Marilyn Burns on the Importance of Listening to Students

by Math Solutions Professional Learning Team, December 06th, 2017

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Director of Professional Learning Nikki Lalonde and Senior Instructional Designer Jennifer Van Zante had the chance to talk with Math Solutions founder Marilyn Burns after her presentation at California Math Council’s conference this past weekend. Marilyn shared her insight and wisdom on the importance of listening to students in the math class, and offered advice for getting around avoidance techniques students often use in class.

“I’m always listening, not for what they don’t know; I’m not looking for their deficits. I’m looking for where they are, so I can have something to build on, so it can inform my number talks, so I know what kind of questions I might ask that could be developing understanding for some kids, while it’s cementing for other students, and while it’s extending for even others. Listen, listen, listen! I learn, and then I get to be a better teacher.”

Listen, listen, listen! I learn, and then I get to be a better teacher.

Jennifer asked, “What’s the difference between a question that gets at what a kid doesn’t know, and a question that gets at what they do know?”

Marilyn stressed that her questions are aimed at finding the spot at which a child’s understanding is solid and confidence is strong, so she can build from there. “I don’t want kids to feel deficient. I don’t want them to feel demeaned in any way. I’m looking to really work with kids’ strengths and start where they are.” She humbly reported that she feels that her teaching practice is “getting better”!

But what about those students who come to class with certain barriers: no pencil, too tired, or lacking confidence, etc.? Marilyn points out that some of these impediments serve as avoidance techniques, so she works to form relationships with students to convey that she truly is there to help them succeed in math class.

“I have to say my job here is to help you, I want to help you, let’s talk about it.”

Watch the full video here:


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