Skip to main content

The Competitive Edge

If you are like me, I am easily motivated by some sort of competition. I am competitive and love a challenge in all areas of my life. In the classroom, things are no different. As a student, I always strived to get the right answer, win my argument, or be on the winning team during an activity. As a teacher, I've found that one of the easiest ways to motivate my students to get excited about learning is to make it a competition. Motivate them to get the right answer by making it a challenge of some sort. The only thing that scares me about this is that a majority of students forget about the PROCESS and focus only on the right answer in order to win. How do I  know this, you ask? Well for one, I am the same way...I race to finish and get the "right" answer. Secondly, I have witnessed it firsthand in my own classroom and classrooms I've visited.  I really enjoyed visiting the math department this week and witnessing the awesome things they do on a daily basis to challenge student thinking and emphasize the learning process. I also continue to question how we can teach the importance of getting the right answer, but also emphasize the importance of the process used to get there?

Interactions with students pave the way for emphasizing the process. As teachers, we need to make sure we place importance on the process students use to get to the "right" answer AND ask them to articulate this process to us. When I observed Ms. Sheila Roth's math class, I loved the interactions she had with her students as they discussed various math problems. She asked for the answer first, and after the student shared the answer, she asked a follow-up question: What did you do to get there? As the student talked his way through the problem, she listened and responded with positive feedback. When another student asked a question about her peer's process, I was super impressed with Ms. Roth's response: "There are many ways to get there. Can you tell me what you did?" What a powerful question that demonstrates her desire to understand her students' thinking and desire to stress the importance of the process used to get the final result. Similarly, Ms. Teri Braband encouraged her students to struggle, learn, and then master the content at hand. She modeled the process for her students, paused for students to process, and then asked for feedback regarding the process she used. Talk about higher level thinking - can you evaluate someone else's process? In a conversation with Ms. Michelle Meeker, we discussed the importance of students being able to ask specific questions about a part of the process. While students know to manipulate information, they need to understand why and how. She explained that being able to articulate the process is extremely important as the content becomes more difficult. Getting the right answer is great, but we need to know how to get there if we want to continue to be successful in the future.

Lesson design can also be a great way to emphasize the process with our students. Adding creative activities and unique ways to learn the content will encourage students to think differently and use their critical thinking skills. In Mr. Keith Fedyski's Geometry class, he asked his students to design a city in Google Drawings and provided different parameters, based on their current unit, for the city. Students had to go through a different process than usual in order to understand the content, and in turn, had to produce a product, not "right" answer, in order to demonstrate their understanding. In Mr. Jim Fox's Calculus class, I witnessed some impressive collaborative conversations as the students worked through math activities together, in small groups. Mr. Fox explained that it is one of his favorite activities for students to complete, as they are "talking" math and fully engaged in working through the activity together. As I visited different groups, I heard students explaining their understanding and asking critical questions about the process used to solve the problems. While some groups seemed frustrated at times, they worked together and helped each other to complete the tasks to their best ability. Empowering students to work together to complete a task is a great way to engage and differentiate learning.

Lastly, student engagement and formative assessments can help students realize the importance of the process. There are numerous tools available for teachers to use in order to engage students and assess their understanding of the content. In Mr. Johnathan Walker's class, he used Desmos to engage his students and gauge their learning. This web-based math program allowed his students to complete problems, assigned and controlled by him, and then they were able to see each other's responses, anonymously. Mr. Walker was able to assess and discuss their understanding of the problem. Students were engaged, and the program allowed Mr. Walker to evaluate all of his students' understanding of the content at hand. He was able to pull up actual student responses and discuss the process they used in order to complete the assigned task.  Not a math teacher? No problem! Try PearDeck - a similar program that just recently released a Google Slides Add-on. Super easy to use and a great way to understand student thinking, processing, and comprehension.We can help our students "win" more often by engaging them, giving them time to practice, and providing feedback they can use in the future. 

Competition drives people to want to win, which is always a great motivator; however, we need to feel good about the process we use to get to the finishing line. In the classroom and in life, understanding, practicing, and mastering this process will make "winning" that much easier. #whatsup