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“How to Coach Your Math Partner”


Strategic partnerships play a crucial role in problem solving classrooms. Teachers must decide which students could benefit most by working together. This decision may be based upon student behaviors, the sophistication of strategies, communication skills, or a variety of other reasons. The goal is to create partnerships that will support the growth of each student. Partnering is purposeful, it is not meant just to be cute, or to fulfill a requirement, student partnerships are created in order to fulfill a specific learning goal. Learning from partners is not something that happens magically, it happens with planning, attention to detail, and a commitment to coaching a partner’s growth.


I have noticed that many more teachers are employing strategic partnerships, yet when students are partnered up there may be little meaningful interaction. One student explains what they did, their partner listens in then immediately explains what they did to solve. That is usually the end of the discussion. There is no exchange of or internalization of ideas, offering of suggestions, or question asking. In order to get the most out of partnerships, teachers must carefully plan for these interactions.


*There are several parts to learning how to coach a partner and therefore these mini-lessons should be taught over the course of days.




Setting-up Partnerships


The teacher sets-up the partnerships. These partnerships must be flexible; they may change daily, weekly or monthly. They are needs based. For example, a teacher may pair together an organized student with a less organized student, students who use different models or tools, or an English language learner with a native English speaker. *Note that it is not necessarily ideal to partner a student with a highly sophisticated/complex strategy up with a student who uses and understands simple strategies.

Partnership Mini-lesson- How to be a math coach Part I


Teacher says, “Partners must be able to see each other’s work when they are explaining their strategy. When you are done working on your problem sit knee to knee with your partner. Place one partners work in the middle of the two of you and point and explain what you did step-by-step. First I , __________. Then I, ___________. Next I, _________. Last I, ___________.”


“Then, partner two will place their work behind them so that they can focus on what their partner is saying. When partner one is done explaining, put your work behind you. Then partner two put your work in the middle and point explain what you did to solve step-by step.

If there is a trio of partners, the one who is explaining must hold the paper up in one hand, so that it is facing the other two partners. Then they must point to the work and explain. Make sure to not hold the paper in front of one’s face. Watch me as I do this now.” The teacher then models how to hold the paper and point when three people are in a group.




Mathematical Mini-lesson- How to be a math coach. Part II


Teacher says, “Mathematicians, I have noticed that you have been doing a great job of sitting knee to knee elbow to elbow with your partners and listening to what they have to say. Yet, mathematicians have to do more than just listen to each other, they must explain their work, carefully analyze it, and provide feedback to one another. They must be a math coach! It is not enough for us to sit next to our partner and say, “Good job!” we must give them something to be proud of, something to think about, or something to try. “


“For example, a math coach might say something like:

“Why did you decide to _____________?”

“I like how your mathematical model matches the problem. I can see ____ and _____.”


“That’s an interesting model drawing you made, I might try that next time.”


“I used a different approach, I decided to _____ instead of ______.”


“Our strategies are similar because we both _____.”


Teacher says, “I want you to try coaching me.” The teacher posts his/her work for the whole class to see along with the sentence frames that can be used for feedback (primary grades may want to only focus on using one of the frames at a time). The teacher points and explains step by step what was done to solve the problem.

Teacher says, “ Turn and talk to your partner and use one of these sentence frames to practice giving me feedback. The teacher works the room to listen in for examples of student feedback that would be good to share. The teacher calls on a student to provide feedback. “Which mathematician had a chance to analyze my work and is ready to provide specific feedback?” Teacher selects 1-3 students to share out.


Student #1- “Mrs. Moore, I like the way you_______.”


“Does any one have different feedback that they can provide?”


Student #2 I used a similar approach, we both __________.


Student #3 I used a different approach, I ___________, instead of _______.


Teacher says, “Class you did an excellent job of analyzing my work and providing feedback. Today, when you meet with your partner, make sure you explain your work clearly step by step. Then make sure you analyze your partner’s work and provide specific feedback. You can use any of the sentence frames that are posted on the board.”