Today I’m moving around the classroom during the warmup and as soon as I kneel down to listen to one group’s conversation, a student stops, points to her work on the first question and asks me “is this right?” All three group members pause and look up expectantly at me. I hedge. I usually hedge.
“Talk me through your process,” I say with that pleasant, unreadable grin.
“That means I’m wrong, doesn’t it?” She’s smiling but she’s creating an out for herself. “I probably messed it up, did I do the whole thing completely wrong?”
“I didn’t say that! You’re the first person I’ve seen to try it this way, speak a bit about choosing this approach.”
Another member of the group laughs. “Have you seen the TV show Parks and Recreation? You know Chris Traeger? He’s so positive and affirming that he broke up with Ann Perkins and she didn’t even know it. Rachel, that’s you, when we explain something.”
I break into genuine, surprised laughter, and the rest of the group follows suit. But it’s true. When students offer to publicly share their attempt at a problem, suggest an idea about how one topic relates to another, or ask a question that sheds new light on the math we’re investigating (for me directly, or in a way that more clearly helps me understand their thinking) – it’s almost always valuable. I’m not faking my reaction, even if their work is way off base: we won’t get nearly as far together unless we are willing to take that risk and forced to articulate and refine our thinking.
I hope my relentless Chris Traeger positivity makes it feel safer to persevere, collaborate, and listen in my classroom. I also hope my students see clearly modeled the habits of building on other people’s ideas and appreciating different ways of being smart.
She launched into explaining her process. The group refocused its attention on her, not me. I moved on.