Starting this month, Chicago's Erikson Institute is launching the project for which it received a federal Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant: expanding its coaching model for improving on early mathematics instruction to 3rd, from pre-K and kindergarten.
Already, the program has reached more than 300 pre-K and kindergarten teachers in Chicago Public Schools. An early program evaluation showed that for every school year children spent in classrooms with those teachers, their math scores grew the equivalent of three more months of learning. Children who started the school year below national norms saw their math performance grow an additional five months' worth of learning.
On Sept. 8, Jacqueline Jones, senior advisor on early learning to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, visited Erikson and observed a training session for the coaches who are helping Chicago's early educators beef up their math instruction to meet Common Core State Standards.
Eight coaches reviewed a pre-K lesson on measurement written by a teacher and based on a research lesson plan prepared by Erikson faculty. The teacher's goal for students was to introduce the "big idea" that all measurement is comparison; her goal for her own instruction was to check the extent to which she used mathematical language that helped children grasp this big idea: longer, shorter, measure, compare, length, etc. Coaches watched a short video clip of her lesson and charted how often these and other key words were used. (Some also tried to track the children's use of words, but the sound quality of the video made that difficult.)
Afterwards, Jones asked the coaches to talk about what changes they are seeing in teacher practice and student prowess in math.
"I'm just fascinated now that pre-K kids are doing algebra," offered coach Pat Garner. Before joining the project, she had tried to infuse the math she knew from teaching 7th and 8th graders into a pre-K classroom, but didn't know how. Thanks to Erikson, she's learned to break down those skills into bite-sized pieces for children to explore.
Coaches also praised the power of their coaching model, which looks at the whole teacher and partners with teachers to look at issues of practice. "There's coaching in the [district] that's very intimidating. It makes you feel very inadequate," said Garner. "They come in and write, They don't speak, don't introduce themselves. Erikson has taught me to come in and say, 'I'm here to help you find the answers you want.' Teachers tell me they want more. I try to have 15-minute coaching conversations and they go on to 30, 40 minutes."
Thanks to the expansion upward to 3rd grade, coaches will now see the progress their teachers are making with students and can ask teachers at the next level whether they notice a difference in preparation in their new classes, noted coach Katie Moran.
"The [early-childhood] field really has just begun to realize math is just as important as literacy," said principal investigator and Erikson professor Jie-Qi Chen. The early math project has transformed Erikson's own pre-service preparation around early math, too, she added.