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Flipping the I Do, We Do, You Do Script

Students taught through passive approaches follow and memorize methods instead of learning to inquire, ask questions, and solve problems. Jo Boaler, What’s Math Got to Do With It?

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The past 15-20 years have seen huge shifts in math instruction. New standards deemphasize rote memorization of procedures and outline an approach to teaching math that balances procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, and problem-solving. That is in large part due to the fact that the way we use mathematics has changed in the past 50 years. Our mobile phones now have the power to do calculations that previously were either done manually or using room-sized computers. That’s not to say that procedural fluency is no longer important, it’s just not the only thing that’s important.

i do we do you do

Now think about the traditional model for teaching math; I Do, We Do, You Do. This model is also called the gradual release of responsibility. Look back at Jo Boaler’s quote at the beginning of this post, and do you see that this traditional approach is very passive? Students are basically just memorizing and mimicking a procedure modeled by the teacher. Yet this is still the predominant instructional model in math classrooms. The lessons in most math textbooks are structured based on the model. Unfortunately, this model does little to address problem solving or conceptual understanding.

I do We do You do

But what if we flipped the script? Now the model becomes You Do, We Do, I do. 

i do we do you do

So now we have a more student-centered model that incorporates problem-solving. It’s much less scripted. Let me illustrate with an example.

Say, for example, that I want to introduce all the combinations for a number, in this case 5, to a Kindergarten class. I could present a very scripted lesson, such as the one shown below. Recognize that this is very passive learning for students. They are merely mimicking the teacher’s actions. And the teacher is doing all the explaining.

i do we do you do

Contrast that with this approach. This time, I’m going to give pairs of students two plates and 5 counters. Then I’m going to pose the following problem: Stephan has 5 cookies he wants to put on two plates. Use your counters and paper plates to show how he might place the cookies. Can you think of more than one way?

i do we do you do

After giving students a few minutes to work on the problem (you do), I’ll solicit the combinations they discovered and record them on the board or chart paper. I can question them about their process and we can discuss any patterns we see (we do). To extend the activity, I might ask, Huh, I wonder if we found all the ways to make 5? Then we could discuss different ways to organize our data to help us determine if we found all the combinations. Finally, I’ll consolidate the learning (I do), asking students to reflect on what they learned and stating my teaching point: There are many different ways to make numbers and we call them combinations

Notice that with this lesson, students are actively involved. They are working on the problem with a partner, which encourages great mathematical conversations. They are making their own discoveries, and that helps them take ownership of the learning. And then the lesson is tied up neatly with a bow!

Change can be hard! The I Do, We Do, You Do model has been around for a very long time. Let’s break that mold and put students in charge of their learning!

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      1. I don’t know of any specific resources. Mostly what I do is rearrange the order of lessons I have access to already! For example, you might have a lesson in the Teacher’s Edition of a textbook, but it is likely very scripted. You can use that as the basis of a flipped lesson.

        1. Any suggestions for a kickoff to place value for second graders? I have been using the thinking classroom model this year so they are used to some of these tasks.

  1. Thank you! I just learned more about moving away from the “I Do, We Do, You Do” model in a recent professional development. Researching on your blog reconfirms my beliefs and is helping me continue to succeed as a teacher teaching 3rd grade math to my students. Thank you for providing multiple fascinating ways to keep math engaging in the classroom. These are the ideas and methods that teachers need to be utilizing to keep our students 21st century skills fresh, not a worksheet and memorization!

  2. Thank you for sharing your perspective. As a University Supervisor for Practicum and Student interns, I have found more passive learning and teacher-directed instruction. This practice is a concern because students mimic rather than use their process skills. Mathematics is a student-centered, teacher-facilitated event. The instructor should understand math content so they can plan accordingly. I will share your resource with the preservice teachers.

  3. I’ve been doing this for years. By flipping the script the students become more responsible for their learning. And, the discoveries they make leave a lasting impression causing deeper understanding.

  4. I have seen the opposite in my 6th-grade math class. Students sit and wait for someone in their group to tell them the answer. They do not question that student. I have 2 math classes, and I see the same thing in both groups. My higher-level kids do well, but the rest struggle because they don’t even have a concept of where to start. Many take so much time to do the simplest math parts (multiplication) they just give up. I go to each group and ask questions to get them thinking, but they stop as soon as I go to another group.

    1. I think what you’ve seen is probably pretty common. Using a strategy like this is part of an overall shift in how our math instruction looks–more student-centered and less teacher directed–and it’s a big change for both students and teachers! It requires a lot of groundwork to be effective. Starting at the beginning of the year, expectations must be set and modeled extensively. This post on NCTM’s Effective Teaching Practices provides more on the subject.

    2. Rosie,
      As a 5th-grade math teacher, I understand and have experienced the struggle you described. In addition to what Donna Boucher recommended, check out Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms approach. In Liljedahl’s book, he details methods that help to avoid the situation you described. Also, search Facebook groups for “Building Thinking Classrooms.” You will find a wealth of resources there to ensure the “you do, we do, I do” approach works successfully. It has truly transformed learning math in my classroom!

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