Eight of our staff traveled to DC to attend the NCSM conference at the end of April. Below are four staff members’ reflections on a Session that stood out to them. (Also see Part 1.)
Karen: “Teachers First. Everything Else Follows.” by Tracy Zager
In this session, honoring the 50th anniversary of NCSM, Tracy Zager began by describing some of the important history of mathematics education, highlighting how, across the decades, classroom teachers were part of each new effort because it was they who would interpret new standards, enact new curriculum, and administer new assessments. In Tracy’s view, teachers are and will continue to be the critical factor in the teaching and learning of mathematics. Tracy then engaged us in thinking about which “unit of change” has the greatest impact on the teaching and learning of mathematics, suggesting that while the Nation, State, County, and District all have a role to play, it is the School, Grade Level, and Classroom that directly impact learning. Thus, “Teachers First” should be our focus.
During Tracy’s session I found myself thinking about what we have learned in the last decades about effective teaching. We know that students and student thinking need to be at the center of our work. We also know that understanding student thinking, understanding how students learn mathematics, and understanding the mathematics being taught are all essential. Which means that teaching is incredibly hard work; a heavy lift that takes time, demands reflection, and requires deep resources in the form of coaching, curriculum, and continued opportunities for professional learning. From my perspective we seem to know so much. How can we leverage all that we know to move the teaching and learning of mathematics forward not in the next 50 years, but in the next 5?
Arusha: “#blackmenteachmath: Unpacking and Understanding the Networks, Beliefs, and Practices of Black Men Who Teach Mathematics” by Robert Q. Berry, III
Dr. Berry began with a statistic: only 2% of teachers are black men. He then posed several questions. Why so few? Do we think more black male teachers should be a goal? Why? He discussed how black male teachers are often seen only as disciplinarians or as responsible for addressing the concerns and needs of black boys. This positions these men “as both sinners and saviors”- their absence is blamed for black boys’ failures and they are expected to be the ones who can “save” them. Dr. Berry then discussed the roles and work of three black men who teach math in the same district, two at the middle and one at the high school. He described the network they have created, and the “informal pipeline of access” it has established for black students. Dr. Berry emphasized the importance of recruiting black men into teaching, not just because they are role models for black boys, but because all students benefit from having strong black male teachers. As a white woman and math educator, this session challenged me to think more deeply about the issues having to do with the expectations and pressures placed on black male teachers of mathematics.
Denise: Beyond “Good Teaching Is Good Teaching”- Integrating Neurodiversity into Standards-Based Mathematics Pedagogy for Students with Disabilities” by Rachel Lambert
At the beginning of her talk, Rachel asked us to think about what we know about teaching students with disabilities mathematics. A few ideas bubbled up:
- Students with disabilities need to make meaningful connections.
- Mathematics education best practices emphasize the importance of making sense of the mathematics, not simply relying on rote memorization.
- Students with disabilities are often taught rote mathematics, using explicit instruction. Conceptual understanding does not seem to be the goal.
Having taught elementary special education, this discussion brought up such a familiar tension for me, one I’m still thinking about. If we know that students with (and without) disabilities need to make connections to support their learning, why do we hold this back from the students who need it most, opting for rote memorization? For me, it was particularly frustrating given many of my students struggled with recall!
Rachel pushed participants to think beyond a deficit model for teaching students with disabilities. She presented data showing how disconnected the research in special education and mathematics education is. I am excited to see someone doing work to bridge the gap between the special education and the math education communities, and am eager to learn more about her work.
Cynthia: “Teacher Talk in Mathematics! The Power of Language and Questioning in the Classroom” by Sophie Murphy
I went to this session because I was interested in the work Sophie and her colleague Dr. John Hattie at the University of Melbourne are doing related to teacher talk and student voice. She shared familiar data. On average:
- Teachers talk 90% of the time in the classroom.
- Teachers ask 200-400 questions a day, 95% at the surface level (factual, single response). Students ask 0-2 per hour.
She talked about how we often ask questions while students are processing. Or, we ask the same question until we get the answer we are looking for. Or, we call on students we assume will know the answer. This reminded me of Mary Budd Rowe’s work on ‘wait time’ in the 70’s.
I was interested to hear about a free app that Sophie used in her research, to document teacher talk in the classroom. Visual Classroom enables teachers to record their lessons. More importantly, Sophie has found that reflecting on video of teacher practice has shifted teachers’ focus to student learning, helping them:
- recognize their impact on student learning
- evaluate their impact through the eyes of the learner
- use what they learn to adjust and plan future learning experiences
I left the session thinking about teachers’ influence. As Sophie said, “Teachers are among the most powerful influencers on learning… The power of our questioning and dialogue cannot be underestimated.”