Tuesday, September 26, 2017

5 Ways to go Beyond Recitation

By E. Fuller, WVU Mathematics (guest blogger)

Students at almost every institution of higher education will encounter a recitation as part of their mathematics class at some point, part of the class time set aside to repeat foundational mathematical equations. Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) are frequently called on to lead these smaller groups of students through the basics of finding the roots of a quadratic equation or computing derivatives using the chain rule. Recitation time is often left for practice of the techniques students learn in lecture. But what if we could do more during this class time? What would that look like?

Here are a few approaches you can take to change your students’ experiences during recitation.

1) Focus on getting students to do the work instead of doing it for them. Homework problems are great and it’s sometimes easiest for us to go to recitation prepared to work out many variations of problems we‘ve done ahead of time. The problem is that we already know how to do them. We are better served, as are the students, by providing the space to let them work through the content with guidance. This is perhaps the easiest way to stay true to the content of the class while creating student-focused time. Use inquiry and questioning to get students to tell you how to do the problems instead of the other way around.

2) Incorporate group work into your sessions. Build teams and leverage peer instruction (a method that allows students quick to understand a method or solution to help his or her peers through the problem) so that they can become teachers themselves. Empowering students is always a good thing.

3) Get students to communicate what they understand to each other and to the class. Research shows that students need to explain what they understand to really master a topic. This practice forces them to rethink concepts as they try to convey knowledge to someone else. Writing prompts such as ‘Explain why this procedure works…’ or ‘Evaluate this solution and determine if there are errors’ force students to think through ideas and develop reasoning to support conclusions.

4) Have students relate mathematics to their own experiences. To develop a connection with mathematical ideas, students can investigate how mathematics is related to their futures or how multiple levels of mathematics show up in their day to day experiences. Connecting ideas like contour maps to real world activities like hiking can bring even more advanced concepts into life.

5) Cultivate an environment where failure is ok and experimentation is encouraged. Students need to learn that trying is important even if it doesn’t lead to the (correct) answer the first time. Making your classroom safe for exploring ideas (even incorrect ones) helps support a growth mindset among the students, especially important if the classroom is student-centered and they are doing and explaining the mathematics that is happening.

It’s important to keep in mind that you can start small - you don’t need to do these things in every meeting. You can pick some manageable topics to try something new with and build from there. It can be hard work and takes time and practice, but your students will benefit from it, and you will find that those recitation sessions can lay the groundwork for some pretty amazing mathematical discoveries for the students.

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