Robyn Silbey's picture

Speaking, Writing, and Problem Solving

Speak, Write, Reflect, Revise describes a 4-step process for competent problem solving. The approach requires the teacher to facilitate the learning, which empowers students to help themselves and each other. In addition to improved test scores, students learn to articulate their ideas and strategies clearly using appropriate vocabulary. Students help each other in a risk-free environment as they learn independence, interdependence, self-reliance, and resourcefulness.

The Process
Problems should be constructed so that the solution can be obtained using a variety of pathways, both sophisticated and simple. The process must involve and engage every student in the class.

Below is a summary of the Speak, Write, Reflect, Revise process:
1. A problem is presented to the class. Students think independently first, then verbally exchange solution strategies (not the solutions themselves) in partners and small groups. Here are two sample problems:

Grades 4-5: Alan has $48. Ben has $41. Carrie has $25. How much must Alan and Ben give Carrie so they each have the same amount of money?

Grades 5-6: Simon has $50. He spends 3/5 of it on art supples and 1/4 of it on a book. How much money does Simon have left?

Following the small group conversations, the entire class reconvenes to discuss and compare solution strategies. Embedded in discussions are appropriate math vocabulary and proper sentence structure.

2. Students solve the problem independently. Using a rubric as a guide, students write a paragraph describing their solution strategies and justifying their answers.

3a. One or two volunteers, selected by the teacher for the quality of their response(s), read their first drafts orally with the class. The teacher carefully chooses volunteers whose papers need only minor edits in order to be an outstanding, full-credit response. A full credit response (a) has the correct answer, (b) is written in complete sentences, (c) contains appropriate math terminology, and (d) identifies and justifies every step in the solution.

3b. Using the rubric as a guide and working toward a full-credit response, classmates score the first drafts. Through a class discussion, students work together to upgrade their classmates' first drafts to full-credit responses. This third discussion about the original problem solidifies conceptual understanding for the majority of students.

4. All students reflect on the discussions and anchor papers as they write a second draft.

Here are samples of actual student work. The first 2 include the draft and the final version.



Student 1 Draft
(grades 4-5)

Student 2 Draft
(grades 4-5)



Student 1 Final

Student 2 Final

Student 3 Final
(fractions, grades 5-6)

Student 4 Final
(fractions, grades 5-6

Teacher Reflection
Students’ work is complete, but the reflection process is just beginning for the teacher. Once the teacher reads the students’ papers, she reflects on students’ responses. She asks herself:

• Did my students understand the problem?
• What solution strategies were used? What does that tell me about students’ conceptual understanding?
• What terminology did students use? What terms did they neglect to use?
• Did the explanatory paragraph clearly articulate the process and rationale for the solution?

The answers to these questions inform and drive the teacher’s instruction for the coming days and weeks.