## QED

The really funny thing about this cartoon is that one of my standard jokes is that the greatest innovation in math pedagogy in 4000 years has been the overhead projector.

There is a great deal that I disagree with about the way many English classes are taught, but the most significant innovation in writing instruction has most certainly been the introduction of peer review and drafting. Students write stuff. Students read what other students have written. Students provide feedback. While it may seem a little counterintuitive to have fairly inexperienced writers evaluating and commenting on the work of other inexperienced writers, it makes sense once you begin to think about the essay (which means “to attempt or try”) as a kind of problem to be solved. Even inexperienced writers can help other inexperienced writers solve a problem of structure or phrasing or evidence—or at least propose workable or even effective options for how the problem might be tackled. And the weaker writers get to see examples of both successful and unsuccessful writing. Peer review also allows instructors of writing to group weaker writers with stronger—or to place all the strong writers together. This is especially useful.

A couple of years ago, I asked a friend who teaches mathematics if they ever used groups as a part of their pedagogy. As a terrible student of math in college, I can imagine any number of scenarios that would have helped me immensely in my college math classes: the instructor demonstrates a couple of problems on the board/overhead; the instructor passes out a sheet with a few other examples on it to be worked by the students; the students group up and work through the problems collaboratively. Perhaps the instructor takes the sharper students and uses them as in-class tutors for the weaker ones. For problems where there are multiple solutions, I can imagine groups discussing the merits of various solutions.

Anyway. So I asked my friend if they ever use peer groups. She looked at me like I was insane and just said “never.”

The wife does what you suggest all the time in her math classes; she calls it scaffolding, and she usually aligns the stronger students with the weaker ones.

FWIW, most of her students come out with at least a better grasp on math than when they came to her. Some develop a love for it through her class. Most credit her later with helping them get through some harder segment of mathematics b/c (and this is the scary part) they managed to internalize some of her methods.

At any rate, I wish she’d been my math instructor. A huge proponent of Diversified Instruction (I think that’s what she says it’s called), she takes great pains to make the subject concrete and applicable to their world. From what I see, it works.

JoshJune 24, 2010 at 7:18 am