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From Compliments to Confidence: The Evolution of Math Feedback

identity math community math workshop Jan 16, 2024

In the world of mathematics, feedback isn't just about correcting mistakes; it's a powerful tool that can help strengthen a child's identity as a mathematician. By introducing peer feedback, we can create purposeful mathematical thinking and foster a collaborative math community. In this blog post, we'll explore the journey of incorporating feedback into your math classroom and watch how it transforms the children into more confident and thoughtful mathematicians.

The Compliment Stage: Laying the Foundation

When embarking on the feedback journey, it's essential to start with a solid foundation. Initially, I introduce feedback in its simplest form—compliments. Gather the children and provide them with sticky notes. Encourage them to participate in a gallery walk, observing their peers' mathematical work after just having worked on an investigation. Instruct them to look for elements that help them understand their classmates' mathematical thinking.

What you'll often find is that, at first, some children may offer generic compliments like "I like this" or "This makes sense." This is entirely natural during the initial stages.

After the gallery walk, convene for a community gathering. As a class, look at the compliments and initiate a discussion about what makes a compliment helpful. Co-create a list of criteria for meaningful compliments, emphasizing factors like specificity, relevance, and truthfulness.

Repeat this process during the next investigation, referring back to your co-created list before giving compliments. To reinforce the concept, engage the children in a feedback sort. Create a t-chart and have them categorize the compliments as either 'helpful' or 'unhelpful,' encouraging critical thinking and reflection.

Transitioning to Questions: Expanding the Feedback Opportunity

As the children become more adept at providing helpful compliments, it's time to expand the type of feedback they are giving. In the next stage, invite them to either give a compliment or ask a question during the gallery walk. Model question-asking for them, demonstrating how to seek clarification or further understanding. Encourage questions like "I'm not sure what you mean here?" or "Where did you get this number from?"

This transition not only reinforces the importance of understanding their peers' mathematical thinking but also cultivates a culture of curiosity in your math community.

Introducing Suggestions: The Final Piece of the Puzzle

In the last leg of the feedback journey, it's time to introduce suggestions. Model giving suggestions and engage the children in a discussion about what constitutes a helpful or unhelpful suggestion. By this point, children should be well-versed in the language of feedback, emphasizing that suggestions should be specific, math-focused, and helpful.

Other Mini-Lessons to Consider:

  • How do we receive feedback? Teach the children how to accept and process feedback gracefully.
  • What do we do with feedback? Explore the importance of using feedback constructively to improve their mathematical thinking.

Teacher Tips:

  • Start with several investigations (approximately 5 or 6) focused solely on compliments before introducing questions or suggestions. This gradual approach helps children become comfortable with the feedback process.
  • Use the morning meeting prompt: "Is feedback a good thing? Why or why not?" to spark meaningful discussions.
  • Enhance your lessons by incorporating the book "Thanks for the Feedback" by Julia Cook, which can prompt conversations about how it feels to receive feedback and whether feedback is always beneficial. 

By weaving feedback into your math classroom, you not only enhance the children’s mathematical skills but also empower them as thoughtful, collaborative, and confident mathematicians.

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