Slow Math is … thinking about the “right” question to ask

A few years into the journey of teaching through inquiry, I said that my most important work comes before the lesson – planning the questions to ask during the lesson episode.

Dylan Wiliam’s assertion from Embedded Formative Assessment resonated with me and the teachers with whom I work: “Sharing high-quality questions may be the most significant thing we can do to improve the quality of student learning.”


When your team plans together, plan questions to ask. When you find the question that makes a difference in knowing what students are thinking, don’t keep it to yourself – share it.

As I continue to teach, though, I’ve decided that my most important work happens during the lesson – in the moment – making decisions about what to do and ask next based on how students respond.

I’m reading Hattie, Fisher, and Frey’s Visible Learning for Mathematics. I paused when I read the following paragraph.


Slow Math isn’t just for students. It’s for teachers, too.

“Give yourself permission to stop and think about the ‘right’ question to ask at any given point in the lesson.”

I’ve also heard this advice from Elham Kazemi in the form of teacher time outs. Team teaching is such a good opportunity to practice good questioning. Even if you’re alone, though, give yourself permission to take a teacher time out. Slow Math is taking time to think about the “right” question to ask.


Hattie, J. A., Fisher, D. B., & Frey, N. (2016). Visible learning for mathematics, grades K-12: what works best to optimize student learning. (p. 112). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. (p. 104). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.


#Slow Math is Master Coaching

If you haven’t yet read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, you should. Coyle premise is that talent isn’t born – it’s grown. By three important factors: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching. His book has contributed to changing how I look at my role as a teacher.

I ran across Coyle’s blog post recently: There are Two Types of Coaches. Which are You?

Coyle offers a few statements for us to consider to figure out which type. I’ve taken the liberty of replacing the people/workplace/other language with teacher/classroom/student language.

  1. A) I treat all of my students as mostly the same.
  2. B) I treat my students as individuals, with unique motivations, strengths, and weaknesses.


  1. A) In my classroom, I focus on drills and repetition.
  2. B) In my classroom, I focus on awareness and feedback, and helping each student take ownership of the process.


  1. A) In my classroom, I focus on delivering the knowledge to my students to drive improvement.
  2. B) In my classroom, I focus on building partnerships with my students to create the knowledge together.


  1. A) I’m fascinated by designing drills for students to do.
  2. B) I’m fascinated by building plans, tools, and systems for students to use.


  1. A) I’m obsessed with each student’s progress.
  2. B) I’m obsessed with each student’s process.


So what do you think? Is your focus as a teacher on building skill? Or is your focus as a teacher on building students?

Would your students agree with you?


See Coyle’s blog post to find out your official results on his unofficial quiz and check out The Talent Code to read more about becoming a master coach – a builder of people.

Slow Math Takes … Patience

From my husband’s Advent 3 sermon Something on Patience and Joy:

… We might lift up the teacher as an example of patience. A good teacher knows that finally you just can’t impose the answer in a student’s brain as much as you might want to. You have to wait for that student to do that work herself, or not. This is tough, tough work, but finally, there can be no hostile takeover of the mind and will of a student. Learning is voluntary; it’s not mandatory. You have a classroom discussion, and you hear a “wrong-headed answer” (Kenneson). You want to jump in and fix it. But you might kill the thing that is fermenting there if you rush it. You cannot take over that process. You can only make the invitation, and then wait to see if the student will do the work and make her own connections. Teaching takes patience, or it’s not teaching …

Slow Math is … Slow Conversations

At the beginning of our polygons unit, students played a round of hexagons polygraph in Desmos. One student is the picker and another is the guesser. The picker selects a hexagon, and the guesser asks yes or no questions to determine which one was selected.

1 Screen Shot 2016-11-04 at 5.59.42 AM.png

Let’s take a look at a round between SO and SA. SO selected a hexagon. SA asked:

2 Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 5.55.55 PM.png

SO answered no.

SA eliminated one.

2a Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 6.00.21 PM.png3 Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 5.56.08 PM.png

SO answered no.

3a Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 6.00.30 PM.png

SA eliminated two.

4 Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 5.56.14 PM.png

SO answered no.

4a Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 6.00.38 PM.png

SA eliminated three more.

5 Screen Shot 2016-11-04 at 5.52.54 AM.png

SO answered no, and SA eliminated all but one.

5a Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 6.00.46 PM.png

What a great way for students to learn how to practice MP6: attend to precision. In a whole class discussion, we talked about what it meant for a polygon to be regular. We talked about convex and concave. We talked about symmetry. It turns out that the hexagon SO chose actually does have rotational symmetry – it just didn’t have line symmetry like the rest. My students and I have so many opportunities to learn from each other when we take time to slow down, share our thinking, and listen to other’s thinking.

After a round of Polygraph last year, one student reflected that he learned that he could ask questions to find an answer.

Beautiful Questions.png

Which has me thinking more about Slow Conversations. The Polygraph practice round celebrates the beauty and diversity of all of our students.

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 12.31.14 PM.png

How might we teach our students to embrace that diversity by not only asking questions to identify and learn about each other’s uniqueness but also listening to each other’s responses? That’s where Slow Math intersects with Slow Conversations.

Slow Math is … asking questions

I often wonder what we would include in a Slow Math manifesto.

Slow Math is about asking questions. #AskDontTell is one hashtag I regularly use that describes my teaching. But how often does my perspective make me think more about the questions I ask than the questions my students ask?

e e cummings wrote,

always the beautiful answer

who asks a more beautiful question

In “A More Beautiful Question”, Warren Berger tries to figure out why children start school asking hundreds of questions a day but then their questioning “falls off a cliff” as they go through school.

In a Slow Math classroom, questions are not only welcomed – they are sought.

Slow Math is … valuing why

One of our math teachers, Shera Higbee, sent the following to our math department over the weekend.

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 10.19.20 AM.png

Slow Math is not just about how to do math … it’s about valuing why the math works. I am grateful to work with teachers who agree. And I am grateful for students who recognize and appreciate that why is valued.

Student Voice? Task Selection

We are talking about student voice in one of my graduate classes this semester, and so we’ve been looking out for and paying closer attention to opportunities for students to use their voice in our classrooms and in our school.

One question I have is whether student voice = student choice.
I wonder what student voice in a math class has to do with slow math.

I looked back at a lesson from last year when students had the opportunity to select the task they wanted to work.

We were practicing show your work, and we used Jill’s leveled learning progression to monitor student progress.

1 Screen Shot 2016-09-20 at 8.57.31 AM.png

Students looked at the first task (Circles and Squares) and noted what they wonder about how the figures are related to each other.

2 Screen Shot 2016-09-20 at 8.57.22 AM.png

We watched Dan’s video for the second task (Some Really Obscure Geometry Problem), and I sent a Quick Poll to collect their best estimates of the area percentage for each region.

The third figure came from the Mathematics Assessment Project, but it is no longer available.

5 IMG_0929.JPG

All of the tasks provided students the opportunity to practice MP7 look for and make use of structure and think about area ratios in figures.

Each team selected the task they wanted to spend more time working.


Students had choice in geometry that day. Did students have voice?

Was that a class period well spent, even if we didn’t synthesize ideas as a whole class? Would it have been better (and worth the time) if students have reviewed the work of those who worked on a different task? What difference does providing #slowmath student voice opportunities make for students?

And so the journey continues …