Thursday, February 20, 2020

Math Language Routine: Stronger and Clearer Each Time

We spend a lot of time perfecting how we support students in the classroom during the learning of mathematics, but helping students develop independence in using those supports and their benefits can be tricky. In thinking about why this happens, I have realized that some of the supports I have used actually lower the cognitive demand of tasks, so when students are faced with a non-routine problem, they can struggle to apply the tenets of those supports in a new context.

The Mathematics Language Routines maintain the rigor of the language and amplify it so that students are practicing in class what they will see on those measures. They are also more deeply learning the language, as they spend time refining their responses and then reflecting on how communication helped them more clearly articulate their thinking.

My school adopted Illustrative Mathematics last year and that was the first place I learned about them. I reached out to the literacy coach in my building who worked with me to develop the protocols with my students for "Three Reads" and "Stronger and Clearer Each Time." I'll focus on the latter in this post.
The goal of "Stronger and Clearer Each Time" is to help students revisit and refine their thinking to present a well-developed idea either in response to a prompt, as a solution to a problem, or any other opportunity for communication where precision is a focus. It also provides a chance for participants to reflect on how communication strengthens our thinking when we learn from others.

The routine begins with independent think time, where students write in response to the prompt on their own. I typically set an amount of time for them to “write everything you can about ________” I encourage the use of drawings, diagrams, words, and phrases. Before students move on to the next part, I have them pause, read what they have written, and jot down 3-4 key words from it to remind them what they want to share with their partner. 

Next, students go through 2-3 rounds of collaboration, where they spend a couple of minutes with a partner to share their own thinking and get feedback, and then do the same for their partners. At the end of each pairing, students quickly jot down something new they heard from their partner. 

After we have 2-3 rounds of partner talk, students head back to their home bases to write a revised draft of their thinking, incorporating the new information they heard. I have found that sharing out and thanking each other is a great closing to the collaboration piece; and it also reinforces social skills and gives students a chance to practice friendly language. We use sentence stems or closing statements that they choose from and high five before heading back to their seats.

Finally, we close and reflect on the process. This also launches what is perhaps the most important part of the routine; the reflection. I make sure to save time for us to think about and discuss how much our responses were improved and strengthened as a result of speaking and listening with others. Students often marvel at the change in their responses, and this piece is not something to skip.

One of the ways I’ve used this routine is to reinforce key terms or big ideas during a unit. This example is from a week ago when my students were exploring theoretical probability. There was some confusion between it and experimental probability, so I started our class with Stronger and Clearer, simply asking, “What is theoretical probability?” Below, you can see the initial draft and revised draft of one student. Being able to talk helped add detail and specific language to her response. The right image shows the note-taking tool students used to jot things down that their partners said during collaboration time. They use this information to revise their initial drafts. My favorite moment was when one student said, “Wow, I knew way more than I wrote down at first!”

Stronger and Clearer Each Time can also be used when students are solving problems, where the prompt becomes the problem and the discussions are around solution methods and justifications.

How will you use Stronger and Clearer in your classroom?

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