For the past two years the project staff of the Investigations Center for Curriculum and Professional Development has been studying literature that addresses issues of equity, access, identity, and agency in mathematics education (for example, see Aguirre et. al., 2013; Ball, 2018; Gutiérrez, 2007; Hammond, 2015; Kay, 2018; Ladson-Billings, 2006; Nasir, 2016; NCSM & TODOS, 2016). During this study, we have been asking ourselves:
- How can a mathematics curriculum be a tool for anti-racist work?
- How can Investigations better support students who have been historically marginalized, especially Black and brown students, to be doers of mathematics?
Based on our reading and discussions among ourselves and with others who are engaged in equity work in different contexts, we developed a framework for our own work as we select and develop enhancements to the curriculum and to professional development that supports the curriculum. We are now making this working draft available for school-based educators who might also find it useful as a tool for reflecting on issues of equity, identity, and agency in mathematics learning and teaching. This blog introduces the framework. You can access the full document here.
Because we have always viewed curriculum as a tool for both teacher and student learning, we are considering both how the teacher-facing materials in the curriculum can best support teachers to address issues of identity and agency in the mathematics classroom and how the student-facing materials can best affirm students’ “intellectual, cultural, racial, ethnic, and linguistic background [Aguirre et al., 2013].”
The Curriculum-Teacher Partnership
The curriculum-teacher partnership is critical. While we, the Investigations staff, working with consultants whose work focuses on issues of equity in mathematics, are creating guidance and tools for supporting equitable teaching and learning that will become part of the curriculum itself, the implementation of these elements will depend on teachers’ awareness and reflection. As the article on “The Teacher-Student-Curriculum Partnership” in the Investigations Implementation Guide at each grade level states, the lengthy development process of the curriculum, in close collaboration with teachers, “has resulted in a focused, rigorous, coherent core curriculum that is based on the real needs of real students and real teachers. … [but] Only the teacher is present every day in the classroom, observing students’ work, listening to their discourse, and developing an understanding of their mathematical ideas … [p. 5].”
With the importance of this partnership in mind, and with the caveat that this document is very much a work in progress, we share this framework for using Investigations to promote equity in the mathematics classroom and to support the identity and agency of students who have been historically marginalized in mathematics, including Black, Latinx, emergent bilingual, and gendered and neurologically diverse learners.
Four Categories to Guide Equitable Mathematics Education
We have identified four categories of possible focus for reflection and action. As we develop material to help users focus on equity while using Investigations, we are working to select efforts in these four categories that we think have the potential to impact: 1) teachers’ reflection about equity in their classrooms, as the materials are used as a tool for teacher learning, and 2) equitable opportunities for participation in mathematical thinking, as the materials are used as a tool for student learning.
The four categories are:
1. Deep and Rigorous Mathematics. Equitable teaching and learning of mathematics can only proceed in an environment where students engage deeply with significant mathematical ideas, develop conceptual understanding of those ideas, participate in mathematics activities with high cognitive demand, and experience the joy and beauty of mathematics.
2. Equitable Participation in a Collaborative Mathematical Community. A strong collaborative mathematics community gives students the opportunity to work together to solve problems, to learn from each other, to take risks, to support and encourage others, and to be supported and encouraged by others in their growth as math learners.
3. Strength-based Assessment and Accommodation. All students come to the classroom knowing and understanding some aspects of mathematics. Work with students begins with what they know and understand, with what makes sense to them, with what they are able to do. Having someone recognize and appreciate one’s knowledge and ability as a math thinker develops and builds one’s mathematical identity.
4. Connections to Students, Their Families and Communities. Students need to see themselves, their families and communities—as well as those from other communities—as doers of mathematics. When students feel connected to and invested in the mathematics they are engaging in, this personal connection positively impacts their mathematical identities and sense of agency.
These categories are elaborated in the complete document which you can access here. We have also identified two frameworks to guide our work: Aguirre et al.’s (2013) equity-based practices, and the implementation steps from the NCSM/TODOS joint position paper, Mathematics Education Through the Lens of Social Justice (2016). In the descriptions in the full document, we cite elements from these two frameworks that seem most relevant to each category.
We invite you to consider the questions we’ve listed under each of the four categories in the full document and to choose one or several as a focus for your own reflection this year. Just as we’ve found it helpful to engage with colleagues for support and challenge in our own discussions, this document might be more generative if you can use it with a group of colleagues. We are very interested in how you use this framework, whether you find it helpful, what questions are most relevant to your own context, and to what actions your reflection leads.
[References cited here are listed in the full document.]