There is definitely something magical that happens when using bansho in the classroom, if you are willing to take the risk and let it.
I have enjoyed teaching math using Bansho for about 4 years now. It has been an interesting and fun journey for me. I often encourage other teachers to try it out and see for themselves what happens. However, the most common complaint shared with me by colleagues who have tried a lesson using Bansho, is that the weaker students fade into the background. They ask me, “How do you differentiate for students who struggle in math?” And then they stare at me strangely when I answer, “You don’t.”
Regular Bansho Encourages Communication
The problem is that many teachers try using Bansho as a stand-alone math lesson.
It is not.
Some have tried using it once a week, but the students end up spending their time trying to figure out what it is the teacher wants them to do. A stand-alone lesson will not allow students to discover, explore, and work through their misconceptions. They need to be guided through their misconceptions (but only during the consolidation). It’s in the exploration that the language and communication begins to explode.
Let Students Get Comfortable with the Expectations
The magic of using Bansho comes the moment the students forget what they are supposed to do, and just do. This only happens when the students have moved past feeling self-conscious, and find a comfort zone. And this does not happen until they get into the habit of doing Bansho. The language and communication skills, the critical and creative thinking skills, happen through habit.
Now this does not mean that you have to use Bansho everyday, but when you do use it, try to use it consistently for a few lessons in a row.
Bring Struggling Students on Board, Honour Errors
When I first introduce a question for a unit, the students work with partners, or in small groups of different ability levels.
Often my struggling students will hang back and observe when there is a new concept involved, which is exactly what they need to do. During the consolidation (the teaching part) either the teacher or students will share a strategy that was used to solve the problem.
The consolidation part of the lesson can also include moments of brilliant thinking, which somehow arrive at the wrong answer; the students get to try to figure out what went wrong... in our class we call these our “aha” moments, and we embrace them!
The next day a similar problem will be given to the class, and the day after that, too.
As strategies are shared each day (some are more efficient and abstract, some less efficient and more concrete) the struggling students begin to find strategies that work for them, and the stronger students begin to see the connections between the various strategies. It is within this continuum of solutions of varying efficiencies where much of the differentiation lies.
Move from Hetero- to More Homogenous Groupings, and Watch the Magic
As we move from one day to the next, students also begin to be partnered with students of similar ability (ability grouping).
And all of a sudden you look around the class, and everyone is engaged with their groups, explaining, sharing, peer teaching, and everyone is solving a problem using critical and creative thinking, and you go, “ahhh... there’s the magic I was looking for.”
Of course there are always circumstances and needs that fall outside of this explanation, and being professionals, we find ways of meeting all the needs of the students in the class. But on more than one occasion I have watched the mathphobes in my class come up with the most interesting, or unusual, or most efficient, or most creative solutions... if given the opportunity to get into the habit of Bansho.
Tips to help the magic along: