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Students as Reasoners in the Hands-Down Conversation

In March I (Kassia) got to meet with a small group of 5th graders in a tiny supply closet and lean in close to listen to their ideas. That seems like a lifetime ago in some ways.  We’re all learning new ways of talking and listening to students now, but there are some things that remain the same whether we’re sitting right beside them or listening to them through our computers. One of the primary roles of the teacher in Hands-Down Conversations in person and online is to listen to students and trust that all students come to the table with brilliant ideas and internal resources to draw upon.

So that day in March as I asked the small group of 5th graders to engage in a Slow Reveal Graph routine with me I was working really hard to listen and learn about how they reasoned about data and graphs.

As is the practice with the Slow Reveal Graph routine, I showed students a graph with some parts hidden and asked “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” and then slowly revealed the hidden sections of the graph along the way. I kept a fairly brisk pace with this part of the routine because I wanted to linger with a Hands-Down Conversation later. 

We started noticing and wondering about this image 

We continued to this one: 

Here are some ideas the students noticed and wondered about along the way:

  • The graph goes by year.
  • It’s a line graph.
  • There’s a blue part and an orange part.
  • Who is this for? What’s it about?
  • Could this be about population?
  • Is it about quitting cigarettes? Lung cancer death?

We finished by studying the complete graph:

*Images from this Slow Reveal Graph created by Jenna Laib

After the graph was completely revealed I asked them: What do you think this graph might look like in a few years? I used this opportunity to emphasize that I was interested in all kinds of reasoning–both reasoning that came directly from the graph and outside the graph. 

In Hands Down, Speak Out, we write about reasoning within the text and outside the text and how much of the time our reasoning is a mixture of the two:

I think we sometimes ignore outside of the text reasoning in math. We think that all students need to know is right there in the problem. But math is not neutral nor objective and we all bring our own perspectives to it. Data and graphing is a beautiful place to highlight this idea and value the understandings that students bring to the texts we present them. 

In this three-ish minute video clip below, you’ll see a Hands-Down Conversation with the small group of 5th graders (yes, you can have Hands-Down Conversations with small groups!) What kind of reasoning do you see these students using? Where do they use the text (graph) as the source of their evidence and where do they bring in their own outside the graph understandings and perspectives?

When the students start talking about their own understandings about cigarette smoking and vaping it can be tempting to say “That’s not math!” “Steer them back towards the math!” When one student says you can get high from vaping it can be tempting to jump in with a “correction.” I’d challenge that we actually need more spaces where students can merge understandings that they gain from within a math text and understandings that they bring from outside the text. In our teaching of reading we are constantly asking students to make connections to other books they’ve read and to their own lived experiences, but we leave less room for that in math.  

We believe that orienting students to the idea that we can reason within and outside a text (and we can do that across content areas) is powerful. If you have your copy of Hands Down, Speak Out handy, you can check out Micro-Lesson 5.3 “Supporting with Reasoning, Part 2: Digging Deeper into the Why” (pages 89-91) for more on this idea. 

As you listen to your students this year (in person or in the many ways we communicate online) how will you find ways to value different kinds of reasoning across the content areas?

*A special thank you to 5th grade teacher Yolanda Corado Cendejas and the group of brilliant 5th graders from her class you see in the video. We’ve learned a lot from Yolanda (you’ll see her in our book!) about not shying away from talking about important things with kids.


*Another special thank you to Jenna Laib (@jennalaib on Twitter) for curating the Slow Reveal Graph website and creating a resource that pushes us to listen for all kinds of student reasoning.

Author:

Christy (literacy coach) and Kassia (math coach) are the authors of Hands Down, Speak Out: Listening and Talking Across Literacy and Math.

2 thoughts on “Students as Reasoners in the Hands-Down Conversation

  1. “I’d challenge that we actually need more spaces where students can merge understandings that they gain from within a math text and understandings that they bring from outside the text. In our teaching of reading we are constantly asking students to make connections to other books they’ve read and to their own lived experiences, but we leave less room for that in math.” So good.

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