JGough observes JWilson – #NCSM14 Developing Conceptual Understanding Through the Progressions

26 Apr

Peer-to-Peer Observations…who learns?


Piloting an Observation of Practice with Jennifer Wilson (@jwilson828), I observed Jennifer during our NCSM presentation, Developing a Conceptual Understanding of Fractions. Below is a record of what I observed and then my reflection.  I am grateful for the opportunity to observe Jennifer and to learn from and with her.

Jill Gough observes Jennifer Wilson
NCSM: Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 10:00 – 11:00, New Orleans, LA
Session:  Developing Conceptual Understanding Through the Progressions:  Fractions, Ratios, and Proportions


Jennifer began her session with Essential Learnings for the hour.  By the end of this session, everyone should be able to say:

  • I can describe a fraction a/b as a copies of 1/b.
  • I can construct questions that push and probe student thinking about questions.
  • I can explain the role that technology plays in deepening student understanding of fractions.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 5.29.57 PM

I like that Jennifer began her session this way, because it offered participants focus and direction. I wonder if the audience appreciated this intentional guiding of thinking.  I like that there was a content essential learning, an assessment essential learning, and a process essential learning.  What if all PD lessons were launched this way? I wonder if we would see more engagement and thought and less nervousness about which button to press.

I appreciated the situation Jennifer experienced with technology as the session began.  The same situation happened to me in Sacramento a couple of weeks ago.  After playing her PowerPoint slide, Jennifer returned to the Navigator software to find all the traditionally black text was now white making is difficult to read.  In addition, when she returned to the slideshow, it was frozen.  (Same for me in Sacramento, but I was using Keynote.)

I like that Jennifer pressed forward, abandoning her slide deck to keep the conversation going with the participants.  I wonder how she would handle this is such a short session if she was presenting alone.

I liked the formative assessment question sent via quick poll to engage the audience right away.  While I was not quick enough to capture the results, they were varied. Each choice had some takers.  I liked the use a warm-up question using the Navigator. I liked that Jennifer took action based on the results.  Good modeling.  I liked that the Navigator was used as a tool and that fractions were the featured event that anchored the discussion.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 5.30.20 PM

I love watching Jennifer facilitate peer-to-peer discourse, because she requires individual thinking time prior to group discussion.  I aspire to use her protocol. I need this when I am learning. What if we established this as a goal or must do for all instructors?

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 5.30.40 PM

Jennifer used the following files during her session:

Using appropriate wait time, Jennifer offered hands-on experience and investigation time for participants to explore each of the files.  She prompted participants to shoulder-partner up and brainstorm push and probe questions that might be asked of students.  Jennifer used the Navigator to capture class responses to comment on and visualize quality questions from the audience and the authors.  I like that she modeled push and probe questioning through this discussion.  She honored participant questions and offered advancing questions to help push their thinking.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 5.31.17 PM

I observed participants struggle with what questions to ask and what response to hope for from learners.  One participant said “I don’t know how to explain these true/false questions.  I know which ones are true and which are false, but how do I explain in words?” Evidence of probing for understanding and that thinking was being pushed.  I liked that I had the opportunity to witness and then facilitate peer-to-peer discourse as these teacher-learners grappled with the why of fractions.  I wonder if we should incorporate the 5-whys protocol and theWhat Makes You Say That Visible Thinking Routine to facilitate rich discussion and uncover possible misconceptions.

Using the Navigator class capture, Jennifer complimented the audience on their approaches to Fractions and Unit Wquares and that none of their methods were the way she thought.  “My students continually surprise me. You too!” I like that she modeled her way only after showing several correct ways.

Jennifer closed by returning to the Essential Learnings to remind participants of their experience and what the target was for the session.

Jill’s reflection:

 As a result of this observation of practice and feedback loop, which aspects of my teaching do I feel are bright spots?

