How do you get yourself to stop?

The other day, I was talking to a group during a math activity on mean, median, and mode. I wanted to know how a student figured out the median of a number. I had in my mind what I wanted to hear, and when she started to tell me something different, I immediately figured that her answer was incorrect. I interrupted. I jumped in with what she should do.

Then, I stopped. I remembered that there’s more than one way to solve a problem. I remembered what the math facilitators at my school have said to me numerous times over the years: ask the students to explain themselves. Get them to tell you the “why.” Have them show their work in different ways. Get them to reflect on if the answers are the same, and why.

At that moment, I back pedalled. I admitted to the student that I never thought of solving the problem in this way. I said that I initially doubted there was more than one way to do this problem, and I asked her to prove to me that I was wrong. I admitted that I likely was.

While she initially seemed a bit reluctant to do so, she did prove to me that I was wrong, and she ended up solving the problem in more than one way as well. When she realized that she was right, she was so excited, and it was this excitement that made me so happy!

So why couldn’t I have stopped myself initially and let her solve the problem the way that she had planned? I think it may have to do with my personal math experiences. When I was growing up, I always did really well in math, but I never really understood anything. It used to drive me crazy when students kept asking, why do we do this? I used to think to myself — just do it! I was the Queen of Formulas. I knew every algorithm there was, and my computations were strong, so I put the correct numbers into the formulas, and I ended up with the answers. All that really mattered was that I got the correct answers anyway. With this mentality, I never tried to find different ways to solve the same problems. I never considered alternate solutions or alternate approaches, and I really have to train myself to do so now.

This morning, I went to a fantastic math inservice for all Grade 3 and Grade 6 teachers in our Board cluster. As part of the inservice, we had to answer a survey, and I continue to think about one of the questions. It was a statement with value line options for the answer, and I cannot remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of, “I teach math now like I was taught math.” I remember thinking to myself, “no, definitely not,” but then questioning, “have I done all that I need to do to ensure that this is the case?” I thought back to this student and the video recording. When I went to school, there would be only one way to find the average of these two numbers, but not any more.

With that in mind, I need to stay quiet more often. I need to let students explain before I jump in with questions. I need to remind myself of this before I go to conference with students, so that I remember to follow through on this. I can do it (or, at least, I hope I can)! How do you get yourself to stop talking, stop interrupting, and stop just looking for that one right answer? I could definitely use your advice!


6 thoughts on “How do you get yourself to stop?

  1. Hi…

    It is a challenge for teachers in general to stop talking…not just about interjecting in an “interview” of sorts, but also in lessons…too many questions, too little think and student talk time. It’s about relinquishing control and, as we all know, that’s hard as a teachers because maybe it means we’re not “Teaching”. We need to allow students more opportunity to explore, talk and make mistakes and facilitate that rather than control it. You’re not alone!

    • Thanks for the comment, and for the good reminder. We do need to allow this time for students to do more of the “talking” and maybe more of their own “teaching.”


  2. HI Aviva!
    This post really moved me. I work with teenagers reading at a very low reading level. These students have learned to fly under the radar of our system by being quiet. Giving these students the time to explain their thought processes allows me to get inside their heads and understand how they are making meaning…or not. Then the student is driving the instruct absolutely! It does feel like I have given up my teaching role for the role of listener. The minute I put down the teacher chalk and made myself practice active listening, the world opened up in my classroom. Mutual respect occurred.
    Of course I am still learning to stay quiet and listen…sigh…still learning. 😉

    • This is such a great point, Janet Lee! I have worked with struggling readers before too, and it’s true, we really do need to give these students the talking time as well. I think it benefits everyone. I love that you shared your story here. It’s a great reminder for everyone! I’m glad I’m not the only one still working on this too. 🙂


  3. I think the fact that I only learned math “one way” brings a little fear into every math lesson. I know that my own math knowledge is shaky, so when we listen to kids developing new strategies, my first reaction is, “Could this be right?” After all, I came from a background where I memorized the correct formula, or process to come up with an answer. And promptly forgot it, after the test. I think there should be more math courses for teachers who are brave enough to admit that their understanding of math needs improvement. I am lucky enough to have a friend on staff, who makes me feel safe in asking her to explain some of the math problems I have to teach, so this mentorship is invaluable. What a great feeling when both the kids and I really understand the math, and ‘discover’ new ways of solving math problems.

    • Thanks for the comment, Donna! I completely agree with you too. I often have this same feeling, and I’m lucky to have a teaching partner that listens to my questions and helps me understand the things I don’t. We all need this kind of friend!


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