Highlighting Ideas from Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms by Tracy Johnston Zager
“When people talk about mathematics,” writes Tracy Johnston Zager, “they often use words like logical, certain, objective, absolute, black and white.” Mathematicians, on the other hand, also talk about mathematics in terms of creativity, passion and art. In Chapter 3: Mathematicians Use Intuition of Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, Tracy explores “mathematics as a creative art that operates within a logical structure.” And yet, developing mathematical intuition is something that is often ignored in schools. Students are often spoon-fed procedures that they are expected to regurgitate rather than engaging in experiences that encourage them to make sense of mathematics and bring both creativity and reasoning to problem solving.
Tracy writes that the best way for students to build this kind of mathematical intuition “is a relentless, many-times-per-day, dominant emphasis on making sense…Highly skilled math teachers ask a steady drumbeat of questions that students eventually internalize…They ask students to wrestle with these questions in individual conferences, in turn and talks, in large group conversations, and in written reflections. They wait patiently for students to think before answering. And they ask these probing questions whether or not students’ answers are right or wrong.”
"Highly skilled math teachers ask a steady drumbeat
of questions that students eventually internalize...
And they ask these probing questions whether or not
students’ answers are right or wrong."
Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had is jam-packed with ideas and strategies for building a vibrant math classroom. But a beautiful little bite of this book are these “Questions to Encourage Students to Use Intuition Through Problem Solving.” Some questions are shown below, but be sure to check out the link for even more!
Here are three ways you might try to make these questions part of your everyday practice.
- Read and talk about the “Questions to Encourage Students to Use Intuition Throughout Problem Solving” together with your grade-level team. What question on this list do you ask students frequently? Is there a new-to-you question that resonates with you? Come back together as a team in your next meeting for a quick share of one question you used with students and how it went.
- Print out the questions to keep alongside you as you plan. Perhaps you’ll want to highlight one from each category that you think might be useful for the lesson you’re planning. Maybe you’ll even jot a question or two into your planner to remind yourself. After the lesson, take a brief look at the list again. Which questions did you find yourself asking? Is there another question that might be helpful next time?
- Choose just one question. Write it on a sticky note and carry it with you as you confer with students on a problem-solving task. Of course you’ll ask other questions that aren’t on the sticky note, and you may change your sticky note question from day to day, but just the act of putting a powerful question on a sticky note will remind you to ask the kinds of questions that invite students to dip into their reasoning and intuition as they grapple with a problem.
Now matter how you use these questions and whether you carry them in your physical or metaphorical pocket, they serve as a reminder that every question we ask should position students as sensemakers and that the questions we ask them today will become the questions they ask themselves in the future.
To read more about Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, including a free book preview, study guide and companion website, visit our website here.
Until next time, may your Monday be mathematically marvelous!