“Being Sal Khan” and Other Attempts to Apply Reciprocal Teaching to Math Class

Way back in my days of guided student teaching (sadly, a phase of the teacher training process that is now considered optional,) I learned to use reciprocal teaching in reading groups. This strategy involves tackling a text with a small group of students through an ongoing cycle of predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. One of the key elements of the strategy is to transfer responsibility for teaching the lesson from the teacher, in the early phase of the lesson, to the students, who take turns teaching parts of the lesson. I love to see students teach the lesson. They use more targeted language, and develop a deeper understanding of the content. In his book Visible Learning, John Hattie lists reciprocal teaching as one of the strategies with the highest demonstrated effect size.

Hattie Reciprocal TeachingHattie Table

Since our state math graduation requirements have increased, I’ve found myself teaching a lot more math than reading, but I’ve still tried to use the basic of structure of reciprocal teaching in my math classes. One of my favorite new ways to use my iPad in class is an activity I call “Being Sal Khan” that basically uses the structure of reciprocal teaching and leads to the students making their own Khan Academy-style videos, during the summarizing phase, to share with each other and discuss. If you aren’t familiar with Sal Khan and his Khan Academy, then I’m not sure where you’ve been, but here’s a peek.

A caveat or two:

Remember that I teach a small group special education math class, and rarely have more than 6 students in a math group (though I may have other students working on different subjects in the same room.) I have my doubts that “Being Sal Khan” can be used in a large group setting like most regular classrooms, but then again, I’ve never taught in that type of classroom, so what do I know?

Many people use reciprocal teaching as much more student-led in the early stages than I do, and I’m sure it works that way in general education settings. My students all have significant learning disabilities in the area of math, and have had years of failure in math classes, so I explicitly teach them the skills to be learned before I expect them to take the lead.

Here’s my typical rundown:

Day 1: I teach vocabulary and review the necessary prior knowledge in a mini-lesson, followed by some independent practice with applied problems, giving the students a chance to grapple with the new concept on their own. Then we have a group discussion, something like the dialogue piece of reciprocal reading lessons, where we try to predict, clarify, question, and summarize general principals as we talk through the problems. I explicitly walk the group through the basic steps of solving a problem and applying the new concept, but allow them, when ready, to take turns leading individual steps (like how to identify the information being given in the questions, or allowing more hesitant students to complete the steps of solving an equation that I, or another student, have started.)

Day 2: This is when the students begin to take control of the the teaching. I start by reviewing the objective and vocabulary, and we do a review problem together, again employing the dialogue of reciprocal teaching, mainly to see how much they remember from the previous day (sometimes I have to retreat and re-teach.) Students have a chance to practice leading parts of the dialogue in this session. If and when they are ready, we break into pairs for lesson planning. I give them a rubric so they know how I will be grading the lessons they teach, and the pairs take notes, plan their teaching, and practice teaching together while I supervise and guide.

 50 point Grading Rubric- Being Sal Khan

I only have one iPad, so student pairs have to take turns actually recording their videos. The others either have to finish their planning or work on some individual practice problems. I use an app called “Show Me”, but I think there are similar apps that allow you draw on a virtual white board and record your voice.

Sample of a student “Being Sal Khan”Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 7.27.18 AM

The videos give me a great piece of evidence to analyze. I often discover a student’s misconception or a misunderstanding of vocabulary. We watch the videos together and give targeted feedback in individual or small group conferences. I can also use the videos to document student progress over time.

Further resources for reciprocal teaching in mathematics:




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