I like starting sessions with Essential Learnings written as I can… statements.  Observing Jennifer launch and close her session with the I can… statements was the first time I’ve seen someone other than me leverage them in a professional development session.  In my own practice, I send the agenda ahead of the session when possible. I wonder if I should declare them as the beginning of the session. I thought it was a powerful anchor for our work.

I like starting with a warm-up question that turned into formative assessment.  In my own practice, I have intentionally described how I am shifting gears based on a warm-up question to model adjusting (not abandoning) the plan to meet learners where they are.  I wonder how many teacher-learners miss the adjustment when we are not direct about the shift we are making.  At the Social Media PD Saturday, Sam commented on the shifts I made based on the learners’ questions and the fact that I still accomplished everything on the plan.  What if we are more intentional when we shift to make the shift transparent? Based on these results, we are going to shift to Xand we will get to our destination. This connects to Jo Boalers’ I am giving you this feedback because I believe in you. What if we are direct? I/we are shifting the plan because we need to do X to accomplish XX.

I like using the Navigator to highlight multiple pathways to success.  I appreciated Jennifer using the Navigator to intentionally highlight more than one way to accomplish a task.  I wonder if zooming in to show 2 screens from the class capture helps participants sitting in the back to see.  What if we regularly and intentionally honor work by showing multiple correct pathways?

As a result of this observation of practice and feedback loop, what questions do I have about my own teaching?

I wonder how to include more participants when using the Navigator.  At Jennifer’s session, there were 30 handhelds and 40 participants.  I wonder how to engage all participants. Do we need more resources? Should we partner? I want to try more participants connected to Navigator in my work with large groups.  Even though every participant (40-90 participants) had a handheld, we observed those not connected and displayed were less engaged.

What if I am more intentional about Think-Team-Share? I appreciated Jennifer’s direct and intentional let’s take 30-60 seconds to organize our thoughts silently before sharing. What if I add this to my facilitation toolkit? What if I add let’s take a minute to quick-write. Describe your thinking on paper to offer a visual of your idea when sharing with others. How might I model this as a strategy for any learning episode?

As a result of this observation of practice and feedback loop, what new ideas do have?

Well, one is in the paragraph above.  “What if I add this to my facilitation toolkit? What if I add let’s take a minute to quick-write? Describe your thinking on paper to offer a visual of your idea when sharing with others. How might I model this as a strategy for any learning episode?” I hear myself talk about teaching learners visual note taking, but do I model it for teacher-learners? What if I write a blog post that show what is in my head so that it is clearer to me and to others?

I am inspired to work on my closings.  I like how Jennifer cycled back to the Essential Learning for the session to have participants do a quick mental self-assessment.  I believe the way she closed the session improved the chances that the message will stick.

[Cross posted at Experiments in Learning by Doing.]


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2 responses to “JGough observes JWilson – #NCSM14 Developing Conceptual Understanding Through the Progressions

  1. Travis

    April 26, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    I think it is wise to have several written questions for tech failures. For each critical tech aspect, there should be one specific question and one mutli purpose question. This allows the presenter an opportunity to try and fix the problem and/or go to plan B. Ironically, if our questions are good, then we actually welcome tech problems rather than be paralyzed by them. I call this ‘lemonizing’. For example, I don’t like red lights. So now I use red lights to tell my wife that I love her or ask my kids open ended questions or think of 3 things I am thankful for. How about ‘turn to your neighbor and describe 2 ways you have taught fractions.’ or. ‘If you had a magic wand, which fraction problem would you cure?’
    It is crucial to have them written, because it is exactly at that moment that you will need full cranium processing power and you need single minded focus to solve the tech issue.
    I need to employ that quick write more often, but it is like doing that last set of exercise before the cool down…can’t we just do our cool down now, coach? Nope!
    Thanks Jill and Jennifer.

    • jwilson828

      April 26, 2014 at 10:56 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Travis. I like the idea of deliberately having a few questions for “just in case”. I always have those for my students, but I can’t say the same for when I present a session. I, too, need to practice using more quick-writes. There are so many advantages to students writing their observations instead of just thinking them.


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