Last week I got in an argument with a student. A third grader. If it sounds a bit absurd, that’s because it is. I know better than to engage in that way with a student.
This little friend sees the world in black and white and has very rigid thinking. We were discussing an interesting math problem and this student was explaining how they had solved it. But their understanding was still fragile and so it was difficult to put the thinking into words.
I think I ran into a problem because of the clash of those two things. I wanted to help this student make their understanding more solid through the discussion and was trying to get them to explain in a different way. This student’s black and white view made them react as if I was saying they were wrong and double down by repeating the same thing again and again.
Looking back I realize I should have stopped the discussion much sooner. I should have asked if anyone wanted to explain what they were hearing this student say, in the hopes of getting a more detailed explanation. I could also have just moved on to having other students share and then come back when this student had a break from feeling on the spot. I had a lot of options and I think the one I chose was the worst.
Looking back, I can also recognize that I only know this in hindsight. It’s possible this student could have tried to reword their explanation and we could have built on that. In that moment I did what I thought was going to be the most helpful in this student’s understanding and in helping all of us think about the problem.
That’s not how it played out. Unfortunately.
But I’m not going to beat myself up over this one. I talked with the student later, one-on-one to explain why I had kept asking them to explain in a different way. I’m not sure we’re on the same page completely, even now, but I didn’t want to just leave the conversation as it had ended, with the student frustrated.
After many years in the classroom it is easy for me to reflect on a lesson, a discussion, a question, and think about how I should have done it differently. It’s easy for me to be quite hard on myself for not doing it as well as it could have been done. The first bit, the reflecting, is helpful. The second, the beating myself up, isn’t. There is no way to know for sure how something will go. I can take everything I know and give each moment my best. Then learn from it, whether it went well or not so well. And just keep on moving.