Barfing Your Thoughts vs. Showing Your Work

I was trying to get R to put some stuff on his page.

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I stared off past R into the wall. I realized that it wasn’t for my sake that I wanted him to show his work. My point, to R, was that he was doing all these calculations in his head and dropping numbers and slipping up along the way. He had good ideas, but if he kept track of each sub-calculation on his page he would be far more accurate.

“What I’m saying isn’t that you need to go back and show me how you did it. I’m saying just barf your thoughts onto the page, as you’re having them.”

That line worked for him, and for a few others kids in Algebra 1 later.

Maybe there’s even a developmental path we can trace for how kids can see the value of showing more than just an answer.

  1. At first, kids show work that’s useful for their own calculations. At this stage, revision would seem like a useless exercise unless the answer was wrong.
  2. Then, kids can see how how showing their work might represent how they thought about the question. Revision might seem more sensible to kids at this stage.
  3. Finally, kids might show work that does more than represent their thinking, but also is structured so as to justify it against potential skepticism.

All that is just speculation, though. What I know is that I’ve found a new way to ask kids to show their work.

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