Every Answer Correct

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A Teaching Phenomenon
A couple weeks ago I observed Mr. Dameron’s standard Algerbra I class, where I saw something practically surreal. The students reviewed a quiz and then moved on to study basic algebraic equations. Mr. Dameron helped students contrast expressions with equations, gave them notes—with Dameron Definitions—and guided them through solving some equations.

That all seems pretty normal to me. Here’s the phenomenon: in that 30 minute span, Mr. Dameron called on—he seldom took volunteers—26 of over 30 students, and EVERY student he called on provided a correct answer. 

Building Confidence
What’s so cool about that? We have a lot of Algebra I repeaters across the state, so failure to comprehend and achieve in those classes is fairly common. I don’t think it overly presumptuous to guess that most standard algebra students don’t believe they are good at math, especially not this sticky, abstract mess called algebra, with its letters for numbers. Imagine what just one correct answer, out in the open for all their peers to hear, does for a student’s confidence in a math class. Imagine what one correct answer every day could do. I imagine the result is self confidence.

And self confidence is abundant in Dameron’s class. Students are alert. They willingly participate. They strive to succeed. You can see it in their eyes. 

Success by Design
The tricky thing is reproducing this high-rate of success. Here’s how Mr. Dameron does it.

  • Know your students—He knows who he can call on at any given time. He knows each student well enough to know what questions they will and won’t be able to answer.
  • Question at all levels—He works in easier questions for those students who are most likely to struggle with the lesson and reserves tougher questions for students who pick up new skills more quickly.
  • Check their work—While students work at their desks, Dameron checks their work. He knows who can respond correctly when the class reviews a set of problems. That way, he can catch them at their smartest.
  • Keep trying—If he catches them without a correct response, or without any response at all, he rephrases the question and feeds them with clues until they find the right answer. They still feel good about their success.
  • Teach one piece at a time—Instruction in Dameron’s class occurs at a lively pace—students have no time to be bored—and in segments of five to seven minutes. But as lively as instruction is, the students are only asked to process small pieces of information—a concept, a process, a group of problems, a comparison—at one time, not the whole mess at once.

Same Phenomenon, Different Class
Can Mr. Dameron’s results be replicated in your classroom? Not easily. Definitely not every day. But the optimistic answer is still “YES.” Try Dameron’s strategies. Make it your personal goal on a day you plan to review vocabulary, master an important process, or analyze literature, art, music, or historical documents.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you. Please share your success stories with me by e-mail: flinchm.rose@pitt.k12.nc.us

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