As a third grade parent myself, I was recently fortunate to attend a morning parent coffee hosted by third grade teachers Galen Wiese and Jackie Rose that focused on Singapore math and the teaching method employed by the lower school teachers. As I listened to Galen and Jackie walk the group of parents through different math problems that children might encounter in third grade, the connections to what they will eventually have to do in the high school were obvious, and it got me thinking about all the ways we prepare our students for what is to come. Most of the time, the students do not even know that they are being prepared! Here is what I noticed in the third grade presentation:
A Focus on Process
In the high school, students grapple with complex problems in all disciplines. They are asked to take in information from multiple sources and produce answers that touch on a variety of points. Without a sound problem solving process, these problems become very difficult to answer. What I noticed during Galen and Jackie’s discussion is that the third graders are being intentional about their problem solving process in the hope that it will eventually become second nature. Getting the right answer is nice, but knowing why it is the right answer is the skill that the most successful high schoolers demonstrate.
Discerning Parts of a Problem
Ask any teacher about how many incomplete answers they receive on a given assignment, and you will most likely get a strong reaction. Answering all parts of a problem or prompt requires attention to detail. In third grade, the students learn how to order their thinking, and do so across varying levels of complexity, so that they are able to identify all of the different parts of the problems they encounter. This, too, is a necessary skill for all high school students.
Answering the Question That Is Asked
When students apply to college, they will most likely be asked to write a number of different essays based on prompts given to them by the colleges. A simple question I ask all students with whom I work is whether or not they asked the prompt that is given. At least, it seems like a simple question. The problem is that it is easy to write about what one likes; it is much more difficult to answer a given prompt specifically. By clearly writing out the units that are used in each problem, the third graders learn to be thorough and answer the question that is asked. They may not know it now, but this is a seemingly simple skill that will carry significance in the future.
Often, the hardest question for a high school student is “Why did you do that?” As teenagers’ prefrontal lobes develop and they hone their decision-making skills, they often fall back on habits. As adults, we do the same thing. By learning to think logically and explain why they took the steps they took with each problem, the third graders are building habits that will serve them well in their high school years as well.
While the focus is often on the here and now, education is a pursuit focused on the future. Just like third graders are building skills that will serve them well when they are in high school, high schoolers are building skills that will serve them well in college and beyond. It is tempting to think about whether or not a student answered a question correctly, but take a moment to talk with the students about their process. Help them think about why they did what they did and what went into their decision making. In the end, this is where their true growth will take place.