You know, did you ask for extra time? And did you communicate that to the teacher?" And he looked at me and he said, "Mom, time would not have helped." And I said, "Well, tell me more about that." And he said, "What I needed in that moment was not additional time. Like, I had gotten to the point where time wouldn't have helped, and I needed some help." And what I love about that was that he was clear that he could have asked for time, but that it wouldn't have done him any good, and so he needed a different support. And at that point, when kids say to us, "I need some help," that's when it's our job to kind of dive in a little bit. And that's the important part. We're maintaining this balances. And so, what we're going to talk a little bit today is about how much help is too much help, and what's kind of the right balance of helping students?

Pam:

Yeah, for sure because we've worked with a lot of

Kim:

Yeah, oh, I can identify with that as an elementary teachers from all over, and we've pretty often seen that once they recognize their students need help, then they do what good teachers do. They rush in, they're like, "Oh!" Like, "I teacher. You know, good hearts want to support, and I've seen a am willing to help you!" You know, like this teacher I was just mentioning. I mean, good intentions, right? Like, what that teacher had heard us say was, like what you just said. lot of teachers who will pull up a chair next to a student, and What's too much help? And so, interpreted as, "Oh, don't help at all. Just rah, rah and give encouragement." And it's a great at some point, even take the pencil out of their student's thing to say, "You know, I want to be helpful, but if we're going to create reasoners, and thinkers, and problem solvers like we're suggesting, the kind of help and how much help we're hand, and then proceed to do all the thinking for them. Or, they providing in those crucial moments really matters." Sure. just start talking and talking, and they just dump all the things. So, the big question really is, how do you know when your help is too much help?

Pam:

Yeah, that's a really good point. In fact, I remember an instance when we were working with some students. I think it's funny because when you said "take a seat next to the I wasn't going to take over the student's thinking, but I student". I kind of knelt down next to the student, and I did take the pencil out of the kid's hand. And I remember, it was kind of a person that was observing me working with students was like, "Oh, you can't do that!" Kind of like you just did. You know like, "Don't do the work for the student!" But in that moment, what I was going to do was represent that student's thinking. So, a couple of things that we can talk about here. One specifically is, as we say, "Oh, the student needs..." So, first of all, we've identified, "Do you need time or help? Oh, you need help. Okay, I'm going to provide help." Sometimes we see teachers dive in and funnel the student. So, they use a didn't have a pen on me. That was my bad that I didn't have my funneling pattern of questions where that's not all that helpful actually. Because if I just ask a series of questions that gets the student to the answer, I might be like, "Okay, you got the answer. Bam! Moving on." But unless the student has memorized that funnel, or owns that funnel, when I leave, when I take away the funnel, then the students left with an answer, maybe even the process to get that answer. But if they don't own. Notice how I just said pen and not pencil. own it, then what we haven't done is created an independent problem solver. We've just created someone who might be able to mimic that funnel. So, we don't recommend funneling questions, patterning of questions. We recommend a focusing pattern of questions, the kinds of things that you can help students focus on. A second thing that we would invite you

Kim:

I know you did. I heard that. to consider is, what is the effect of your help? As you are

Pam:

[Laughs]. I didn't have a writing implement with me, and thinking about... Okay, so here's the student, they've so I did borrow the student's pencil but not to take over the said, "Nope, I don't need more time. I need help." As you are thinking, to represent the student's thinking. thinking about how you're going to help that student. Will you be creating that student as a mathematician? Or could it potentially create learned helplessness?

Kim:

Right. Mmhmm. Yeah, we've gotten questions about that too, right, where people will say to us, "Man, I feel like my students have this learned helplessness." And maybe it came from years before or maybe it's kind of occurring in your classroom, but I feel like that's a real hallmark of you're rushing in. Right, you're rushing in if then they sit passively and wait for you to kind of do the work and like swoop in. And really the important part of that is that we need to consider the message that we're sending to students when we always rush in, and it's the opposite of what we want which is, "You are capable. You can do math. You have it in you. I believe in you." But we have to give them that opportunity. And what I'm thinking about right now is that doesn't just hold true for our students either, right? When as we're adults and we're working through something, we should probably adopt asking each other the same question. "Do you need time? Do you need help?" And what I love so much about the work that we get to do right now is that we get to provide the help when people say, "I do want some help. I need some help." We get to provide that help.

Pam:

Yeah, and if you're looking for help, we believe that we have that kind of help that you need. We've created a system to help teachers do what we kind of had to do on our own. I mean, in a huge way I did so much where I just dove in, and I was trying to figure it out. I was trying to find the right research. And I was asking questions. And every workshop that I did I was doing a lot of professional learning with graphing calculators and trying to do technology. And as I was doing that, I would kind of on the side ask, you know, "Hey, did you know you can actually think about subtraction?" Try to figure that all on my own, and diving into classrooms, and doing... It's funny, I call the model lessons. But really in a huge way I was just experimenting. Well, we have taken all of that experience. And then, I started working with you, and then through the years, we've done all this work, and we've taken that experience, and we have created online workshops, and our online implementation support system that we call Journey to help teachers on their journey. Because we want to help teachers grow. We want to help them wrestle with ideas with just enough support. If you've ever seen me put my fingers in the air. We have a whole episode about the finger. What do I call it? The finger thing? Teachers used to go, "Pam do the finger thing!" Which is where I talk about, if your students are all over the map. Okay, I don't even have to say "if" right? Your students are all over the map. They are. That's the nature of people. We think differently. We have different experience levels. So, because your students are all over the map, we have to do tasks. If we really want them to learn and develop them as mathematicians, we have to do tasks that meet them where they are and help everybody learn and grow from where they are. Well, we believe the same thing is true about teachers, and so we create the online workshops that we do, and the journey support system that we have, for that same output. We create them the way we do, so that no matter where you are on the teacher landscape of learning, you can enter, have access, learn and grow from there, and then look to your next step. Where can you continue to learn and grow? In fact, I'm just thinking about. We did an event in our Journey group the other night, what we call Live Math with Pam. I don't know. We might need to come up with another name for that. But I think it's kind of fun.

