Post 11: STOP and Stepping Back

While others enjoyed the beach, I was grading in a coffee shop is Astoria. Thanks Gossip Coffee for your amazing AC and banana bread muffin…

I wasn’t sure where to start? Equations? Subtraction?

Anyways, I became really disheartened when I came across the above work (It’s not the ideal set of questions, but it measures if students are able to solve equations given decimals or “not so friendly integers”). This reminded me of something I tweeted not too long ago.

I thought to myself, “How do  I get this student to solve for a variable, when she can’t subtract? Should I be reviewing basic operations with her? And if so…when? #overwhelmed


Overwhelmed is an understatement. And while I was slightly hyperventilating and dismayed, I heard  Sadie Estrella’s  voice in my head (mainly because I was just listening to her on ChalklineAt some point, she said:

“I have a really hard time when teachers say that these kids don’t know anything, even the basics. STOP.” ~Sadie

Even though the context for this was slightly different, hearing her say “STOP” allowed me to stop, take a step back, and look at my students entire work for this set of questions. This time, I tried to not focus on what she did not understand, but focus on what she DOES understand and start from there. This time, I felt proud of this student. Unlike others she was using the appropriate inverse operations to solve the equation. She just struggled with following through. She can’t apply algorithms because they don’t make sense to her.

Student work_solving equations

Even though, there are still gaps in her understanding…I have a better course of action to support her, and it isn’t going to be worksheets on worksheets practicing the standard algorithm for adding and subtracting, because that has already failed her. Time to take on some number talks and bring out some manipulatives!



6 thoughts on “Post 11: STOP and Stepping Back

  1. This student has a lot going for her. I wonder if getting her to use estimation more before doing the computation would help her. If she sees the problem as about 24 – about 7 first, she will at least see about what her answer should be and whether her answer is reasonable.

  2. MaryK

    Hi! My name is Mary and I’m a young math teacher from Germany. I graduated last year, so I’m not really experienced yet, but the situation that you’re describing in this post is similar to one I had last week. I really appreciate how you dealt with it, how you took a step back to review your student’s work from another perspective. I’m curious about how you’re going to handle the situation from now on? Since the standard ways don’t seem to be working, do you have any other ideas in mind already? If yes I would really love to hear them because that would be very helpful for me!
    Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. I give students s day to revise the work that they’ve submitted. During this time I will work with her a bit one on one to work on some of her fluency. With regard to thinking things forward. I would like to incorporate number routines in my classes from early on.

    2. Ronnie

      Actually I think it’s very common to deal with the problem the way she dealt with it, it’s exactly what I would do. You’re saying the standard ways aren’t working, but I disagree, I think what she’s doing now to help her student is the standard way, nothing more.

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