As everyone has probably figured out by now, lecturing teenagers about what they are supposed to do or think is probably the most ineffective strategy anyone could pick. It either results in “the glare” or the basic “tune out” which the internet has helped them perfect.
Yet, when it comes to learning math, one of the most critical concepts to learn is that details matter. Avoiding little errors can be the difference between a “B” and a “C” or an “A” and a “B.” Getting that point across without sounding like a broken record necessitates some creativity.
During our first year working together, one of my students had progressed to the point where cleaning up the details would get her to the next level. So, one day after having another set of little errors keep her from getting a higher grade, she just went off “It’s a point, just one point, why couldn’t she just give me the point, it’s close enough.” In my head I’m thinking, “Oh thank you for saying that.”
So, I replied, “Let me see if I understand this. Your doctor sews you up after surgery and then goes “Oops! I forgot a sponge, Oh well, It’s just a sponge. We’ll get it the next time we’re in there.” She just looks at me with that “You don’t really need to be right, you know” look that teenagers have. She also plans on being a doctor. So, I just kept right on going. “What’s your plan? Are you going to be one of those doctors that at the end of the operation looks at the instruments tray and goes “Where are the forceps? Where are all the sponges? Cut the guy open again, we need to go back in and get them.”” She laughed. But, it worked and “Oops, I left a sponge in” became that year’s mantra. It even made it to the lunch table and back out through other students.
This year we needed a new mantra because the sponge was becoming a little old and ineffective. So, since she is a huge Justin Bieber fan, I offered let’s just call it “a Justin Bieber moment.” Of course, she hopped on that and went “oh that’s a great idea!” As a wave of euphoria soared across her face, I started thinking that this would not be one of my better ideas – it wasn’t going to work right.
But, it was worth a try. So after one of the first tests, I gave it a go …… and then went “oh no!” as I watched her mentally disappear into the land of bliss. I don’t know what planet she went to but it wasn’t ours. I just put my head on the table and waited. After a few minutes, this cheery voice announced, “Ok, I’m back. Are you ready?”
Now, I really understand why teachers don’t give tests on Justin Bieber day. This year we need a new mantra to replace the sponge, but it clearly isn’t going to involve the words Justin Bieber……
(More stories and strategies to help students achieve their potential can be found at Kathy’s site: www.EmpoweringLearners.com.)