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 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 … 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.

The Slow Approach

Pearl S. Buck is one of my favorite authors. This Proud Heart is my favorite novel of hers, and I am currently reading The Eternal Wonder. The Eternal Wonder was written in the early 1960s, but then it was stolen and hidden by a former secretary and only recently recovered. I read the highlighted passage more than once when I got to it earlier this week.

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Pearl Buck was before her time on so many issues:

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It doesn’t surprise me that she alluded to The Slow Movement before it had a name.

What connection does “the slow approach” have to how we teach mathematics?

Suppose our destination is “I can write the equation of a circle in the coordinate plane given its center and radius”. If we tell students the connection between the equation, center, and radius, it will only take a few minutes.

But don’t we want our students to know more, see more, much more, before they reach the destination?


And so we choose the slow approach, hoping our students see, in order that our students might know the mathematics.

Buck, Pearl S. The Eternal Wonder: A Novel. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2013. 1564. Print.


Learning for a Lifetime

You’ve heard the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

You’ve also heard said about someone who gives too much information: Ask her what time it is and she’ll tell you how to build a clock.

(Or maybe you haven’t; my attempts to Google exactly how to say the latter phrase were mostly unsuccessful.)


I recently received an email from a parent.

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What a gift for a student to recognize the value of understanding formulas instead of just memorizing them.


Several years ago, another student wrote “In middle school, I hated math, but having Mrs. Wilson for geometry changed that. She never just tells her students a formula to memorize or a method to apply to problems. Instead, her students discover the mathematic truths for themselves through classroom discussion and individual exploration, making math a story and a compelling one at that.”


I want to think that I’m providing my students the opportunity to learn how to learn for a lifetime: we explore dynamic figures using technology, ask questions, make conjectures, build arguments, prove conjectures.


But how many of them feel like I’m making them “build a clock”?

How many of them prefer “Tell, Don’t Ask” to “Ask, Don’t Tell”?


“Many times I grew extremely frustrated during class and wanted to just give up. Though Mrs. Wilson’s expectations are unwavering, her willingness to help her students in any way made us able to meet her expectations, though not without hard work and a healthy dose of frustration.”


I have some students who love the challenge, others who are willing persevere through it whether they like it or not, and others who roll their eyes, waiting to be told.

So I wonder: How might we provide #SlowMath learning opportunities for our students that sustain them for longer than the next test yet don’t make them feel like they’re being told how to build a clock they don’t care about building?

How might we create and foster a culture of learning in our classrooms, among our students, that will last long after they take our final exam?

We’ve got plenty to work on, as the journey continues …