The Day a Student Threw Away His Math Work
In my flipped classroom, students work on the practice in class. The practice can vary. Students will sometimes do an activity while other times students work on challenging problems that involve collaboration. The practice is always given to reinforce the concepts students learned from my videos. The practice is done in class while I walk around assessing students. Sometimes I ask questions while other times I sit back and watch them do the work.
Before my flipped classroom started 5 years ago, students would do homework. I would expect students to keep this homework in their neatly kept 3-ring math binder. I wanted students to have access to all of their homework in case they needed to pull it out to look at it. I would often do surprise checks to check how organized their binder was and, consequently, would give them a grade on it. I wanted to make sure students were learning math…by keeping all of their homework organized in their math binder. Sigh. To give myself some credit, I did the best thing I thought would work at the time. I’ve definitely come a long way in my ways to check for learning.
Fast forward to today. I no longer grade or collect any formative work. I constantly check this work daily while giving feedback, asking questions and leading students to revise their work. Students receive no score for anything other than summative work. While I no longer collect practice, the expectation is that students still are checking their work and answers with the answers I provide them. Students have answers always readily available to them. I strongly feel students need instant feedback at anytime while they are doing practice. This way students can revise in real-time not having to wait for me to come around.
Recently at the end of class I watched as an 8th grade student (we will call him Bob) finish his practice after he got a difficult problem correct. He exclaimed, “YES! Finally, I got it!” He had worked on this problem for about 15 minutes. I looked over at him with a smile. I then proceeded to watch as he got up, crumpled up his 2 pages of neatly written math practice that he had persevered in solving for an hour, and toss it in the air into the recycling bin. I was shocked. Appalled is probably a better word. How can someone who worked so hard on something throw it away!? I still thought students kept everything in a binder so they could pull it out when they study for an assessment if they needed to.
I sauntered over to Bob and asked him why in the world would he throw his work away? He responded, “Why would I want to keep it? Isn’t the purpose of the practice to help us understand the material better? I now know the material” It was a good point. Actually, it was a very good point.
I thought about what Bob said at lunch. I walked into my colleague’s office. Garnet Hillman, an awesome instructional coach, is my go to person when I have questions. I told her what happened. The replay of him crumpling up the paper and tossing it into the recycling bin replayed in my head all afternoon. Then, it hit me. Bob was right.
Why would I care if he threw the paper away? For so long, my students always did things out of compliance. Bob throwing the paper away, right before my very eyes, proved to me one thing. Bob cared more about learning than compliance. He did the practice and persevered through the work to learn. He reflected on his work throughout class through my feedback and by checking his answers. The learning happened! Once the learning happened, there was no reason to keep the practice. It wasn’t about compliance, it was about learning. There was no grade attached to the work, therefore, the primary focus of completing the work was to LEARN it, not to earn a grade.
Two years ago I stopped grading and collecting work as it was eating up so much of my valuable time. I honestly thought students would no longer do it since I wasn’t giving a grade for it. Just the opposite happened. They kept producing quality work. Fast forward to a day last month when I watched Bob throw away his work. Little did I know at the time but Bob just solidified everything I was hoping would happen. Students were now doing the work because of the learning, not because of compliance for a grade. There was no need to keep the work. The practice was used to learn the concept. Thank you Bob!