Kids need kind, persistent coaching.
Last week, I posed a multi-digit division problem to a group of fifth graders.
Mrs. Castillo has _______ pencils. She is going to give ____ pencils to every classroom. How many classrooms will get pencils?
I asked the students, “How many strategies can you use to solve this problem?” a few students offered suggestions, while one broke down in tears and had to leave the classroom to regroup. When asked, he said, “I don’t have any strategies.”
I inferred from the student’s response that he was intimidated by what he believed his peers could do and what he believed couldn’t do and therefore suffered from a lack of confidence. He was looking at his friends and telling himself a story that brought him to tears and caused him to cry. Low self-confidence is no way to begin the school year. I reached into my toolkit and pulled out all I knew to build up his self-confidence and ensure he saw himself as a confident problem solver.
I reread the problem to him.
I changed the context of the problem by asking him to name the classroom by a real teacher’s name.
I gave him smaller manageable numbers to use.
I gave him base ten blocks and ones to solve.
I asked him to act out the wording of the problem using the tools.
After every action, I asked him, Does what you just did make sense? Why?”
When he successfully solved the problem using the first set of numbers.
I gave him a second set of easier numbers to use.
I repeated the cycle by asking him if creating groups of 4 cubes makes sense and why.
He successfully solved the division problem with the new numbers.
The third time around, I gave him a division with 3-digits. He was so excited and displayed so much confidence in himself. I tried coaching him through the problem, but he shooed me away and said, “I got it.”
He was successful!
He ultimately went on to solve a four-digit by a one-digit equation within the span of 45 minutes.
There are 3,240 pencils. Each classroom will get 40 pencils. How many classrooms will get pencils?
Start small, make sense of the problem, try it out again, challenge students a little more, make sense of the problem, and coach students to try something they never believed they could. Kindness and patience bring out the best in them.