Imagine handing out a math test to your students with the following instructions:
Communicate in writing or in drawing:
- The process you will use to find the answer;
- Reason(s) to support your choice.
Please note: marks will be deducted if you write down the actual answer 🙂
This is the idea I got while scribing for a student during a standardized math test. Listening to him think aloud and watching him contemplate on ideas of how to go about in solving the questions was truly an exciting experience—one that would interest me, as a teacher, so much more than looking at the final answer.
The feeling of excitement was almost the same as that of reading a good book where you’re eager to flip through the pages to find out what happens next, but at the same time don’t want to skip over or miss any of the important details.
I could tell that the student was enjoying the process of entertaining his thoughts and deciphering the puzzle (question) as well. Watching him jump from one thought to the other, as he experimented with his manipulatives, was like watching a detective trying to solve a crime scene. But suddenly, the climax fell to an end. It was interrupted by his own voice as he shouted, “The answer is ___ !!”
It fell to an end because instead of taking the time to follow through on his own thoughts that were heading in the right direction, he rushed himself to a different path as he was more interested in the final answer and whether it was right or wrong.
But it’s the journey in piecing together the puzzle that makes looking at the final piece all the more enjoyable—not just for a teacher interested in understanding the students’ thought process, but for the student as well.
By nature, the brain likes to play detective. It becomes bored when things get too predictable. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that:
“Neurons really exist to process information. That’s what neurons do. If you want to anthropomorphize neurons, you can say that they are happiest when they are processing information.”
Figuring out the solution or reaching a goal in general is definitely rewarding, but from my perspective, not as rewarding as the journey, memories, and adventures created during that process. After all, your brain will always be left asking, “what’s next?”
Focusing on the thought-process and understanding how students think was not only an enjoyable experience overall, but I believe it can actually help me become a better teacher by allowing me to pinpoint where the focus needs to be.