“Is this another sad graph?” Serafina wrote to me in the zoom chat. We had just started our Slow Reveal Graph routine. At this point, students could only see a line graph that had been stripped of its context and labels (see image on right). We were discussing what we noticed and what we wondered.
I paused, and offered up a conflicted smile to the 19 sixth graders in my second period class before letting out a nervous laugh. “Someone in the chat is wondering if this is going to be another sad slow reveal graph. This one is a little sad. Not all of the slow reveal graphs are sad. Some of them are happy… and more of them are sad. And the reason that more of them is sad is… because I think it’s a really powerful way to dig into what problems are [in the world].”
The zoom chat flooded with comments.
I laughed a little, but always wanted to honor their feelings. “I think this graph offers some reason for optimism. It isn’t just a problem. There’s a problem with some actions.”
Typically, I begin the slow reveal graph routine with the image of the stripped down graph, and time to generate what we notice and what we wonder. This helps us dig deep into the features and context of the graph. Today, however, we were trying out a new framework for anchoring our thoughts.
“I want us to do more than notice and wonder. I want us to notice… and feel… and wonder… and act.”
I diverted students back to that first slide which had these 4 imperatives listed. (Notice/Feel/Wonder/Act comes from @Laurie_Rubel.) I commended students for sharing things that they noticed — that there are two different colored lines, that one seems to be increasing while the other is decreasing, and they intersect — and that as more information was revealed I wanted them to pay attention to how they are making sense of what it all means, and how what it means makes them feel.
The routine had started out decontextualized. Students had shared features of the graph. [as a disclaimer, I wanted to say that I feel extremely vulnerable putting these videos out there. They’re far from perfect. I use them to help me analyze what happens in class; who is talking? who isn’t? how did I amplify student voices? What opportunities did I miss to support a student? When do I need to interject? When do I need to stop interjecting? etc. etc.]
At certain points during the graph, I stopped to elicit from students how they felt. In some of my classes, students took on this task somberly. These students were more likely to write how they felt in the chat than unmuting themselves. Sharing feelings is a risk; I am not surprised that students preferred writing it instead of saying it out loud.
And there were times when I rushed through the question too much, when I noticed that students weren’t unmuting themselves or typing in the chat. I wish I had let everyone dwell in that space for a little longer. In order to understand this data, we need to find ways to connect to it. After we connect to it, we can then determine better plans of action to address the problem.
At the end of the video, you can hear silence, as students type in the chat rather than speaking out loud.
The students continued. I found it interesting that all of the students writing in the chat during this lesson identify as female or non-binary. The class does skew heavy towards female students, with only a few male students in the class.
Meanwhile, in a class that I had earlier that day that has twice as many male identifying students as female, the boys were regularly unmuting themselves, while the girls participated almost exclusively in the chat. I wonder why that is. I wonder how perceived status can impact which medium students prefer for communication, and also the kinds of ideas they express.
Later on, as students attempted to guess the scale of the y-axis, the first class overestimated the size of the problem. They continued to write in the chat:
Meanwhile, in the male-dominated class, my attempts to humanize the numbers didn’t land the way I had envisioned. The students in that class decided that 70,000 homeless veterans “didn’t seem like a lot,” since it’s spread out over the course of the United States, and then they researched some additional facts about the number of people currently serving in the military compared with the number of veterans.
You can watch the students in the first period class wrestle with contextualizing and decontextualizing the number of homeless veterans in this video clip, as well as some potential actions.
I plan to use the Notice/Feel/Wonder/Act framework again. The slow reveal graphs lend themselves particularly well to this; with each reveal, students are given space to dig into both the mathematics and also the context. Being asked to focus on how the data makes them feel and then what actions they might be inspired to take can be validating and empowering. It can also be challenging, and uncomfortable.
Without question, though: it’s a conversation worth having.
Thankyou for this articulate post. I’m grateful that you share you moments of discomfort amongst descriptions of what I feel are skilful and sophisticated ways to be with your students and stimulate their thinking, feeling and actions. Thankyou!