Stronger and Clearer & a New Activity

As soon as I learned about the Stronger and Clearer Each Time instructional routine, I knew I needed to try it with my students.

Students have great ideas, but often, we don’t provide sufficient structure to enable students to feel safe and supported in communicating their still-forming conceptions. Sharing thinking that may not be fully developed in front of an entire class is intimidating for many students. Structured one-on-one conversations with time to think can establish a safe space where students feel supported, and where each can contribute to the success of their peers. This in turn leads to deeper understanding for everyone in the room. It is important to provide opportunities for students to practice thoughtfully listening to, learning from, and critiquing the ideas of their peers.

Here’s how Stronger and Clearer Each Time works: Given a prompt, each student drafts a response. Then they pair up as partners, and each shares and compares their draft responses, gaining new ideas and feedback from their drafts and conversations. It can be helpful to include accountable talk sentence starters to help students carry on a productive conversation.

Next, students find a new partner and repeat. After a few rounds of pairing, each student drafts a final response equipped with ideas and support. This final draft is stronger and clearer than the original.

I learned about this routine from reading “Principles for the Design of Mathematics Curricula: Promoting Language and Content Development.” I tried the routine with my students and was thrilled with how it energized the classroom and valued students’ ideas. Students learn to see their peers as collaborators and to see themselves as valuable contributors to developing ideas around content. This routine communicates to students that initial thinking is productive, and that through thoughtful interactions with others, each individual benefits. Students see that there is value in initial thinking even though it may have flaws, and that through productive interactions, their thinking can develop into strong and clear understanding.

By listening to these interactions and reading both initial and final responses from a teacher’s perspective, we can see if anything needs to be clarified for the class or if our students have successfully achieved the goals of a lesson. Desmos fellow Dylan Kane uses this structure to pre-assess students’ understanding before diving into new content. Additionally, this structure requires little preparation on the teacher’s part, aside from writing an effective prompt and listening to and reading students’ responses.

You can find this routine as part of our newly released activity, Connecting the Dots, where students become more effective at communicating the information required to precisely describe a rigid transformation. Following this routine, students create challenges for their peers and transform polygons based on their classmates’ descriptions.