By: Caroline Mwendwa-Baker, Elementary School Principal; Penny Perrott, Physical Education Teacher; and Anya Rosenberg, Assistant Teacher
It’s Wednesday morning on a crisp day in early November and students in the Fourth Grade are getting ready for their weekly problem-based task in morning math. The students begin in a whole group lesson to go over the complex math problem together. Ms. Jessica, the class’ lead teacher, begins by reading the problem out-loud as students follow along and underline words and phrases that stand out to them. Once a basic level of understanding of the problem is reached, students spend five minutes of independent think time to fill out a Know/Wonder/Ideas (KWI) graphic organizer to share what they know about the problem, what they wonder about the problem, and any ideas they have for how to solve it. Students then come together as a class and share their ideas to reach a deeper collective understanding. When students share their ideas, Ms. Jessica, the class’ lead teacher, gives value to every students’ observations and summarizes their ideas to fit in the know/wonder/idea structure, physically filling out a large scale KWI on a chart paper at the front of the class. This whole group lesson establishes clear and explicit structures and expectations for how to approach the problem, such as the expectation that every student create a clear model of their thinking. By making the expectations and guidelines clear, students are set-up to grapple at a level that challenges their current understanding but won’t leave them frustrated. The whole class KWI is created within the first 10 minutes of the lesson, and it remains at the front of the class for students to reference as they delve into their independent work. Minimal guidance about how to solve the problem is given, but many ideas are proposed and discussed. Once in partnerships, the students begin to work through the problem together. Using powerful language to express their thinking, students own their opinions and defend their approaches, but are malleable with their thinking so that they can grapple and engage in the challenging work together.