Why I Always Lead with the Punchline

While working on my first blog post today I stumbled on a twitter post from Kate Nowak regarding this blog post from Math Stories.  Obviously if you read my first post it is obvious that I don’t just always lead with the “punchline” I lead the unit with the whole plot line.  And this blog post and resulting twitter conversation made me really think about that practice.  I am not saying I’m right and I’m not saying I’m wrong I think this conversation is a great one to have as professionals.

So why do I lead with the standard?  I guess I just feel that if I am holding students responsible for learning “it” then they might as well know what “it” is.  We begin every unit with the data collection sheet and study guide I posted early.  We have an entire class period where we just talk about what they see.  We take the mystery and the scary out of it.  They tell me what seems familiar and what seems like rocket science.  We look for themes we brainstorm where they have seen these things before and then we do something crazy…they tell me how they think they should learn “it”.  Sometimes they have good ideas and sometimes they are terribly off base but in reality the same can be said about my ideas so I don’t judge.

It is incredibly gratifying to have kids bring in a picture they took at Sonic because they know we are getting ready to do probability and they want the class to discuss the slushy combinations possible at Sonic.  The way I see it if leading with the standard is giving away the punchline then my kids routinely come up with their own punchline instead and who am I to take that away from them?

The beautiful part of this is that the students are able to move on without me when they are ready to.  As a class we still may be stuck on the first standard but because the kids already know the “punchline” they move on to the next standard without me and catch the rest of us up when we get there.  I never review for a test or give out old school study guides instead the students work together with people struggling with the same things they are and work together to improve.

I am interested in hearing other thoughts about this practice.  I am always looking to improve and if I am screwing up 120 kids a year by revealing the punchline first I better quit doing it pretty fast because there are too many other ways that are much more fun to screw them up!


5 thoughts on “Why I Always Lead with the Punchline

  1. Hi Brooke! Thanks for sharing some more details about how you organize your classes. It reads to me like you equip your students to take control and responsibility for what they need to learn. I have been nerding out lately over John Hattie’s “Visible Learning” research. His was a meta-analysis of 800 studies that measured the effectiveness of all sorts of treatments, and he found that student self-assessment was one of the treatments with the most significant impact. Another very effective intervention is concept mapping — making sure the kids see how all the ideas in a unit fit together. This is all to say, I think you are on to something here.

    I can’t speak for Mr. K (the author of the “don’t lead with the punchline” post) but I would feel that frustration most acutely at the lesson level. What you describe in your post orients students within the unit of study. But I think what he’s saying is, sometimes you want to pose a puzzling question to students where they have to figure out the punchline. For example, if you give students a pile problem with the sequence {2, 5, 10, 17…} you don’t want to tell them ahead of time that they are learning about quadratic relationships, because grappling with the nature of sequences that grow quadratically is part of the puzzle.

    I feel a little rambley, but I hope that makes sense. Anyway, thanks for the discussion and the pushback and making me think harder about what I am saying!

    • Thanks so much for your comments Kate! I am going to read up on the Visible Learning research as it definitely sounds like something I would be interested in. I can completely see the point the Mr. K was probably frustrated with the “check-listy” type learning targets that really lock to kids in. Vague is usually the name of the game on my daily learning objectives because I never really completely know where we will go. I think in my mind I just hate hearing the, “well it works in Japan so we should be doing it here” argument. Although it is obvious that the Japanese education system is highly effective that doesn’t mean that every classroom strategy they use is a good fit here. I have loved the conversation that this has generated however. Lots of good things to think about!

      And thanks for the encouragement to start a blog. I hope to have lots of exciting things coming!

  2. Pingback: Math Teachers at Play (MTaP) Blog Carnival: Top Math Blog Posts! | Singapore Maths Tuition

  3. Yes! I love helping students see the big picture of where we are headed, and I am purposely vague about some of the details, so that individuals lessons can have a punchline near the end. These two posts go together so well!

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