Teach students to self assess!

When I was teaching at the Pathways world school, School website, I had a routine where the first thing in the class was that I used to give feedback on their HW and grades. This is something all of them looked forward to for it gave them an instant feedback and gratification.

I developed a great relationship with one of my grade 7 section. One fine day, I told them, ‘‘Why should I decide what your grade should be? You decide it yourself.’’
They looked at me jaw dropped, “But how?”

I realised that they need step-by-step instructions. So I gave them a rubric —accuracy of work; amount of work finished; effort put to do whatever they had done.

The results were outstanding. I had students coming and telling me:
  • “I didn’t finish it all, but I deserve a B for I really worked at it.”
  • “I did it...but it was too easy for me, so a B minus is ok.”
  • “I did it all, and I didn’t give up! I deserve an A plus.”
  • “I am not very sure...I have done part of the work. It is correct. But I took a lot of time.”
  • “I have done it. But I was late due to laziness. I choose a B.”
  • “I have done it. But I was late due to illness. I choose an A minus.”

And on and on it went. It was pure 99% honesty, sincerity and healthy self-reflection. That is what I got from the students. So slowly, I could let go of them with confidence that they can self-assess themselves very well. 

They did not measure themselves to any standard, but to their own capacity and hard work.

We looked forward to meeting in each Maths class!


Bring Children to Maths, then take Maths to them!

Paul Halmos said, “The only way to learn Maths, is to do Maths.” Any Maths teacher would second that. The students who succeed in Maths are the ones who do Maths —a lot of it!

Everyone doesn't agree
What about those students for whom the logical-mathematical intelligence is not their dominant trait. Sitting day after day in a room where the language spoken is not the one which they really understand, they lose connection and consequently interest. They get labelled as - ‘weak children’. But they may be ‘strong sportsmen’ or ‘strong writers’. How about using that intelligence...?

My solution
My solution is: sprinkle Maths curriculum with non-scientific subjects, i.e.,integrate Maths with English, Art, History, Sports, Music, Drama or Geography.

For example
Write a letter to a friend explaining how to add fractions with different denominators.
Draw a tiling design using four shapes. It should have two lines of symmetry.
Present dramatically a conversation involving discount.
Search and present information about Mathematician xyz.
Explain to a friend how to split the middle term of a quadratic equation.

It gives the non-scientific students an entry point to relate to Maths. It gives them a sense of relief for there is something that keeps them engaged. It gives them a chance to showcase their talent. All of this leads to them connecting to the subject emotionally. That makes them ‘want to learn Maths’ for Maths classes are fun or friendly.

Which level does this work best?
Middle school, or ages 10 to 14. This is the age when Maths starts getting complex. This is also the age when brain develops fastest and emotions are in an upheaval. This is when capacity for emotional connections are formed or de-formed for a life. So this is the age I choose to sprinkle Maths with creativity using non-scientific subject integration!

In this way, I bring them to Maths and then I take Maths to them!


What is HumaneMaths?

A teacher is like a gardener. Generally, a gardener does not decide how high each plant will grow. Rather, he ensures to create appropriate conditions for complete nurturing of all the plants. The plants grow on their own!
Teachers, just like gardeners, create an environment where learners’ interest in learning grows. This is an environment of adequate challenge with emotional safety.
A fundamental shift in educational thought is needed. The teaching design that I have created, to make the shift in the Maths classes, has two such aspects—The Inside and The Outside.
The inside approach refers to the attitude of the teacher. It is the ‘connect’ that the teacher has with the students. This is the part of the relationship where subject is not the medium of connection. Where the teacher values the student as he/she actually is. All exceptional teachers have this quality. It is the ‘humane’ connection.
  • A Maths teacher, who is humane, does not use scores in Maths as a way to validate or invalidate the self-esteem of the students. She tries to know the students individually and celebrates their uniqueness. She validates everyone. This is the teacher who knows who among her students is great at sports or on the stage!
  • She is sensitive towards the social associations of Maths. She acknowledges gender neutrality where subject performance is concerned. She gently discourages parents from nurturing the viewpoint that ‘boys have to be good at Maths’ or ‘girls are ok without Maths’.
  • She does not believe that everyone needs equal amount of Maths in life, but respects such differences. She stretches students to do ‘their best’ and not best as decided by any standards. She will not force a musical prodigy to devote ‘extra hours’ for Maths at the cost of music. She would be able to create a study plan for all students that works for ‘them’. There is more to life than Maths!
  • She is rebellious. She questions that age-old views held by the society related to the subject. She progressively deepens a ‘Mindful approach’ to the class. She teaches herself to build an emotionally safe environment for the students.
The outside approach is the curriculum in Maths designed by the teacher. It is not enough for the teacher to have an attitude of ‘connect’ with the students. The teacher’s right attitude needs to present itself in the delivery of curriculum too.
For me, the approach has been to bring ‘variety and novelty’ in the curriculum. I frequently change the set up! My students used to say, ‘‘I never know what she is going to do next!’’ But there is always a plan in my mind.
According to the outside approach, while designing each chapter’s lesson plan(s), ensure the following is included. This list is indicative only and not comprehensive.
  • There is ample mental stimulation. Lots of inquiry-based questions are asked. The "what, when, why, who and where?" help.
  • There is something for emotional connection in every chapter. I make Maths emotionally appealing through use of teaching strategies such as Collaborative Learning, Merging Maths with Non-Scientific Subjects – English, Arts, Social Sciences, etc. For example: Geometry is linked with Art while Algebra with creative writing. Or Students can work alone, in a pair or in a group.
  • Some routines allow students to become or feel physically relaxed. These could be any. To each to his own is my mantra. It does not bother me if they stand and work or turn the chair around. The hyper ones know they can take a break every 15 minutes. Seating arrangement can change any time.
  • Continuous and comprehensive assessment: Variety of assessments can be brought in easily. Assessments can be short, very short and long tests. It could be a poem or crack a HOTS problem. Projects come under the comprehensive assessments.
  • Exam skills (For relevant classes):Timed tests and (always for board classes) problems from past papers are required to be attempted at the end of the chapter. Looping the syllabus is done frequently.
The ‘inside approach’ is what I have gathered from the Indian spiritual leaders (Sri Aurobindo and J Krishnamurti) -The goal of the educator being transforming oneself. The ‘outside’ is learnt from the exposure to international (IBMYP primarily) education -Turning philosophy to practical tools that work.
Both-eastern and western thoughts- come together to give a new paradigm of being a Maths educator.
 (I have used 'she' for the teacher purely as an instinct. No offence or judgement intended. Some of the greatest Maths teachers I have learned from have been male.)


