Thursday, December 15, 2016

Amplifying Student Voice

Recently, I had a student "teach" me how to solve a Rubik's Cube.

This experience found its way into our next staff meeting.

This student and I recreated the entire scenario.  He had a cube and I had a cube.  This time I had an audience of my peers, not his.  His instructions were faster than I could follow and I got lost a few times.  He said "move top left", I went right.  He said "bottom right", I went left.  He whispers to me, "now I know how you guys feel.  This is hard."  I couldn't look at him because I was dialed into my failure.   I began to feel flushed and was tempted to just give up and tell the staff, "well, you get the point."  We didn't quit and I'm glad because the tension in the room was important.  This is the same tension our students feel when right answers matter and they don't know them.

I juxtaposed this experience with a visual pattern.  I gave very simple instructions for the staff to demonstrate what figure 100 would look like.  This wasn't a math activity at this moment; it was an opportunity for individuals to describe what they see and understand.  There was no "right way" to describe the 100th figure.  You want to draw a picture? Go ahead.  Use a table?  Sure.  How about a verbal description?  Of course.

The math notation or vocabulary wasn't necessary for everyone to enter into the task, however it could prove useful for explaining to someone else.

There are so many layers to this experience for me.

As we were going through the process of trying to solve the cube, I was incredibly frustrated.

My "teacher" was telling his story without considering mine.  He shared his connections and ignored mine.  He gave many instructions and kept going assuming I heard them and responded appropriately. I didn't.

This is where we fail our students.  We assume we have a shared understanding/experience with our students.  We don't.

A staff member later told me she was frustrated because she wasn't sure what connections I wanted her to make.  But then she said, "Then I realized, that was the point.  We needed to make our own connections."

This is what Max means when he says 2 > 4.  Or Dan when he suggests we cast students as the hero.

At least, that's what I think.


Unknown said...

I think this is a great story to tell. I am a student myself and sometimes feel like everyone understand except me and I get left behind. I once had a teacher that at the end of every new thing we learned she would ask who is lost or didn't understand something? If you did not raise your hand she would then assume you understood and she would randomly pick a student to do an example on the board. She would then go help the students that had trouble. I thought this was a great way to keep students honest and to see if they are really understand and to help students understand and not fall behind.

Unknown said...

As someone who was very recently in high school, I can definitely relate to this experience of the teacher thinking there is a shared experience between teacher and student, while I, the student, was very much not on the same page. Now, I am studying education. I would like to now, how do you think this communication gap can be eliminated? What can teachers do to make sure they are successfully relating to their students?

Unknown said...

I've currently become obsessed with solving Rubik's cube. Several friends have offered to teach me the algorithms necessary to solve the cube, but I've turned them all away. I have a small pamphlet that describes different stages the cube goes through in order to solve it, as well as the algorithm. Instead of following the algorithm, "turn this left, this right, etc." I've been trying to find different ways to arrive to the stages. I've been learning mostly from watching my friends solve it and then coming up with theories and testing them. I'm currently studying linguistics in college, and this is all we do. We're presented a language and are given the challenge of taking it apart and reconstructing in such a way that makes sense. One of the reasons why I left the math department (I was a math major for two years) was that there was just so much stress around getting the right answer. AS you mentioned, I was often focused in my failure that it was hard for me to learn. It sounds like this was a very sobering experience; thank you for sharing!

Paulina Cameron said...

First of all, I would like to say thank you for the chance to read such an insightful article. There is so little knowledge of what the students are going through right now. Now I see that the students want to be heard, they want the society to take them seriously and they want to make their own decisions about where to order research paper or what they should learn or practice. Time shows that young people see the world in their own different way. Right now we have to listen to the voice of youth and give them the chance to express themselves.