I'm Bon Crowder and the photos above are both of me - in 1989 and today. I'm a Generation X mom of Generation Z kids.

I began peer tutoring in high school in 1984. MathFour.com is the 2015 version of me helping peers be comfortable in math.

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Tag Archives: inquiry based teaching

How to Know When a Math Lesson Fails – And What to Do About It

This post is inspired by an assignment for my Alternative Teacher Certification class with Texas ESC Region 4.

How can you tell a lesson isn't working? When do you know and what can you do to fix it?I’ve messed up my share of lessons in my career. And the one thing I’ve learned is that the students will always tell you when a lesson isn’t working.

They won’t use words, however. Not immediately.

Instead, they’ll show you with body language and facial expressions. But you have to “listen” for it.

The furrowed brow. The glazed and fearful look. The slow confused shaking of the head. All these are clear signifiers that something’s amiss.

Asking Out Loud

I used to ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” I would take silence as an implication of understanding.

Now I follow silence with, “Are there no questions because you totally get it, or because you’re so lost you don’t know what to ask?”

When I give students this permission to say the lesson isn’t working, they usually will.

Determining the Cause

To determine the cause of a failed lesson, you need:

  1. A safe learning environment.
  2. An open mind (like really REALLY open).
  3. A novel spirit so you can try something new.

If you’ve created a culture of trust, respect and safety in your classroom, you can get students to open up. They will tell you, or at least try to tell you, what they’re thinking. This is your first clue into the confusing or failed lesson.

As soon as the students give you information, take it. Ponder it. Ask more questions for clarification.

Avoid defending the lesson. (Even if it’s your favorite lesson ever. Don’t defend it.)

Validate their perceptions and get them to open up more. Let yourself delve into their thinking. Learn from what they’re saying.

And when you understand, or think you have an inkling of what went wrong, try something else. Experiment. Show or say something and then ask the students if it helps.

If so, keep going. If not, rinse and repeat the above steps.

Be Elsa

Yes – let it go. That’s the key to teaching. My favorite English teacher would say, “Don’t fall in love with your first draft.”

And in teaching, it’s “Don’t fall in love with your lesson.”

Because it will always find a class where it doesn’t work.

Your job is to be flexible, open and ready to shift.

Are you ready?

Share your thoughts in the comments. And share on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook too!


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4 Responses to Keep Your Thoughts to Yourself! {Five Minute Friday}

  1. That’s a great way to teach! We are homeschoolers, and I used to use that method sometimes with my son. I just didn’t know what it was called. :)

    Stopping by from Kate’s.

    • Indeed, Melissa, it’s a great method (and very natural) for homeschooling parents. And it teaches kids to ask themselves those questions. That’s the best part!

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3 Responses to Teaching Processes Destroys a Growth Mindset

  1. Very well said. I just covered solving equations and inequalities, and the whole time the process was thought about in terms of figuring out what was happening to the variable and what should be done to get it by itself.

    What frustrated me to no end was to hear students recite rules related to graphing in equalities on a number line that did not work when the variable is on the right.

    Going to share this article with my department as we have been focusing on transitioning students to a growth mindset.


    • Chris – it sounds like you are doing sort of what I was doing! I did a short video of it here.

      When they start spouting rules senselessly just kills me!

      I look forward to hearing how your transition goes – please share anything, as I’m in that transition too.

  2. This is actually something I’ve been struggling with lately…
    Perhaps a year ago, I would have responded to this post with an enthusiastic “yes”, but right now, a year into grad school, I’m a little less sure.

    I’ve always learned by intuition, and rarely proceed with something until I “understand” it, even if I “know the process”, but lately I’ve seen that sometimes I just need work through something blindly, before going back and understanding what’s “really” going on.

    A particular example is something called “path induction” (or “identity elimination”) in type theory–it’s a notoriously difficult concept (amongst type theorists, anyway), and I beat my head against it for over a month. I then worked through about a dozen exercises and simple proofs blindly using the rule, and then went back to try to understand what it meant, and suddenly, it was almost completely clear.

    Certainly, at school, process is (devastatingly) over-emphasized, but I’m less sure that teaching process is necessarily bad–it has routinely helped me gain intuition for concepts I’m struggling with.

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One Response to Teach a Man to Fish… Really?

  1. I am so struck by this:

    Indeed, if you’re going to teach a child who really needs help learning, you might as well just give them the fish.

    & since we fish AND we’re educators, I’ll share a little snippet with you.

    Our fishing trips used to be “Reel in your slack. Reel in your slack. You have to watch for bites. Get out of the mud. Reel in your slack. Watch your slack!”

    Totally relaxing day at the river, let me tell you. :\

    TEACHING them how to fish didn’t get us far. Working within the boundaries of their patience & understanding, then gently expanding those boundaries a piece at a time has really improved their math. I mean fishing. 😉

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2 Responses to How to Create an Inquiry Zone for Math Learning

  1. Inquiry Zone’s rock! Learners must feel safe!

    They should also know how to validate their work, regardless to what the teacher says > “Until you decide differently, everyone is wrong. Even the teacher and textbook.”

    • Thanks, Toni, for stopping by. I know you and your crew focus on this a lot. It’s a pleasure to be creating learning zones in the world with you!

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2 Responses to Inquiry-based Math Instruction

  1. Interesting article, but I respectfully disagree with the idea that inquiry-based learning cannot intermingle with, and ultimately benefit, testing content. When carefully planned, structured inquiry uses provocation to guide students to discovering and understanding larger math concepts. As the develop in the content they should be encouraged and supported in working with the concept as they would see it in a testing environment. The connects they draw should certainly not be brushed aside, but should be strongly encouraged and celebrated, as methods for solving testing problems. The purpose of inquiry based learning is that students draw connections between the lesson and other areas of their lives, making the learning relevant and transportable. Without the connections, the inquiry based learning is limited in its effectiveness, ultimately negatively impacting the number of strategies available to a student when faced with a testing situation. In order to be authentic and effective with inquiry, you must trust the inquiry process to yield meaningful learning that translates to higher test results.

    • I see your point chamlow, but life isn’t made of tests. It’s made of challenges. So if we focus on higher test results instead of genuine learning, we’re doing our children a disservice.

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