Becoming Obsolete

  • In my freshman classes, the students are now asking each other questions instead of depending on me to verify their answers. Most of them are moving beyond “What was the answer? to “How did you get that answer?” They are even getting good at asking questions of peers who are stuck instead of just telling them what to do.
  • I have a daily tutoring assignment in the library. The students who come in for tutoring this period are now working together on assignments and are helping each other. I am fortunate that during this period one of my favorite seniors is taking an independent study and is also in the library (I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but…). One day this week a student walked in with a quick question, saw I was busy with other students, so instead of waiting he took his question to the senior. She took a moment from her AP Stats work to answer his question.
  • On this same day, another student came in wanting to know how to do a linear regression on his calculator. It just so happened that my student aide began designing a web site with this very information the day before. So I pulled up the link, handed my laptop to the student, and he was able to teach himself. (the site is a work in progress – if you’d like to include your input, please do so here).

It was pointed out to me that it may not be a good first year goal to become obsolete. I’m not too sure. I want the students to be self-directed learners. I want them to use whatever resources are available. I want them to be able to judge the validity of their peers’ mathematical thinking. If this is what it means to be obsolete, I’m okay with it.

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13 Responses to Becoming Obsolete

  1. Colleen says:

    You will never be obsolete. You’ve accomplished a goal that many find elusive. It must be wonderful to see your students take responsibility for their learning, share their knowledge with others, and actually care about the process rather than simply getting the right answer.
    You will always be a critical part of the process because you’re aware of the bigger picture. While your students focus on understanding specific concepts or problems, you know where they are headed and how today’s lesson will guide them there. Your depth of knowledge enables you to ask questions and share resources that allow self-directed learning to continue. You have arrived at place in your career that should be the goal of all teachers.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. Jackie says:

    Oh Colleen, you’re too kind. The freshman are getting there. We still have a lot of work to do though. I know they need me, I’m just glad they way in which they need me is different (and I’m okay with them thinking they don’t need me at all!).

    My seniors are a bit more needy than are the freshmen. I’m finding it more difficult to change their thinking about math and how math is learned. I’m still working on it.

  3. H. says:

    Congratulations! What have you been doing and saying to get them to this point?

  4. Jackie says:

    H – I thought that question might be coming! A rather longish post is in the works.

  5. H. says:

    Great. I’m looking forward to it.

  6. jd2718 says:

    Really wonderful stuff, isn’t it? And you must be much more effective this way, ‘farming’ off lots of little questions. Just please do check in and make certain the help they are giving each other is correct!

    But really, wonderful. This is how our tutoring (not me, another teacher) runs, and this is what I try to get to go on, even in my own classroom.

  7. Jackie says:

    Yep. Students learning from each other is my goal. It frees me up to make sure they’re all on the right track (of course I do that JD!).

  8. Jackie,
    Just catching up on my reading and came across your post. How exciting that must be for you. Just today I was thinking about how I want to be obsolete as well because it will mean kids are getting what they need without “interference” from an outsider like me.
    Wonderful to hear about your students’ successes – that’s what it’s all about – helping students to successfully master the material with confidence. And if they occasionally need your help, that’s ok, too.
    as always, thanks for sharing!

  9. Pingback: Class Discussions « Continuities

  10. jose says:

    Don’t say that “becoming obsolete” business too loud. the administrators will start believing that ;-). Honestly, you’ve instilled a good culture within them, which is great.

  11. Jackie says:

    Karen & Jose – Thanks. It is of course still a work in progress.

    Perhaps if I phrase it that way they’ll keep me around.

  12. I too am looking forward to your longish post. I’d love to get my students spending more time thinking about how to get the answers rather than just getting an answer.

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