Respect the students

Respect the students. Respect what their inherent qualities are. Do not force them to be what you think they should be! Develop the insight to sense what they are and mould yourself around it.
That is the beginning of a Humane relationship...when you meet the student as a human-being and not a "70% in Maths to be taken to 95%". 


A controversial point

This may sound controversial to many or some of you; however, it is not important to me how good or bad my student is in my subject. I have no external standard to measure his/her ability against. What is important to me is ‘Is he/she up to – his/her – best’. When I respect learning differences, I don’t just respect that each child learns differently, I also respect that each child may want to learn the amount of Maths too differently! So instead of a standard that everyone must reach, I would develop a hawk-like observation to assess – how high should this kid be pushed?

Tanya’s story
Strong, confident and clear, she knows what she wants to do in life - Journalism. She is already working towards it. Maths is not her top priority. Should I push her in order for her to have a report card that says A+ in all...or should I cut her some slack and support her in her pursuits?

The answer to this question decides at which point you are on the scale of HumaneMaths.


Before you check Maths

We are educators before Maths teachers. We are concerned more about the 'child' than the 'child in my subject'. This is a very subtle shift in the teacher’s mindset that I am talking about. Connect with the child...get to know who he is, what his passion is and what the place of Maths is in his life. That done, you have a humane relationship with him. And then, he 'will' do Math ‘as much as possible’.
Once, there was a student in grade 12, ISC Maths in Bangalore. A passionate artist, he had set his heart into going for the designing school. One day, he missed my Maths class. Classmates told me he was into the Art class before mine and I thought I knew what happened. A couple of classes later he walked up to me and sat next to me. He said, "I was so lost in designing, I lost track of time."
From the bottom of my heart, I understood what he intended.
I asked him, "So what about the work you missed?"
He said, "Give me two days and it will be done." And, it was completed in two days.

Thus, the ‘connect’ with the person is more important!


Playing the LOOP game

Loop games are a fun way of revising any topic in the class. These games can either be played running around with a lot of noise, or silently on the table! Either way, they are always good for students. We can also ask students to make a loop game for others to play.

This site has a lot of such ready games

Goal setting end of a workshop

Goal setting...it’s so important at the end of a workshop in order to remember and commit yourself. Take one or a maximum of three goals. However, clearly visualize what you are expecting from yourself in the end. The clearer the visualization, the more I am sure the teacher will apply it in her/his classroom!
Works most of the times...!
Teachers resistance drops considerable when they are asked to focus only on "1 or 2" goals at a time. Information given in a workshop can be overwhelming. Goal setting makes it doable and therefore less threatening. 

Place Value helps

It helps to write H, T, and O (Hundreds, Tens and Ones) while working on division sums. Then one knows what he/she is doing.
For the problem showed, the teacher explanation could be:
“7H divided into 6 parts gives 1H each. The remaining 1H is broken into 10T to make the division possible. And so on...”
One does not need any external aid for the same. The board itself is enough! 

Analyze Projects before and after-always

We do so many projects with the teachers. Do we ever ask them to analyse the projects?
  1. What are their objectives?
  2. What was achieved when the project completed?
  3. Did the two match?
  4. What have I learnt from this project?