Task 4- Are we denying students the opportunity for deeper understanding?

Posted by Charlotte on Apr 20, 2016

Have you ever been in the position where you think that the best way to help someone out is to do it for them? I know I have.

This isn’t just from my experience as a TA where sometimes you just get so frustrated that you spit out an answer at a students so that they can move on*. My mum once (actually many times) has asked me to talk her through the ways of facebook, her iPad and modern technology. This particular time she was asking about how to upload photos- she’d got them onto the computer (something I had previously taught her) but wanted to share them for friend and family. So I grabbed her laptop and iPad and talked her through the 2 different ways she could upload them whilst I did it for her (I’d already got frustrated watching her try to do it while I instructed so grabbed it from her). The next day I came home from work and saw mum taking photos of her computer screen with her iPad, because she couldn’t remember what I had ‘taught’ her. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t actually teach her anything. My mum couldn’t retain the information and reapply it for further use. I had only showed her how I do something and expected her to go onto to do the same.

My anecdote is, in essence, what I have grasped from this weeks article and video. Pershan’s video really made me think about how we can over-inform children when asking them to solve problems- linking back to Meyer’s cutting back the structuring the problems from Task 2. After considering Khan Academy from a new perspective that doesn’t focus on the moral issues surrounding the business model, most of the ‘teaching’** takes the form of the level 1 teaching or level 0 level of inquiry discussed by Blair. Some argue that Khan Academy actually mirrors the issues inside school that it is aiming to combat. There is a reason that Maths education in the US (and the UK for that matter) is not allowing students to reach as high of a potential as they can. We are spoon-feeding students with questions that all look and sound the same way and not actually preparing them for the real world.

The method of Mathematical Inquiry, described by Blair and illustrated by Pershan, could be considered as a terrifying thing for teachers. It’s something which does require rigorous planning and resourcefulness and ‘What if the students don’t find what you want them to find?’. But isn’t it worth giving it a shot if there is a possibility of creating a deeper relational understanding for students which will last long after the exams are over. What if this is the one way to peak the interest of a student who is falling behind because they are bored? I’m not saying that ever lesson should be this way, but if we have the resources available to create all different kinds to lessons to suit our students learning style- why wouldn’t you?***

*I was/am a good TA, honest- this just happens when you’re having a bad day

**I put this in quotes because I’m still not sure what I think teaching means. I think you need to be able to retain and re-purpose the information to have learnt it.

***I say this now before my teaching training has properly started, feel free to print this post out and rub it in my face next year when I’m not doing it either because I haven’t got the time or the inclination either.


  1. Ray
    23 April 2016

    I agree with you that it is well worth giving Mathematical Enquiry a shot. I won’t be pointing this out to you next year, if there’s no immediate success, as I’m sure that we’ll try to keep hold of our ambitions even whilst struggling through our lack of experience.

  2. pball1
    26 April 2016

    Charli…..I too find myself in this situation with my own children and indeed realise it is something that I need to change ahead of next year. It is so easy to do, so I do think there is an emphasis on getting them to do it themselves. Isn’t it also funny how we then get them to do the repetitive process to become more familiar and this again may reinforce the process but not the actual understanding. Arguably the deep understanding of a process is not always a necessity but something we are becoming more accustomed to thinking as the way forward!!

  3. aw677
    28 April 2016

    I can really relate to the frustration we all sometimes feel when imparting ‘simple’ information to the unknowing. It is something that I am aware needs work but I am also becoming more aware of the fact that it is the approach that we take that actually has the biggest impact. As in all things it is about balance, giving them the tools in which to learn with little pointers along the way.

  4. pepsmccrea
    28 April 2016

    Enjoyed this! I think you’re starting to unpick a really fundamental issue in maths teaching here, around how much guidance to offer and when. Also, please continue to develop your definition of teaching > there is a lot of potential value to really thinking this through. And besides, you’re already along the right lines…

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