Getting Real—the Five Practices

Sitting in a MVP (Mathematics Vision Project) Integrated Math 1 professional development (PD) class early this week, minding my own business, probably checking Twitter for any knowledge nuggets or notifications leading to that dopamine rush, when I hear a teacher proclaim her recommitment to popsicle sticks as a means to improve participation in her class come fall. I winced. I remember being praised by my principal for having a cup of popsicle sticks on my desk and the nod of approval he gave me when I used this revolutionary technique to call randomly on unsuspecting students.  About this time each summer I started eating popsicles with abandon hoping to have enough sticks saved by the end of August. Oh my goodness. How far we’ve come!

kari pops
Kari Vaughn, now FCAS; former princess popsicle eater

A dominant theme from PD a couple summers ago was the practice of acting intentionally in instruction and planning and assessment and in each and every teacher move except in calling on students. We were still rolling the roulette wheel hoping fate would carry us the rest of the way. We were upping participation, but not steering the learning ship in any particular direction.  At the close of many a class, we found ourselves on education’s version of Gilligan’s Island, floundering hopelessly for a solution to the wreck that just occurred in class. It never occurred to me there was a better way because fate served me well, much of the time. But not every time and my luck ran out.

How many times have you been burned by a student who boldly states the exact misconception you were saying to dispel; or a student who confidently states something totally and completely wrong? Having no idea what a student is going to say is a rookie mistake. What keeps sticking with me is a scene from L.A. Law  (1986-1994) where Corbin Bernsen, starring as divorce attorney Arnie Becker, has a woman, claiming abuse, on the witness stand. He pushes her to the breaking point about why she did not seek help from a neighbor on a particular occasion when she had been locked out of her house. She explains that she could not seek help from a neighbor because she was naked.  At that point, his whole case fell apart right before him. He was reminded that a divorce lawyer never asks a question to which he or she does not already know the answer. And so it is two decades into the 21stcentury in the mathematics classroom.

Now, at long last, the Five Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions by Smith and Stein, affectionately referred to as “the five practices’’ is gaining traction and getting real.  When we, as teachers, invite a student to share insights with the class, we already know what they are going to say. It’s still organic, it’s just that we are sorting and selecting student insights in a planned way. And when I say we, I assume every teacher is now doing this or at least striving to take steps toward orchestrating classroom discussions in such a way. Just when I think that, I over hear the popsicle stick comment and I know, the work here is just starting.  I know I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the training and experiences I have had using Open Up Resources 6-8 Math authored by Illustrative Mathematics.

At HIVE19 in Atlanta, Brooke Powers (@LBrookePowers) introduced us (Martin Joyce (@martinsean), Morgan Stipe (@mrsstipemath) and Jen Arberg (@JenArberg) to a video that we then showed during our Five Practices 6-8 breakout groups in session 3 in the Community Track. This video created by and starring Dr. K. Childs, set the stage nicely as we dug into a lesson specifically on the five practices. I am sharing it further by linking it here. I hope this makes an appearance in your back to school training sessions. I also hope this practice extends to other content areas because good practice is good practice.

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