Jenna Laib wrote this post for her blog on a moment in which she was teaching a number string as a guest teacher in a classroom, and a student named Daysha who was not sitting, but moving around the classroom, getting hand sanitizer, etc. Jenna invites Daysha to the board, and the dynamic changes, from Daysha being “noncompliant” to being a mathematical strategist in front of the class. The image at the top is the final board of this number string. You should read it before I spoil it.
But after you read it, I would ask you to think about how this moment supports differences in attention, and maybe helps us all think about how expecting quiet sitting during a number string is expecting all kids to think/move/relate/engage the same. I know from my experience as a teacher that teaching a great number string was not about a class full of kids perfectly quiet, all engaged in exactly the same fashion. I remember D, a boy who seemed to learn best while pacing in the back of the classroom with a large Harry Potter book open. Actually number strings, since they were relatively quick, were one of the few times during the day that he could sit and engage for the whole experience. Other kids in my class would crotchet, others needed to sit really near me, others needed a really cozy spot with pillows, others needed to sit up straight at a desk. I would have conversations with kids, help them figure out what worked for them, and then we would test it, and debrief.
It also made me think about attention differences in kids (not to armchair diagnose this child, never would I do so!), but because the story seems related to many conversations I have had with kids and adults about ADHD. I have asked adults with ADHD about whole group instruction, and I have been told that it feels “like it is not for me.” Some people pay attention to too much at a time to be able to perform attention the way it is asked for in class (sit still, be complaint, yet think the whole time about what the teacher is telling you to think about); their mind moves quickly, and without an intellectual or emotional link, their mind moves on. Some kids need to have a personal connection to engage in whole group discussion, they need it to be “for me” in order to focus attention there. Not because of a lack, or a deficit, but a difference in attention.
And as Jenna writes, the way we respond to kids has significant equity effects. To silence, to demand compliance, this is not how we create classrooms in which students who have been minoritized and marginalized have access to identities as mathematical thinkers. Jenna references important work on links between student participation and equity, which matter for all math teaching, and for number strings.