07 February 2013

Reading in Math Class: Think Alouds (Formative Reflection)

First, I wanted to celebrate the fact that I tried Think Alouds with this iMovie trailer. (I blogged about the lesson plan here on Tuesday.)

That being said, today felt like a train wreck. :)

I had originally intended to copy each handout on the same piece of paper so I could have a parallel notes kind of situation like this:

I didn't get my copies done, so my first thought was to just have the kids pull it up in our AP Stats shared Dropbox folder and annotate on their iPads with any of our note-taking apps (since they were already out to transcribe the whole experience with Dragon Dictation). The whole process was started to get overwhelmed with all of the tech layers I was throwing on top of the lesson, so I abandoned that and eventually just went old-school print out of the text from my Google Drive file, highlighting items of emphasis and writing their thoughts in the margins.

There's a lesson planning truth here: Always try out new stuff with your most resilient class. My AP Stats class is my smallest, and the students most agreeable to patiently working on something else for another class if/when I have to troubleshoot. They're also independent enough to do some extra work YouTubing or reading on their own later if necessary (which is crappy for a teacher to do when its unintentional, so of course, we try to limit that). :)

My Verdict:

Kelly Fisher-Bishop followed up to my comment on her post about Think Alouds and it seems to summarize my current thoughts on the strategy:
I think this strategy will take some time for it to work and run smoothly; students will have have trouble vocalizing their thoughts in the beginning, but after some practice and modeling (on your part) the students will eventually get the hang of it. If it becomes part of the class routine, then students will get better and better at using this new reading strategy.
 If you watched all of the trailer I shared at the beginning of the most, my kids really were "defying stereotypes" with the reading lesson. Part of the problem may have been the texts I ended up choosing, but I'm willing to rest right now on a level of discomfort they had a) reading aloud in class, b)reading in math class (although of any of the courses in our catalog, stats has the most reading as routine), and c) working in new groups (they usually just pair up with the person next to them. I truthfully may have thrown too many variables into this lesson to attribute the effect to any one of them).

Students' Verdict:

Here are some of their thoughts on the lesson (collected using Today's Meet).
"I liked that we worked in groups to figure out what the reading was talking about."
"Group work is nice, binomials are a little clear, could've gone over it as a class more. I learned more than if it would have been a ppt."
"I liked that we could use the iPads to help figure stuff out. If we had more time to talk about it afterward, that would have helped me more" 
"I like that we got to go over the material from two different websites n we reviewed it"
"Can we do a binomial problem in class together step by step?" 
They're usually nicer than I expect them to be. :) Two things I gather from these responses:
  1. they liked talking it out with their partner/group 
  2. a summary of the activity/application of what they learned was necessary to validate thoughts from the group and clear misconceptions that may have developed. 

Adaptations for YOUR class:

Using Dragon Dictation was a waste of time. The help in the app suggests that you speak directly into the microphone, which is unnatural and weird to do if you're trying to have a constructive conversation with a person. If I want to archive the audio next time, I would just use the recording utility in Noteability or SmartNote Free. As mentioned from the student comments, a summary of the learning and thinking that went across groups should have been compiled before we left - a couple ways to share could be Todaysmeet.com, a Google Doc that everyone edits as they wrap up their own conversations, or good ol' pieces of butcher paper for each group.

As far as choosing your text, its very important that the reading level is appropriate for your individual learners so they can get into the reading. A great opportunity for differentiation would be to group according to reading level and provide separate, approachable texts. My Stats class has been previously screened to make sure they could handle the reading required for the course, but when I try this with my Applied Math class next week, they will shut down if the reading is over the heads.

Have you tried Think Alouds before? Any other tips for my next attempt?


  1. It's great to see and read about your kids reading in math class! I hope that with a little more practice and fine-tuning that this strategy will become more successful for you and your students. I especially agree with your final thoughts. If the text is at a frustrational level for your students, they won't get anything out of the lesson and won't be able demonstrate understanding. Chunking a text into smaller, more manageable pieces can also help your struggling readers.

  2. Thanks, Kelly! Chunking is something that makes sense that I hadn't thought of.


Thanks for sharing!