We believe that students learn best when given opportunities to pose and explore questions, make sense of new ideas in an accessible and engaging context, and have discussions with their peers. This is why we start each lesson with an activity that students work on in groups. We also believe that the teacher plays a key role in leveraging student contributions to build toward the learning outcomes of the lesson. In the debrief portion of the lesson, the teacher facilitates a discussion that draws on student thinking to make key ideas visible.
The debrief, or consolidation, of the activity is perhaps the most critical part of the lesson, given that students have already had ample time to talk through their ideas in groups. The purpose of the debrief is three-fold:
Formalize the learning by adding academic vocabulary and mathematical notation in the margin notes
Emphasize key understandings from the lesson
Honor student contributions and strategically position students as capable mathematicians
Let’s unpack what goes into facilitating an effective debrief.
To prepare for a good debrief, first go through the lesson as a student. Try to anticipate how your students might approach the problems and what strategies they might use. We recommend writing these down and then brainstorming a few assessing and advancing questions you could ask to link the group’s strategy to the desired learning outcomes of the day. Then read the lesson post for our lesson suggestions and make note of important things you want to include. Look at the margin notes written in red on the answer key to determine the key ideas to point out as you go over the activity.
During the Activity
As you are monitoring groups, keep track of which strategies each group uses. If you hear a student say something really insightful, jot it down, then ask him/her if they would be willing to share that idea in the whole group, or ask him/her to write it up on the board. Particularly, look for students whose voices may be less dominant in class discussions or whose mathematical status needs to be reinforced.
To get answers written on the board, you can specifically choose which group and/or student writes up which question, or you can distribute a whiteboard marker to each group and allow them to choose one group member to write up whichever question they choose. You can even vary the structure from day to day depending on timing and goals for the lesson.
During the Debrief
As the groups are done or wrapping up, call the class back together and have them get out their colored pens (we like Papermate Flairs!). Explain that anything that is written in colored pen is considered “notes” and describes the essential understandings, key vocabulary, and important notation that students will be expected to know. Students can think of their original work as their “rough draft” thinking and the red margin notes as the class consensus.
Ask groups and particular students to share out their group’s strategy and how they came up with the answer they wrote on the board. Often students will only write part of their answer on the board or leave off explanations, so use assessing questions to draw out student thinking. Your goal is to make the group’s thinking accessible to others in the class. You can have students from other groups summarize or paraphrase the response to promote active listening. Thank the student for their response, then add the appropriate notes in the margin, linking as directly as possible to the student contribution (e.g. “Shamirah just said that at x=3, the function is getting closer and closer to 5. We call that the limit of the function as x approaches 3”).
You do not have to debrief every question with this level of depth, and there are questions you may wish to skip entirely during the debrief. Alternatively, there are questions where you might want to highlight more than one group’s answer, as this is a great opportunity to emphasize multiple solution paths and acknowledge competence by naming strategies after the students (“Jared’s strategy” and “Vanessa’s strategy”), which you can refer to again later.
It is important that you do not re-go-over all the steps to solving each problem, because students will realize that they can stall in their groups and you will just give them the answer later. Only if there is mass confusion or many students did not get a particular question is it worth going over a particular question step-by-step as a whole group.
After the Debrief
We like to use a consolidation prompt right before we turn to the Important Ideas by asking students to do a quick turn-and-talk with questions like “What’s one new thing you learned after today’s lesson? What’s one thing you’re still unsure about?” or “What was the big idea of today’s lesson?” The more you can get students to talk, process, and reflect during a lesson, the better!