Teaching is an academic and human endeavor that involves continuous cycles of interactions of the instructional core; students, content, and teachers. There are many factors that influence our decisions about what and how to teach the children in our care. We attend to the development of children’s mathematical ideas, and the strengthening of students’ math identities, confidence, and agency. Responsive teaching also means attending to the development of our own math knowledge and uncovering of beliefs and values that may impact teaching and learning. Maintaining a focus on all of these can be challenging and at times overwhelming. Self-reflection is a resource that can support us in staying focused on the goal of creating more equitable learning communities.
Uncovering Beliefs, Values, and Impact
Teaching that is responsive to students requires time to consider biases that may influence our decisions. How we feel about and view our students has a direct impact on what we expect of each student and the opportunities we provide for them to contribute to the math discourse and grow their math identities.
The true power of culturally responsive teaching comes from being comfortable in your own skin because you are not a neutral party in the process. You can never take yourself out of the equation. Instead, you must commit to the journey. This means we each must do the “inside-out” work required: developing the right mindset, engaging in self-reflection, checking our implicit biases, practicing social-emotional awareness, and holding an inquiry stance regarding the impact of our interactions on students. (Hammond, p. 53)
Documenting our own math story or autobiography can be a place to begin to examine how our own experiences and math knowledge may impact our students. Starting with questions like “What was my experience in math classrooms?” and “How might those experiences influence how I see my students and what they experience in the classroom?” can serve to uncover values and beliefs that may determine how and what we teach.
Reflecting on Multiple Sources of Classroom Data
As teachers, we collect and analyze multiple sources of student data and make use of formal and informal assessment resources that help inform next steps for learning. We use these resources to collect data about individual students’ understanding, strategies, and misconceptions, and to plan and make instructional decisions about next steps.
Collecting data that is focused on classroom practice can also help us reflect on how our instructional decisions may impact how students see themselves and their peers as members of the mathematics community. Often this type of data is hidden or goes unexamined. By intentionally posing questions about instructional practices and decisions, and collecting data to determine whose ideas are being heard and valued and which students are being positioned as math doers and thinkers, we can begin to assess the effectiveness of practices on students’ math identity. Explicitly tracking this kind of data can help us “cut across the blur of memory and give better information about actual practice.” (Wamstead, 2021.)
In a classroom where I recently worked with Amanda, a novice teacher, I noticed a pattern in the students who were volunteering to contribute and students who were being called on during whole class discussions. I knew the teacher was working hard to ask open and follow up questions that would help her better understand her students’ thinking such as, “Can you say more?” and “Does this represent what you were thinking?” Working on not telegraphing right/wrong and practicing active listening are worthwhile endeavors for any teacher and her students. I knew Amanda was learning a great deal about the five students who did most of the contributing (Caleb, Erick, Harriet, Amiyah, and Jerard), but very little about the ideas, questions and conceptions of the other ten students in the class. To help the teacher identify and recognize this inequity I transcribed and videotaped lessons. The teacher and I looked at the transcripts and videos with these questions in mind: Who is contributing to the discussion? Whose voices are being heard? What am I, the teacher doing/not doing, to foster an equitable learning community? After engaging in this process of examining the data through an equity lens, the teacher decided on two practices she would incorporate into her lessons. The first was to offer extended wait time to allow students more time to formulate their thoughts. And the second was building in at least two opportunities for students to partner talk (turn and talk) during the whole group discussion. Partner talk would provide the opportunity for students to practice actively listening to another’s ideas with the intention of understanding and an opportunity to practice sharing their own ideas through words, gestures, and pictures before sharing with the whole group.
Adding one or two questions to our toolbox can be an efficient and accessible way to collect and reflect on our role in students’ participation and can easily be incorporated into a repertoire of assessment resources. For example:
- Who did/didn’t I call on during the whole group discussion?
- Whose ideas, questions, strategies did I chart?
- What patterns do I see? Are there children from marginalized groups whose voices were not heard in whole group, small group or partner share? Think about race, socio economic status, gender identification, neurological diversity, identified (dis)ability, multilingualism, playground or street cred otherwise known as community status.
- How can I better prepare and position students to be contributing members of the math community discourse?
As with any assessment used to inform practice, collecting data on these questions regularly over time can reveal patterns and inspire actions.
Intentional questions and strategic use of evidence-based transcripts or videos help us learn about and reflect on messages we consciously or unconsciously communicate to students about how we see them and what we value. They provide a window into the hidden data we need that can inspire us to take action.
Reflecting on Student Feedback
When we have the necessary time and space to pause and reflect, we can take note of who the students in our classrooms are and how they interact with the us, each other, and the content. As patterns emerge in who contributes to the math discourse, we can begin to make decisions about who to call on, what work or strategies to share, how to pair or group students for learning and how to center the thinking and ideas of all students, especially those who have historically been underserved in the math classroom. The data we reflect on and the questions we ask can also be inspired by the feedback we get from students.
When I taught sixth grade at a small school in a major city that served majority Black and Latinx youth, Patrick, one of the three white children in my class, told me I didn’t call on him because he was white. I heard his feedback and decided to collect some data. Who was I calling on?, What kinds of questions did I ask which students? And who volunteered to contribute, but was not called on? The assistant teacher, Roberta, agreed to collect data on these questions over the course of a month. The students graphed the data and presented their findings to me. As it turned out, Patrick, who raised the original concern about not being called because of his race, was called on an equal number of times as any other student. This satisfied Patrick’s query. However, the data revealed I called on boys more frequently than girls. Why? Was I only paying attention to the loudest and most confident voices? Did I hold an unconscious belief in ability based on gender? Cause for self-reflection! How could this be happening? I had three daughters of my own! The students and I discussed the findings and they gave helpful suggestions for making sure all voices were being heard. One of the suggestions was for me to wait longer before calling on a student. Patrick’s conjecture, a student’s reflection and inquiry, made a way for all of us to pause and take stock of whose voices were/were not being heard and valued.
Student feedback is one more resource in helping us to investigate and strengthen equitable classroom practices. (See What Do Your Students Think About Math?: Student Reflection as a Tool for Finding Out, for more on gathering students’ feedback about their experience in the math classroom.)
The Continuous Cycle of Self-Reflection in Creating Equitable Learning Communities
Enacting curriculum that centers student thinking, thoughtfully and with integrity is essential to creating productive learning communities. Making use of formative assessment data and providing timely, forward-moving feedback are also essential components of a productive learning community. These practices are essential, but not enough in creating and sustaining equitable learning communities. We as teachers are better prepared to orchestrate communities where all students contribute and see themselves as doers of mathematics, when we and our colleagues, administrators, and coaches are supported to prioritize time to reflect on what is happening in our classrooms.
Once you have begun the journey of self-reflection, using the data from checklists, questions, videos, and other artifacts you will want to take action on what you have learned. Like Amanda, the first-year teacher I have been working with, you may want to select one or two changes to make in your practice that are directly related to what you want to see happen for you and your students. Committing to incorporating these changes and reassessing how they are working to maximize the experiences for all of your students can have lasting impact and positive consequences beyond your classroom.
Self-reflection is one of the most powerful tools in creating equitable learning communities. Whether you are at the beginning, somewhere in the middle or well into the journey what you learn through these cycles of self-reflection will benefit you and all of your students and help you to create and sustain a more just and equitable learning community.
Hammond, Zaretta. (2015). Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.
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