In February 2021, amidst growing conversations about “learning loss” and “the covid slide,” we wrote a blog, “This Learning is Not Lost” which presented a different perspective. It introduced a series of blogs (1, 2, 3, 4), based on visits to virtual classrooms where:

  • students were engaged by and working deeply on content
  • students were sharing mathematical ideas and building on each other’s ideas
  • teachers were working hard to facilitate lively and meaningful discussions and to support student learning
  • teachers were maintaining their high expectations for student learning
  • the Investigations curriculum was providing support and structure for coherence and rigor

Each of these blogs embody the perspective summarized in the initial post, that “knowing how to dig deeply into the mathematics and how to formulate and express mathematical ideas is what will best enable students to make sense of unfinished content when they encounter it and that this is the learning that will not be lost.”

As schools enter the final months of the 2020-2021 school year, whether they are continuing with an established learning situation or are pivoting once again and welcoming students back to full in-person instruction, it seems timely to affirm the ways Investigations supports and respects the work teachers and students do around the teaching and learning of mathematics. Remember:

Students have mathematical ideas.

This belief has served as one of the guiding principles of the curriculum for 30 years and remains true in this extraordinary year. “If given the opportunity to learn in an environment that stresses making sense of mathematics, students build on the ideas they already have and learn about new mathematics they have never encountered. Students learn that they are capable of having mathematical ideas, applying what they know to new situations, and thinking and reasoning about unfamiliar problems.” (Implementing Investigations at Grade [5], p. 4)

This idea, so tied to mathematical identity and agency, is fundamental. Use this guiding principle as a touchstone for making decisions about how to engage students in math learning. Trust your students to have mathematical ideas, because they do.

Focus on what students know.

Formative assessments and 1:1 conversations provide informative and engaging pictures of how students are thinking. Being curious about that thinking communicates to students that their ideas are interesting and important. Focus on uncovering what students know rather than making assumptions about what they may not know. Use this information to inform instructional decisions. Choose tasks that allow students to use what they know and build on each other’s ideas. Don’t be afraid to linger on ideas and to revisit games that build and reinforce critical understandings.

Lean on the curriculum.

One of the things we’ve learned in our visits to virtual classrooms, and in conversations with a group of districts over the course of the pandemic, is that the curriculum continues to be an important tool for teachers, providing important support and structure for coherence and rigor. Consider ways the curriculum can be leveraged in these final months of the school year. For example:

  • Focus on the conceptual development that is inherent in each unit. Teach key concepts rather than procedures and tricks.
  • Use the Ongoing Assessment: Observing Students at Work feature to focus your attention and get to know what students know and can do; build from there.
  • Focus on grade level content. Investigations lessons are designed to have multiple entry points, so teach what’s suggested, and pay particular attention to the Differentiation: Supporting the Range of Learners feature.
  • Use Classroom Routines and Ten-Minute Math Activities to build community and to practice, consolidate, and extend important mathematical ideas.

Deepen the learning community.

Whether students are returning to in-person instruction for the first time, merging into an already existing class, or remaining in a familiar setting, they will likely have a lot to say about this unusual school year. Make space for conversations about what learning has been like this year. What did they enjoy? What was challenging? What new things did they discover about themselves? It is likely that students’ learning has extended far beyond the boundaries of academic learning. Some likely took on new or expanded roles in their family – helping or receiving help from a sibling or family member with school or other work in a new way. Others developed independence – managing the many aspects of online school or helping in new ways at home. Finding ways to acknowledge, appreciate, and share these experiences not only validates students’ experiences but also conveys to them an appreciation of what constitutes learning in their classroom community. Revisit discussions that were likely held at the beginning of the year about what it means to be a learner of mathematics. How has that changed during the course of the year? How can they support their fellow students in math learning?

Reflect on the nature of learning.

Learning is always happening, and learning is never finished. Teachers and students have learned a lot this year, regardless of the situation. As we’ve talked with districts and visited virtual classrooms, we’ve seen how unbelievably hard teachers have worked to support mathematics learning. They, along with their students, have shown amazing resilience in these unprecedented times. Has math class looked different? Yes. Are students still “in process” with making sense of some or many of the math ideas that they have been working on? Most likely. Have they encountered new and sometimes challenging situations that will help them tackle a future challenge? Without a doubt. Should we be thinking about where and how we will meet students where they are when they return to school in the fall? Absolutely. But in these final months of the year, take some time to pause and embrace this idea: the learning has not been lost and, because all learning is unfinished, the learning continues.

The Investigations 3 Center Team
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