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On Wanting Success - Our 3.11.19 Update

On wanting success…

“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting it is.”
- Arnold Palmer

Recently I was at a basketball tryout camp and some of the players, coaches, and parents were, for lack of a better word, arguing over the direction or mindset of competition. I overheard some of the conversation and it reminded me of the quote from Arnold Palmer, who once said, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting it is.” I’d like to take this quote and make it my own.

Succeeding isn’t everything, but wanting to succeed is.

This idea is the foundation for many of the strategies I use in the classroom, including Error Analysis and Figure Me Out.

From the very beginning of the school year I try to set the expectation that all students have to do in my classes is to want to be better at math than when they walked through the door.  This is a challenge for many of my students because they haven’t been held accountable for deepening their learning in the way that I expect. This extends to our process for questioning and inquiry.

When students respond to initial questions, someone follows their response up with an additional question, whether the first response was complete or not. Many students assume they were wrong to begin with and that is why there is follow-up. This is often the result of students having learned the “rules” of school.  Sociologist Hugh (Bud) Mehan (1979) coined the discourse pattern students learn as I-R-E, and in many places it is as true today is it was when Mehan coined the term originally.   In the process Mehan described, the teacher initiates (I) the interaction with a question, the student responds (R), and the teacher evaluates (E) the response, moving on from the interaction. Students learn this interaction as part of the rhythm of school, and deviations from this norm often require re-learning by students of the unspoken rules of the classroom.

Regardless of the accuracy, completeness, or correctness of a student’s response, there is usually a way to make it more mathematical or better. In helping students find this way, we can potentially bridge from know to use in student understanding - and perhaps even to expand or surpass.

I challenge you to ask students follow up questions regardless of the “correctness” of their initial response, because having/getting the right answer isn’t everything, but wanting to do better is.



Jenn Branch, Ph.D.
Founding Partner, The Scolaris Group

Paul McHenry