The question is not whether all students can succeed in mathematics but whether the adults organizing mathematical learning opportunities can alter traditional beliefs and practices to promote success for all. (NCTM 2014 Principles to Actions)
The development of children’s mathematical ideas is at the heart of the Investigations curriculum which supports teachers in deepening their understanding of the mathematics they teach and how their students come to understand it. Equitable learning communities focus on the development of students’ mathematical ideas and require a commitment to provide all students access to rigorous, cognitively demanding mathematics, especially those who have been historically marginalized in mathematics classrooms – Black, Latinx, Emergent Bilingual, gender- and neurologically-diverse learners. The Investigations staff are committed to supporting teachers with this dual focus—the development of children’s mathematical ideas and the development of equitable learning communities that disrupt patterns of marginalization.
Why focus on equity?
Classrooms are microcosms of a larger society in which racism, power and privilege converge to empower some students and disenfranchise others. Setting up and sustaining an equitable learning community requires an examination of one’s own beliefs and biases (whether conscious or unconscious) about ourselves and our students as doers and thinkers of mathematics. This kind of purposeful self-examination allows us to think differently about what is (and is not) working. It requires transparency, intentionality and reflection on the instructional practices we enact. An equitable learning community allows students and teachers the space to reflect on what and how they are learning, their sense of belonging, and how they perceive others.
Without this laser focus on equity we run the risk of reifying patterns of marginalization of students who have historically been underserved in mathematics classrooms and perpetuating the myth that there are a privileged few who can do math and are, therefore, afforded math status in the classroom. In an equitable learning community, teachers dismantle hierarchies and position all students as having valuable knowledge to share. Creating inclusive, equitable math classrooms requires an unwavering commitment to opportunities for both teachers and students to grow, and to together develop a shared classroom authority.
What is an equitable learning community?
An equitable learning community requires first and foremost knowing who our students are and using that knowledge to situate math learning in the lived experiences of students, building on the knowledge and skills each student brings to school and acknowledging and welcoming students’ identities into the classroom. No student should be asked to leave any part of who they are at the door. This includes race, languages, and ways of knowing, as well as the family and community knowledge and skills students bring with them.
In an equitable learning community all students are assured equitable distribution of resources including time to develop ideas, attention to their mathematical thinking, and an assurance that every student will have multiple opportunities to contribute and participate. An equitable learning community challenges all of us as educators to ask ourselves as a regular part of our practice: Who has access? Whose voices are heard and not heard and why? Whose questions are explored? Where is the authority for determining right and wrong answers located in the classroom? How are mistakes normalized and used as resources for learning? Who determines what it means to be successful and how is success measured?
How does the Investigations curriculum support an equitable learning community?
The tools in Investigations are designed to help teachers focus on the development of children’s mathematical ideas and to support students in making sense of mathematics. Resources such as Dialogue Boxes, Teacher Notes, connections to the Standards for Mathematical Practice, and suggestions for differentiation provide invaluable professional development to help teachers gain a deeper understanding of the mathematics, how students make sense of mathematical ideas, and how students develop, apply, and refine strategies.
Access to a student-centered curriculum, enacting ambitious mathematics teaching practices and developing strong content knowledge are important, but not sufficient in achieving equitable learning communities. Addressing inequitable systemic structures that favor some while excluding others requires sustained commitment, reflection on the opportunities for equitable participation, and taking action.
We are bringing to the forefront the need to build and sustain equitable learning communities that prioritize the development of all children’s mathematical ideas.
Upcoming blogs will highlight and expand on strategies for making more explicit the ways in which teachers and students can examine, address, and work toward a thriving, equitable mathematics learning community.