Kim:

(unclear).

Pam:

And literally, we dove in, and we did some math together, and we talked about what it would look like to represent student thinking, and we had teachers comparing the way they represented what their models looked like and why it looked a certain way one time and a different way a different time. And it was so much fun. But the reason I bring it up is it was fascinating to me that we had brand new Journey members on that had just joined, and we had veteran Journey members who, let's be clear, they are so well trained, educated. Like, they know their stuff. And at the very end of it, we asked for feedback. And we got feedback that range the gamut from the brand new person that was like, "This was so helpful, this is what I learned" to that expert who's like, "This was so helpful, this is what I learned". So, it's that idea of having this support that's just right, that's just on the edge of people's zone of proximal development. That's the way that we have set up our online professional learning. So, like when our Journey members ask questions in our monthly Question and Answer sessions, sometimes we hear a question that goes something like this, "How do I help other teachers? Like, I'm kind of a lone wolf here in my school. How do I help my colleagues, my administrators, the parents I'm working with? How do I help them believe that Math is Figure-Out-Able? How do I help all these other people that would be so much help? (unclear). If I could build a support system around me, how do I help others believe that Math is Figure-Out-Able?" And our answer is that just like students need experience about Real Math, teachers need to experience Real Math, what it means to mathematize, so that they can learn all the things. And that can take some time.

Kim:

Absolutely.

Pam:

And we do that here.

Kim:

Yeah, I'm so glad that you said that because it's really tempting to say like, "Something has awakened in me, or something has pinged for me, and so why hasn't it for everyone else around me?" And so, we have an amazing community, too. I think it's my favorite part of all the things that we do is we get to interact with people who are on a Journey together, really to be the best teacher that each of them can be. And they're so supportive of each other. And it's funny because even in our Facebook group, you'll find them kind of nudging each other and asking questions and supporting in all the ways that we would recommend that they do with their students, and that they do it with each other as well. So, it's pretty amazing.

Pam:

It's the best place to be. Yeah.

Kim:

So, registration is currently open for both Journey and for Pam's workshops. And we only do that three times a year. Registration is only open three times a year, and this is one of them. You can check that out at mathisfigureoutable.com

Pam:

And we will put links in the show notes, so that you can quickly get to what we offer. Let me tell you, we have some message boards in the workshops where people interact back and forth, and I'd like to tell you about a few of them that I've just read this semester from people who just took a workshop from us, Tina White, who I'm loving interacting with, wrote, "Thanks for the great PD! I have been teaching for 22 years, and as many of us math teachers know, it is difficult, if not impossible to find a good math PD, especially for the upper grades. This one tops my list!" Ah, thank you so much for that. Honored and super glad that you found that really helpful. We've had a teacher who's taken a couple of our workshops. Katrianne Vance wrote, "Whenever I do PD, I like to come out with

three lists:

discrete things I want to do right now, big ideas I want to incorporate over time, and cultural shifts. This workshop offers all three!" Bam! That was me. Sorry, that wasn't her. She continues to say, "The Problem Strings are the things I could do tomorrow. The Rich Tasks in the workshop and the whole way that it's designed provides a structure for teaching linear functions." So, she took our Building Powerful Linear Functions workshop. "And the whole approach is a cultural change." So, that was cool. Thank you, Katrianne, appreciate that. And John Guscott? Oh, I hope I'm not slaughtering your name. Gaspari? John...you're awesome...wrote, "I have thoroughly enjoyed this workshop!" Vicki said, "This has been an amazing workshop! Amazing stuff! Thank you so much for all the extremely rich material. So totally worth every penny!" And we really appreciate everybody who's taking our workshops and hope that if that is what you're looking for, if you're looking for, "Hey, Pam, I just need more time." Alright, keep listening to the podcast.

Pam:

But if you're looking for help, you might check out, we

Kim:

Yeah. invite you to check out, our online workshops, which are open for registration right now. If you are a teacher of young students, we offer Building Addition for Young Learners. If you are a teacher that teaches multiplication, we offer Building Powerful Multiplication. Now, notice I didn't just say like "If you're a third grade teacher, fourth grade teacher" because really, third grade and up teach multiplication. So, Building Powerful Multiplication or Building Powerful Division is also appropriate for anyone who teaches multiplication and division. Building Powerful Proportional Reasoning is appropriate for grades five and up. Building Powerful Linear Functions is our first. We just launched it. It was a maiden voyage this last semester. It went so well. We had so many amazing experiences in that one. That is for anybody who teaches probably grade eight and up, or even grade seven if you kind of want to see where what you teach is going. And for those of you who want extra support and things like writing Problem Strings, check out JourneyPLUS, where you get our signature support system Journey, plus a workshop of your choice, and you get access to all that for an entire year. It's quite the deal. Mmhmm.

Pam:

Check out mathisfigureoutable.com for more information. Hey, ya'll, thanks for tuning in and teaching more and more Real Math. To find out more about the Math is Figure-Out-Able movement, visit mathisfigureoutable.com. Let's keep spreading the word that Math is Figure-Out-Able!