Sometimes it's the little things that make a difference...
As I was writing names next to questions on the board last week I realized that I was getting uncomfortable. Let me back up. I was randomly choosing the student who would write the solution to each question by selecting a Popsicle stick from my (Starbucks tea) tin which contains one stick with each student's name on it. When I chose a student who often struggles to solve a tougher question, I got uncomfortable. And I realized how in the past I would purposely assign those questions to students that I knew could complete them. I'm not even sure I did this consciously, but I am sure I did it. Using a random method of choosing names forces me to give all my students the opportunity to rise to the challenge. Given that I always tell my students that I appreciate it when they make mistakes because everyone can learn from them (and I always give them the option of purposely including mistakes when they write solutions on the board), I have no reason to worry about what solution they write. Noticing that it bothered me was a good reminder of why I use Popsicle sticks in my classes.
Review day (before a test) is usually a day when I do stations with my students. I stick questions from a previous year's test up around the room, randomly pair up students and have them go around the room working on big whiteboards. Each pair gets an answer sheet, the right-most column of which is labelled "For Administrative Use". I could simply post the test answers/solutions somewhere in the room for students to self-check, but instead I have them come show me their answers. If an answer is correct, they receive a sticker in the right-most column and if it is incorrect I send them back to try again. If they return with another incorrect answer to the same question I may get them to try a third time or have a conversation with them about what they tried so that I can (hopefully) ask a question that will help redirect them. I ensure that they eventually get to the correct solution and receive that sticker. It may seem silly, but the motivation provided by those stickers is huge. My students are engaged in meaningful mathematical discussions which sometimes turn into arguments as they work through the station. They are talking about the math and helping each other understand the material in greater depth. They make mistakes and figure out where they went wrong before they take the test.
When my students are working on a practice question as a class, I often walk around the room to check on their progress. I bring along my happy face stamp (or stickers) which I use if their solution is correct. They love this. I get a good sense of how they are doing by the number of stamps/stickers I have given out, but also get the opportunity to help those who are stuck by asking a question to get them unstuck. I'm still working on ensuring that my questions are not leading questions... It's a tiny bit of one-on-one time with each student that gives me a window into their thinking.
I am certain that all teachers have a multitude of little things that they do which make their classroom unique and better. I would love to hear some of yours in the comments.