Social Interactions and Time

Social work is important but social work will require, by its nature, more wait time than automated work.
–p. 131, Functionary: Learning To Communicate Mathematically In Online Environments by Dan Meyer

This quote from Dan’s dissertation gets to a theme of my lesson design this year. The time requirements of social interactions in the classroom are critical to honestly working them in to classroom routines. Dan is referring to the time required waiting for another students to refactor and resubmit a verbal description online. My takeaway from this point gets at a reality of making student socialization a tool for learning in the classroom.

Conversations about learning take time. 

Exit tickets at the end of the class are quick ways to assess specific skills presented during a class period, but they are essentially one way channels since they can’t be acted upon until next class. Time in class for lightly structured conversation around a lesson reveals understanding (or a lack thereof) is not just interactive for students, but allows me to hear a range of responses and parse them for what my students have learned. This conversation can be limited to small chunks of one or two minutes, so the payoff to investment ratio is big if those conversations are carefully designed and motivated. 

Identifying what is and is not useful in those conversations is essential to working in an environment with peers. This is a valuable skill for students to develop. It’s difficult impossible to plan for every possible response students will have to everything that is said, and there will always be unexpected or off topic elements. This ‘noise’ can be managed but shouldn’t be eliminated. Doing so denies the ebb and flow of real conversations that students have outside our classrooms all the time. If we are to leverage socialization in our classrooms for learning, we have to acknowledge that the efficiency will never be perfect. This is especially the case as Dan’s research suggests that students best learn to communicate mathematically through revision and feedback.

I could go much faster through material if all I used was direct instruction. My students would be forced to be compliant to such a structure, and probably wouldn’t enjoy my class as much, which I’ve decided is important to me. It is satisfying as a teacher to see students working through their understandings without my help, and this can only happen if I provide time for it during class. Scheduling time for it is a way to show students that I value what comes out of these conversations.

2 thoughts on “Social Interactions and Time

  1. I think you may have revealed the heart of why teachers balk at changing from lecture, “I-we-you, and other lessons structures that teach algorithms and tricks: leading students through this process of mathematical discussion feels very out of control, it’s hard to listen to our students struggle, and it takes patience and time. Our school is moving to block, A-B next year. We have teachers who have calculated the actual minutes we will lose in class time, and are stressing about covering every standard and not having time to teach the lessons, and we have those(like me) who think about the ability to get to those conversations now that classes are longer, to be able to work in connecting ideas without interruption, and the resulting 2 day (before they see us again) “wait time” that has been shown to be beneficial for longer term memory retention of material. I have been including student conversation in my classes since day one. They have to be led into productive talk, but once they get the hang of it, it gets better. I am reading Intentional Talk so that I can get better at leading the specific types of conversations (I hadn’t thought about the specific types of conversations my students were having – I recognized some of the distractions I was creating!). It takes confidence to facilitate, and practice. One of the best ways I can think of to “practice” would be to have the meeting leader, during curriculum meetings, or other brief pd sessions, to deliberately foster this type of conversation, and give/get feedback about how the conversation feels, what supported the conversation, what derailed it, and about any feelings of out-of-control-ness. I would also like to see support of the conversation with information about the effectiveness of these conversations, both for our meetings, as well as for our students! My kids are so much happier when they truly understand the material than when they are trying to memorize the lesson.

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