Thursday, August 22, 2019

Thanks, Melissa

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics PRINCIPLES TO ACTIONS—Ensuring Mathematical Success for All

When a student says, "I love to read," I instantly smile. When a student says, "I love math," I stop, literally and sometimes abruptly ask, "Why do you love math? So then I lean in and listen, really listen to their responses. Their experiences are telling a new story at our school, and it is more than exciting. It is hopeful. Let me back up a bit.

Two years ago, I was given the book Principles to Action, Ensuring Mathematical Success for All by a consultant now colleague. The authors included nine researchers from the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics. The text is just 117 pages long and includes summaries for guiding principles of school mathematics including; teaching and learning, access and equity, curriculum, tools and technology, assessment, and professionalism (p.5). "It's overarching message is that effective teaching is the non-negotiable core that ensures that all students learn mathematics at high levels and such teaching requires a range of actions at the state or provincial, district, school and classroom levels" (p. 4).

For two years, teachers and I have continued to reexamine our practices and beliefs about teaching and learning mathematics through ongoing professional learning. Our coach and guide frequently used Principles to Actions as a reference tool to not only examine relevant research but to bring to life the teacher moves that are needed to intentionally shift instructional practices for a more student-centered approach. 

The heart of the book's content is in the Effective Teaching and Learning section. In this portion of the book, the researchers share, "Eight Mathematics Teaching Practices provide a framework for strengthening the teaching and learning of mathematics...which represent a core set of high-leverage practices and essential teaching skills to promote deep learning of mathematics" (p. 9-10). Each of these practices has been a game-changer for students and teachers in our school. Observing students persist through "productive struggle" while using "mathematical representations" on "tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving" is well, almost magical.

Although It may be magical, it is not easy. Note the image above from my copy found on page 10. I have highlighted, "Build procedure fluency from conceptual understanding." Moving away from handing out the traditional math facts worksheets for automaticity and mastery first, and then engaging "students in making connections among mathematical representation to deepen understanding" was a big switch. The change did not happen right away, but as our understanding grew, our practices evolved. Over time we learned, "A rush to fluency, however, undermines students' confidence and interest in mathematics and is considered a cause of mathematics anxiety" (Ashcraft 2002; Ramirez et al. 2013). #Truth

Also addressed in the "Essential Elements" section of Principals in Action beginning on page 11 is the unproductive and productive beliefs about access and equity in mathematics. The beliefs that have had the most significant impact at our school have included:

  • Each student's Mathematics ability is a function of opportunity, experience, and effort.
  • Each student is capable of participating and achieving.
  • Each student deserves support to achieve at the highest level.
  • Each student receives differentiated support.
  • Each student is capable of making sense of and persevering in solving challenging mathematics problems and should be expected to do so.
In our continuum of growth in implementing more evidence-based instructional practices, we are moving away from the general term "all" students to becoming more specific about "each" of our students. In my opinion, this is where a mindset begins to change for teachers and leaders. When you personalize this statement, you tend to reflect inward and reexamine unproductive beliefs than can negatively impact learning or "limit student access to important mathematics content and practice" (p. 63). 

Finally, I must confess it took me two years to finally pick up the book and read it in its entirety. Oh, what I missed on my journey to be and become a better leader who supports teacher leaders in mathematics. My wish is for others who are trying to lead and learn will take the time to absorb the books content to impact learning for each of their students.

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