Here is a piece pertaining to and reflecting upon the student interviews that I conducted with third grade students in my previous field placement classroom pertaining to math.
Mathematics Student Interviews
After having the chance to interview several students from my third grade practicum placement class, I have learned quite a lot about not only how children learn and what they understand in terms of mathematics, but also about how complex the process of learning math really can be. It is something that takes time and a lot of work in order to grasp a solid understanding and the capability to then take that understanding and apply it in new, multiple different ways in learning and in our world.
First and foremost, I have learned that one on one interviews are a fantastic way to understand an individual student’s thinking when it comes to different topics in math. They also help to gain a larger picture about where the student stands over all with math and what concepts they truly understand and which they still need work with. But, in order to gain a good picture of what a child understands in terms of math, one must be willing to listen as well as prompt and urge the child to explain more with questioning. A lot of times, children are often not used to explaining what they have done or why. And as such, a teacher must be able to prompt them with questioning and comments to get the student to open up and really share their thought processes and methods. Then it is simply a matter of allowing the student the chance to speak, without interruption no matter if they are wrong or right, and bring to words their thinking. It may sound simple, but this process of interviewing, asking, and listening can be challenging and requires that a teacher be prepared with questions and ideas before the interview, and that these questions be meaningful in sparking critical thinking in a student’s mind.
The most important thing comes from student interviews for a teacher, at least as I believe, is the knowledge of where next to focus their teaching to help better improve and solidify their student’s mathematical thinking. Interviews like these really allow a teacher to see if the student has procedural understanding and can follow the steps to a method, and if they have conceptual understanding, which is desired, and can then explain and expand upon the method in different ways. They let teachers gain a personal, individual understanding of so many different aspects of a child’s mathematical learning and help to guide future direction towards improvement and better understanding. I can personally use the information that I have attained to help the two students I interviewed to practice working on areas where they seemed confused. For example, one student had issues with multiple representations, and so I could work on having her try and use different methods, visuals, words, numbers, etc, to express an answer to a problem. That is only one of many things that can be done to help. The bottom line is, student interviews help educators to help their students.
This experience connects to the reading the class has done through the idea that the interviews help us to move our students to a more engaged and deeper way of thinking about math. Not only can they help us to know where to focus on so that students have multiple ways to solve or interpret a problem, but also how we can they better help them to make connections, explain concepts, or indulge in any number of the other process skills. The interviews help us to see what needs work, and the readings from the book help us to know what to do to better facilitate learning for the desired outcome while still keeping math interesting and relevant in student lives.
I learned a few different things about being a teacher from this experience. For one, I learned that even for one on one tasks, a teacher needs to have patience. They must be willing to sit down and allow a student to work through their own thinking and to make their own mistakes. I have also learned that they also have to be willing to let their students struggle and flail at times in order to gain a true understanding of where the class or a student is. We cannot always be there, holding their hands, through everything. For myself, I learned that I have a knack for making sure that students feel comfortable around me. During both my interviews, neither of my students were shy or displayed any feelings of discomfort even as I questioned them. I can only assume this because of my experience with working with very young children and learning how to speak and interactive with them to keep them comfortable. I have also learned that I need to slow down with me talking. I have a tendency to talk very quickly. There were even a few times my students had to ask what I had just asked because I spoke too fast. This I feel can be remedied through practice speaking slower and timing myself to see just how fast I talk and how ridiculous it is. I feel like I learned a lot about myself and teaching, as well as what I would do differently given the chance.
There are a few aspects I would like to change given the chance to do the interviews over again. I would like to have questioned my students even further, with a wider range of questions, just so I could be sure about what their thinking looked like. I would also like to try and make sure to do the interviews in the morning and not the afternoon, as it seems the students tend to lose focus as they day wears on. I want them to think about their answers in depth and not just blurt out answers because they are burnt out for the day. Aside from that, all I would really say is I would like to make sure that I had all supplies I needed for the interview, like having two pencils so that both the student and I could write at the same time. They may not sound like very big changes, but I feel like they could really help my interviews to better reach their full potential and yield the most enlightening results as possible.