Last week I decided to introduce one of my math classes with a complex algebra problem. The problem had multiple solutions and a variety of different ways to achieve the answers. I grouped the students and they began to discuss methods to solve the problem. Each group was given an iPad, whiteboard and marker to get started. After approximately ten minutes I had group coming up to me asking if they were on the right track. I asked the students to decide on what path to take to solve this problem. The students waited for additional instruction but I decided to say no more. Often, students are looking for affirmation or some type of hint. I told the students to rely on their math skills to validate why they think their solution is best. The students went back to their group and continued to work and validate their reasoning. Students continued to have questions and I decided to answer those questions with questions that pointed students in the right direction. By facilitating and guiding I felt as though students were taking more ownership of their own learning. After approximately thirty minutes student groups presented their answers to the class. The majority of groups indicated that they hit multiple roadblocks, but eventually achieved some sort of success in finding a solution to the problem. After listening to the presentations I concluded that the students took another step this year towards becoming responsible learners in the classroom. Moreover, I found myself reflecting on what was communicated to the students during the process.
The words you decide can be powerful. In a classroom setting, the words can enable students to make decisions that impact their learning. Students need to be able to take ownership of their own decisions and what a teacher communicates can benefit or limit learning in the classroom. I’d like to move my students beyond the stereotypical systematic focus of finding the one right answer. Mathematical understanding might not permeate when students feel that finding the answer is the only goal. Giving students opportunities to make decision within a safe environment prepares them to own their own learning and become more accountable in the classroom.
What strategies do you use to encourage student ownership?
Photo Credit: S. Miles