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  • Writer's pictureMadaline Dunn

Kristine Schmitt on cultivating conversation in the classroom

Kristine Schmitt is an educator who believes in putting learning into students' hands and emphasizes the value of math conversation in the classroom. She says that enabling students to recognize their agency helps to create positive math identities and encourages them to take risks and make mistakes.

Kristine Schmitt comes from a family of teachers, and like many working in the education field, she knew it was the path for her from a young age. "It's what we do in our family," said Kristine. Having obtained her degree in psychology and a licensure in education while juggling being a young mom, Kristine secured her first job in teaching at the same school she attended in fourth and fifth grade and completed her student teaching. She taught there for 15 years, teaching third grade before being selected to join the district-level math team where she worked alongside the school's math coach to lead workshops. In her fifteenth year of teaching, having found a new joy in working with adults, she decided to make a career change. Kristine is now in her seventh year working as a math coach in Buncombe County and believes that as an educator, you're always learning.

Kristine explained that instructing math teachers involves reminding them that teaching is all about reflecting, refining, and increasing their knowledge and encouraging them to let go of practices that aren't working.

According to Kristine, effective math instruction puts the learning in students' hands and provides them with opportunities to explore and make sense of the math. "The teacher's role here is to anticipate how they'll solve the problems and be on the lookout, asking probing, rather than leading questions, to get them to think more deeply about it," Kristine said, adding: "'Teacher as the facilitator’ is a key part of that philosophy, and that whole process is the five practices for orchestrating discourse." She explained, "The first step is to anticipate, the second is monitoring, the third step is selecting what to share, the fourth step: ordering and sequencing, and the fifth, figuring out how to connect students' thinking and contributions."

Kristine explained that within the classroom, it's important to cultivate conversation between students. "Often, students will enter the classroom and not know how to disagree with someone else's mathematical thinking, so you have to model that." Further to this, Kristine said it's important to ‘read voice.' For example, when a student shares an approach, framing one's response as "I think what I hear you saying is…" in order to put the ownership back in the student's hands.

Equipping students with the power to take agency in their learning and the knowledge that they are problem solvers contributes significantly to creating a positive math identity, which Kristine said is incredibly important. "We have to break the cycle of students thinking they're not good at math." Part of this, Kristine said, is helping to build a safe environment where mistakes are celebrated and where students can understand math is all about problem-solving.

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