It’s A First Draft World.

Dan relates a recent experience he had with some 5th graders and a problem that changed as they explored it:

In most of my classroom visits lately, I am trying to identify moments where the class and I are drafting our thinking, where we aren’t looking to reach an answer but to grow more sophisticated and more precise in our thinking. Your classmates are an asset rather than an impediment to you in those moments because the questions they ask you and the observations they make about your work can elevate your thinking into its next draft. (Amanda Jansen’s descriptions of Rough-Draft Thinking are extremely helpful here.)

Later on, he describes what he finds the necessary conditions for such classroom moments:

From my limited experience, the preconditions for those moments are a) a productive set of teacher beliefs, b) a productive set of teacher moves, and c) a productive mathematical task – in that order of importance. For example, I’d rather give a dreary task to a teacher who believes one can never master mathematical understanding, only develop it, than give a richer task to a teacher who believes that a successful mathematical experience is one in which the number on the student’s paper matches the number in the answer key.

I was struck by the importance of a teacher’s mindset in a learning situation. If it’s possible to finish learning math (or anything else), then it might be possible to decide that wondering out loud isn’t all that valuable.

But it is. It really, truly is.

By the end of the experience he writes about, and you should go and read the whole post if you haven’t already, he describes how the real value of draft thinking is that it can help you change both the way you think about a problem, as well as what you’ve decided the problem actually is1.

It’s not just mathematic thinking that benefits from an approach where it’s safe to wonder out loud together.  I was reminded as I read the post and the comments about the power I’ve experienced in helping people to talk about and write about their work not as a final product, but as what I call “first-draft thinking.” In many different professional learning situations with grown ups, I’ve tried to ask teachers to talk to each other in these ways, to explore issues of practice together not as a way of reaching a final answer, but instead as trying to work towards a better sense of the actual problem (or opportunity) of practice at hand.

So much of what learning is isn’t about reaching an end. It’s about better understanding the situation you’re in. It’s healthy to remember that 5th graders, teachers, and all of us in schools aren’t working on things, most of the time, that we’ll actually finish. We’re growing and changing and learning.

It sure seems like we have to remember that intentionally and repeatedly. I worry that so many things going on in classrooms and boardrooms and principal’s offices get in the way of helping all of us in schools to get better at first draft/rough draft thinking.

I appreciated the reminder.

  1. Actually, he points out that a 5th grader pointed that out. Seriously. Read the post.  I didn’t even mention the task he had the students working through. []

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