Students learn to give feedback with a growth mindset

Yesterday Algebra’s Friend introduced me to a new professional development blog Read…Chat…Reflect…Learn! While I enjoy reading blogs for lesson ideas, I also love reading journal and magazine articles, books, research studies, etc. as another way to stay current. I’m glad I found this blog and I’m thrilled to see that it’s in its infancy, only because it makes me feel that I haven’t missed out on too much!

The current topic is feedback. The article for discussion was How Am I Doing? It offered a good overview, but what was missing was how to provide feedback using a growth mindset. This excerpt, Types of Feedback and Their Purposes,  gives clear examples. One type of feedback I tend to focus on is descriptive as opposed to judgmental feedback.

When examining student work for feedback I’ve collected their work in progress, and provided descriptive feedback. I won’t kid you. It’s time consuming. But an idea was floating in my head. What if I taught students to give each other feedback with a growth mindset?  I don’t want you to think I am shirking my responsibilities, but could math students offer feedback similar to students who participate in peer editing compositions?

After reading Algebra’s Friend post I thought I would give it a try. Yesterday and today I showed my students this Would You Rather problem. They were to work in groups of four to solve.

After the groups worked for about 10-15 minutes, I collected their work, redistributed them to different groups and asked the new group to provide feedback. Here’s an example:


Kids being kids, their feedback was somewhat judgmental and not of a growth mindset. Had they rephrased their wording to questions such as, “How could labeling help explain your thinking?” or a statement such as “The final answer is not clear,” would definitely put them on the track towards feedback with a growth mindset.

Doing this activity in groups made it quite manageable as only six responses were being critiqued. While I monitored each group I asked them what questions they had about the other group’s work. I also asked them to be positive with their feedback. Each problem was circulated twice. Doing so also gave groups the opportunity to see how others approached the problem and perhaps revamp their thinking.

Here’s how the above group implemented the feedback:



The next time I see them we’ll continue the conversation of how to offer feedback with a growth mindset. With more practice they’ll get better at it.

I should have thought of this at the start of the year.




Lost in the halls: distance between two points task

It’s been a great week, and a rough week. The highlight was having my pre-algebra students experience the Distance Between Two Points task.  I discovered it among a collection of tasks at the Complex Instruction Consortium website. I tweaked it a bit, and what I really liked about the task was that it got the students out of the classroom. They liked that too. In fact at some point I lost “visual contact” with every student but they never took advantage of the situation!

Students were anxious to get started, so many didn’t pay attention to the directions we read aloud.

distance task directions

Student: “I don’t get it!”

“Read the Resource Fact.”

“So we have to count the tiles?”

“Is that what the resource fact is suggesting?”

distance count

Student: “But how do we find AC and BD?”

To give you an idea of the layout of our building here’s what the kids were doing. I did NOT give them this diagram. They had to come up with it on their own, which was extremely helpful when describing the group’s procedure.


Here’s an example of the student work. They’re getting better at constructing an argument and explaining their reasoning.

distance student work

Math and reading: determining importance

Our December staff meeting will be devoted to the reading (thinking) strategy determining importance. The math department has been asked to present examples of student work and ways this strategy was implemented in the classroom.

I created this think aloud and worksheet for my pre-algebra students. My thoughts are to present and walk through the steps to solve the problem.determining importance

I’ll continue modeling how I solve the problem, then the students will have a turn solving this problem:

The sum of the ages of Elmira, Geoff and Rae is 82. If Elmira adds 6 to Geoff’s age, subtracts 8 from Rae’s age, or doubles her own age, it will equal Doug’s age. How old is Doug?

I’ll be curious to see how well they determine what’s important in the problem. Also, the age problem doesn’t prompt the students to create an equation.

We are almost at the point of introducing two step and multi-step equations so this problem will be good timing.


Developing argument writing in math using crime scene investigations

Who would have thought Queenie’s claim that Arthur fell down the stairs would help students dissect word problems. Or that the case of the Lunchroom Murder could train students to become astute observers when problem solving.


I’m talking about using elements from Hillcock’s Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12, to develop mathematical practice #3: construct a viable argument and critique the reasoning of others. The book is an English teacher’s bible and this section (beginning on page 36) may help your students become better problem solvers.

The goal is for students to apply claim, evidence, and rules when constructing a math argument. After two-three lessons using crime scene investigations (taught either in math or language arts), students apply the skill when solving problems.

After modeling few crime scene examples, it was time to link this skill to math. So I gave this handout showing how to construct a similar argument in math. A second example has some elements missing so the students need to complete the missing sections. Then I gave a series of word problems for additional practice.

Now that you know what the heck I’m talking about,  here’s the road I took with the students.

Before jumping right in with the math connection, I handed out the Slip-or-Trip-Lesson.  We read it as a class, discussed the evidence, and learned how rules support the evidence when making a claim.

After listing the evidence and rules to support our claim we drafted a police report (Slip-or-Trip-Crime-Scene-Evidence).

Next it was time for students to work independently or in small groups. They developed their claim, evidence, and rules skills on the The-Lunchroom-Murder task.

Finally students linked the crime scene investigations with claim and evidence using Constructing-a-Viable-Argument-in-Math document.

If you give this a try please let me know if it works for you and your students. I think the process not only enhances reasoning skills it helps students to articulate their thought process.

UPDATED 6/28/16 and slightly revised to include direct links to documents.

Additional pre-algebra problems not explicitly referencing claim, evidence and reasoning are in the determining importance file.