Deeper Learning Blog Series: How to Integrate Deeper Learning into Your Classroom (3 of 6)

Last week, I addressed the importance of Self-Directed Learning as it relates to the six competencies of Deeper Learning, which are outlined in Dr. Tim Hudson’s recent white paper, Algebra Readiness through Deeper Learning in Middle School: How Teachers Can Empower Students to Achieve with Confidence. Now the discussion continues with Effective Communication: “Students who communicate effectively in writing and in oral presentations are able to structure information in meaningful ways, listen to and give feedback, and construct messages for particular audiences.” I’ll delve into real-life strategies to utilize greater communication in the classroom.

Competency 3: Effective Communication

strategy3Effective communication involves both teachers and students participating in ongoing conversations. If a teacher, even with the best intentions, only provides direct instruction to students, it doesn’t effectively share the beauty of discovering mathematics. Conversely, if students only respond to questions asked by the teacher, the lecturer remains the central presenter, which inadvertently silences the room. Below is a suggestion on how teachers can engage their students in a two-way conversation and support equal involvement.

Strategy: Two-way, Ongoing Communication

Although memorization works for some students, the long-lasting learning that we hope to inspire is created through understanding with meaning. Teachers aim to demystify mathematics, but instead of just lecturing, try discussing why formulas or algorithms are appropriate for particular situations. How?

Think, Pair, Share

This is a standard communication strategy I frequently used in my classroom. It gives students time to think about a concept, explore their ideas in pairs or small groups, and then share their thoughts with the entire class. This is especially important at the middle school age when students are more self-conscious and reluctant to share ideas they’re not confident are correct. As a teacher, I modeled the acceptance and value of ideas by guiding the conversation, providing a framework for dialogue, and supplying an engaging lesson that pushed students to think about mathematics through their unique points of view.

Make the Connection

In my classroom, to expose greater understanding and personalized learning, I would search for ways to find connections between mathematical ideas. For example, while my students were learning about fractions, I also introduced proportions and ratios to lay the foundation for a larger concept. Without taking a deeper dive into the additional content, I made sure the class discussed the similarities and differences between these ideas—and my students saw the relationships without explicit instruction. The rich conversation created a connectivity to mathematics that could not have been possible from direct instruction and note-taking alone.

Ask Questions and Engage

It is imperative that teachers share learning objectives before introducing new concepts, because it fosters open, two-way communication that allows questions to probe students’ prior knowledge and frames of reference. Meanwhile, students have the opportunity to build bridges between their schema and new learning objectives. In my classroom, students often claimed to understand a concept before I taught the lesson, because they had seen the math previously, or knew the basic steps to solving it. For example, many reported that they could perform fraction division simply by “flipping the second fraction” and multiplying across. Although this is true on a basic level, further questioning led me to realize that the algorithm was clear, but they had no true understanding of what dividing a fraction means. We explored the concept together and related it to simple real-life recipes and drawing arrays, which visually show fraction division. The conceptual understanding fleshed out why the algorithm works, and the students who claimed understanding in the beginning were pleased with how much they had learned, and could now apply their knowledge to different situations.

Effective Communication is a broad topic, but with time and clear two-way conversations that open up discussions of concepts and encourage new shared ideas, you’ll soon find that your students are communicating their understanding through their work and finding connections that highlight the beauty of math.

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Kelly Urlacher

Curriculum Designer at DreamBox Learning
Kelly Urlacher began her career as a sixth grade teacher in Sammamish, WA in 2002. Shortly after, she received her Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Technology and Curriculum Development. After years of dedicating herself to students and education within the classroom, she earned her National Board Certification in 2009. Kelly currently works as a Curriculum Designer for DreamBox Learning and continues tutoring high school students in mathematics.