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Asking the ‘right’ questions
James Dawe writes about a classroom revelation.
The lexicon of our practice contains so surprised as I found myself hearing the was set for mathematical activity that,
many loaded terms and descriptors that voices shouting metaphorically in the from previous experience, would require
we wrestle to come to some sort of background during a planning session. very little detailed intervention or
consensus about. What do I mean by With one group, when considering management from me for something like
describing them as loaded? I suppose it is appropriate tasks and activities I decided ten minutes. Just the opportunity to
best to say that individually these terms to include an item that I often set up listen, to watch, and even to use the
evoke some sort of emotional response with the following; prompt that begins, ‘just tell me about ...’.
from me. The response might be inspira- If I tell you how many sides a polygon Was I surprised when, after something
tional, it might be confusion, it could be has, can you say how many diagonals just in excess of five minutes, Danny
panic, but most often I think I experience there will be? announces not that the activity is boring,
some sort of guilt. The group were relatively new to but that the activity is easy and that he
Guilt in the sense that I probably myself, and could by no means be can do it! – the answer is a resounding
consign something to the shadows because described as within the upper echelons yes, yes, and yes again. Or, being a little
it is more convenient, easier, there seems mathematically. Does this scenario have a disingenuous, was this a cunning attempt
never to be enough time, or maybe I sense of a challenge too far, given the to wrong foot me and merely a signal
haven’t yet decided exactly where I stand timing and any associated festive distrac- that Danny had ‘had enough’.
on a particular issue or topic. So, I have a tions? The thought didn’t enter my head, Having negotiated the predictable
multiplicity of excuses to satisfy my which is a little surprising given that the path to Danny at the back of the room I
conscience. The reality is that with all the group includes Danny [not his real heard myself saying something like,
challenges that present themselves during name] who vociferously asserts, at every ‘Danny that’s great, can you talk me
the normal school day the temptation to opportunity, that anything and everything through what you have found out’. The
play safe, get by, or just do enough is ever that happens in a mathematics classroom conversation went something like this;