Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What's wrong?

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  • Attend to precision
These are three of the eight Practice Standards associated with the process of doing math that will now be assessed in states that have adopted the CCSS. Some teachers I have talked to are concerned about how they will incorporate the Practices in their math classes. I decided to share an activity that addresses these three Standards and can be adapted to nearly any content - a Crit Session.

I first heard of Crit Sessions while reading Jonah Lehrer's Imagine. Despite the controversy surrounding this book, I found his description of the Crit Sessions held at Pixar to be particularly interesting and began to consider how to apply this idea in my classes. So I developed the following workshop.


Crit Session for Presentations of Mathematical Thinking
This can be used for any content where students, individually or in groups, are presenting mathematics. The work does not need to be completely thought out. In fact, it helps if the work is "in progress" as the feedback provided by peers can help the students to move forward.

Schema Activation [5 minutes]: Review the information you want to share.

Focus [5 minutes]: What is a Crit Session?
Read the following edited extract from Imagine:

Concentrate on the second paragraph:
  • Learning from other people's mistakes
  • Distributed responsibility for everyone's success
Activity [40 minutes - assuming 4 group presentations]: Crit Sessions
  • 5 minute presentation
  • 5 minutes for feedback
    • Critical groups (audience) take a minute to organize critiques
    • Members of the presentation group splits up to meet with critical groups - this makes the critiques more manageable and seem less harsh than in the whole class setting
Reflection [10 minutes]: What; So What; and Now What?
Back in presentation groups, after everyone has presented, the members share:
  • What feedback did we hear?
  • So what made the feedback important?
  • Now what should we work on?
The information does not necessarily need to focus on their own presentation since we sometime learn from other people's mistakes.


The students I have tried these Crit Sessions with have been positive about the approach. They appreciate the permission to be critical (critique the reasoning of others). Most times they feel as though they have to be nice, non-critical, in order to have a safe classroom environment. Yet, no one felt attacked or belittled and the classroom community seemed even stronger after the workshop. After all, they were working toward a common goal - success.

I am also impressed with how these Crit Sessions have supported a growth mindset in regards to doing math. The students seem more attuned to the need to put effort into working toward precision in their work and the work of their peers. Also, there is a built in expectation that they will need to make improvements (persevere) to their work. No one expects to get it entirely right the first time.

If you try this approach in your class, please share your efforts and any adaptions you needed to make in the comments. Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. There are groups called Critical Friends that use a supportive critical process. (See http://cityhighschool.org/tssp-outreach/cfg/.) You may find more ideas in their work, for how to make criticism helpful.