Friday, July 4, 2014

#70Days Creating a Risk-Free Environment

Students thanked me for being patient.  Parents thanked me for being nurturing.  Their words, not mine.  But I know some students were intimidated in class, afraid to share their thoughts.   This hurt me.  In the coming year I want my classroom to be safe, risk-free, above all else!

So today I asked on Twitter, #mtbos What specific activities or actions do you take to create a safe, risk-taking classroom environment?  

@jrobbins00 I reward/praise students for failing or getting incorrect answers if answering in front of class.
@MCorioFCPS Use interest inventories to build relationships. Also, try the QFocus Techn. to get kids purposefully asking ?s.
@MaryBourassa Counting circles & estimation 180.
@MaryBourassa Also when putting up a solution, they can choose to make mistakes. No one knows if mistakes are on purpose or not.
@luvbcd Model that mistakes are OK.If Ss see you make a mistake & explain where you want wrong they'll feel safe to do same.
@Borschtwithanna Blogged last night about activities that promote the idea that failure is okay and necessary.

When @MCorioFCPS mentioned interest inventories I realized that was a place I could start.  I use one every year.  I assign it, collect it, read through them ... and promptly file them.  I don't use the information in them effectively, honestly, very little.  This year I want to do something with the information.  I'm not sure what that will look like and if you have good ideas, I'd love to hear them.

I also want to use an idea I found in Math Tools, Grades 3-12: 60+ Ways to Build Mathematical Practices, Differentiate Instruction, and Increase Student Engagement by Silver, Brunsting, Walsh, and Thomas.  Students will answer a question for our warm-up activity that will identify a favorite something.  We'll combine the data and do a quick math activity with it. For example, what is your sports jersey number (or favorite 2-digit number)?  In your group of five, solve this equation with your numbers (a, b, c, d, and e):  a + bx + c(x + d) = e.  Other activities include their favorite shape, their favorite ice cream, their favorite song.  By sharing our favorites aloud and using the data, I hope to help students get to know one another better and get to know me as well.

@MaryBourassa mentioned counting circles and estimation 180.  I used Estimation 180 a few times this past year.  My students loved it and asked for more.  But I got caught up in "covering" curriculum and didn't take the five minutes to enjoy the estimation.  There, I confessed.  I have to fix that.  

I was unfamiliar with counting circles so I looked it up.  I found Sadie Estrella's presentation at Twitter Camp last year.  But as I watched it I wondered how I could make that work with advanced students in Algebra 2.  Then I read @jacehan's blog about counting circles in Algebra 2.  He provided some excellent ideas!

I remembered last year that someone posted a weekly warm-up routine handout.  I scanned through #made4math and found the one that @algebraniac1 made.  I like hers and plan to modify it since we are on an A/B schedule.  I think using a warm-up routine that taps into some of the super math sites with engaging visual math situations will help promote discourse and give opportunities for all of us to make mistakes and learn from them.

This past year I used My Favorite No fairly often in the second semester.  I think this activity helped our community of learners become comfortable with mistakes because we talked about what the student did well as well as the errors made.  Using the process early in the year, and more regularly may help us accept the idea of mistakes more easily.

In our #EduRead chat on Wednesday night we talked about using growth mindset language and teaching students about grit.  @kklaster mentioned teaching the vocabulary, grit, frustration, comfort zone, and telling students, "Today is a 'grit' day" so that they are prepared for a struggle! She writes about teaching "grit" here!

I look forward to more reading this summer - how to create a safe, risk-free environment.  If you have specific activities, please share in the comments!


  1. Great reflective post! I need to do more posts sharing the great ideas I get from others via twitter chats. TFS

    1. Thank you, Sherrie! I like using my blog for compiling ideas - my storage system of sorts! I have been following your blog in Feedly for some time - thanks for all your great thoughts!

  2. Great compilation of ideas, and I can't wait to get my Math Tools book!
    I have used a "Math-o-graphy" as my student information sheet, and the details are in my very first #made4math post: I always read their papers after the first week of school, at the end of the six weeks, and at the beginning of the 2nd semester. I also keep them to use when I write recs for colleges and scholarships.

    One super low-prep thing I do to help build relationships in class is I write non-content questions on the bottom of quizzes and tests, such as "What great books are you reading now?" or "What's the best thing that happened to you at school this week?" I always respond to the students' notes, and when I forget to write a question on their quiz, they often write one for me! (And they say, "Hey, where's our extra question?") It's an easy way for me to find out what's going on with students, and it gives even the quietest kids a chance to share with me.

    One last thing I recently started doing: I changed seats/groups every couple weeks, and I was surprised that my students didn't know each other, so the first thing I always say now is "Introduce yourself to all of your neighbors and say good morning." If we're sitting in groups, I'll have a question for the table such as, come to a consensus on your favorite Halloween candy (or sports' team, or type of food, etc.) Before we take a quiz or test I say: turn to your neighbor and say, "Good luck ______ (name)." The simple act of getting to know everyone's name was a huge eye-opener for me. :)

    Love all of your awesome ideas!! Thanks for sharing for all of us!

    1. WOW, Kathryn! Love, love these ideas! I will definitely add the non content question on quizzes and tests.

      This past year I worked with gifted and pre-ap students - all 9th and 10th graders taking Algebra 2. The 10th graders were intimidated by the 9th graders - and I didn't realize how much until quite late in the year. I like for students to choose their own seats and their own groups - partly because I prefer that when I am in a class. The benefit is that students form learning groups with which they are very comfortable. The down side is that they don't get to know the rest of the class. I am going to give strong consideration to your grouping idea!

      Thank you so much for sharing!