Letting Go of Ticking Boxes

This term we have been exploring addition and subtraction in our number strand. Our data informed us that many of our students had already reached benchmark level for the end of the year. I had been struggling to find learning engagements for my students that would spark curiosity, provoke questioning and drive mathematical inquiry and thinking.

We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.’

Considering this, I placed three words on the whiteboard:

Split… Jump… Compensation…

I ask my students what they thought these words had to do with:

  • They must have to do with addition and subtraction because that’s what we’re learning
  • I remember seeing those words a while ago
  • They might be things we do to work out problems

A healthy start. I wondered what questions they might have to guide some independent inquiry:

  • Why do we need to split numbers?
  • Can we use all those words at once?
  • Which one is the easiest to do?
  • What does compensation mean?
  • How do we find out what they mean?

‘Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.’

Reflecting on the first half of the term, perhaps I had made assumptions about what the children had to know and the way they needed to learn. I had neglected to remember the way learning happens for the most positive results – it’s not my job to continue to question my students; they should be directing their own learning and exploration through their own questioning.

‘Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.’

They dispersed around our space; some to iPads, others to Chromebooks, some to poster paper. Some independent, some in collaboration with others. But the key was the freedom and ‘no-holds-barred’ approach to their inquiry.

I could walk around the space, see how and what each student was learning, and check in when I needed to. I could support and scaffold those who were not feeling as confident with the concepts.

‘Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts.’

  • Mr Kuran, I just learned about friendly numbers, which end with 0 or 5
  • Mr Kuran, the jump strategy is like what we did when we looked at number lines
  • Mr Kuran, the split strategy is the easiest to do
  • Mr Kuran, this video doesn’t explain the strategy as well as the last one
  • Mr Kuran, this website was helpful because it uses pictures to explain the process

The first notable change here was that my students weren’t ‘learning by box-ticking’. They were learning authentically. They didn’t concern themselves with what they ‘expected’ me to see.

Maybe it’s a little bit like when students write a narrative text and stick to an adherent structure because ‘that’s what Mr X taught us to do’. It is no reflection of them as a learner or thinker *cough NAPLAN cough*.

As we moved through the lesson, I noticed some students sharing their ideas with others. Some picked up strategies quicker than others. Some required further explanation. Students were teaching students! But that wasn’t in the memo!!??

‘Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.’

Come the end of the lesson, each student had something to show and share (which I neglected to leave time for – note to self for next time!) about their learning. Some used their books. Others created collaborative presentations using Google Slides. One student embedded a helpful YouTube video to his slideshow because he wanted to share his ideas with others.

In our lesson later in the week, we proudly shared our thinking and made connections to our prior learning:

  • The split strategy is what we use when we look at place value
  • The compensation strategy could be really helpful with worded problems and estimating
  • The jump strategy is helpful when we look at bigger numbers on number lines

And more questions:

  • Will all the strategies work for subtraction too?
  • How do we know when it is the right time to use a strategy?

J loved the freedom of being able to put his own ideas down on paper. E suggested that having to go find their own responses meant they had to use their brains!

‘Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.’

I had preconceived ideas for what my students would find meaningful and challenging. I put myself in their shoes and made assumptions about how, what and why they need to understand. This time they had a voice.

I was too direct with my instruction. This time I took a risk and let them go.

My idea of inquiry learning has changed a lot. This has happened through my own self-assessment and data collection. I need to hold myself back a bit and trust the process. Trust inquiry as a stance, not a ‘thing we do‘.

Giving students opportunities where what I can see is a reflection of them as learners. I want them thinking. 

It’s not always just ‘what the teacher wants’. It’s not always about ticking boxes. 


About Dean Kuran

I'm a primary school teacher at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I believe in establishing positive environments in which students can develop confidence and curiosity, while nurturing the skills that will benefit them outside of the learning space.
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2 Responses to Letting Go of Ticking Boxes

  1. whatedsaid says:

    I love the way you have structured this post to show how the learning reflected our learning principles. Hard to believe the shift from the’ organisational’ goal that you set at the start of the year to where you are now! Rather than ticking the TEACHING boxes, you are basing everything on beliefs about how LEARNING takes place. I’m excited to be part of your growth…

  2. lanafleiszig says:

    Dean it is amazing to see what evolves when we let go. Your 3 words were the provocation and your learners did the thinking. Your role was less about delivering content and more about active listening, questioning, noticing and naming! Your buzz that I can feel whilst reading your post is the buzz that keeps us loving what we do. Creating a space for learners to own their learning is the greatest gift we can give – it will last a lifetime!! I’m so excited by your growth in such a short time!

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