Coronavirus Reveals How Math Instruction Must Change, Math Groups Say
School and district leaders have a lot to think about as they plan for fall instruction, in the wake of a spring semester decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. Two professional math-education organizations are urging them to put equity front and center as they plan what their math classrooms will look like in the fall.
In response to requests from schools and districts, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and NCSM: Leadership in Mathematics Education released a joint document on Tuesday, laying out key considerations and advice for the fall. High on the list is making sure that every student gets equitable access to challenging math instruction.
Even as schools face a lot of uncertainty about the blend of online and in-person instruction that will be possible in the fall, they must start planning—now—to make sure that the coronavirus pandemic doesn't "exacerbate structural inequities and widen differences in what groups of students experience and learn," NCTM President Trena Wilkerson and NCSM President Mona Toncheff said in a statement released with the report.
"Decision-makers—whether they be teachers, teams, teacher leaders, coaches, administrators, or policymakers at the local, state and provincial levels—must consider the diverse needs of learners and teachers when making policy and instructional decisions," the paper says.
Even though these months are challenging and fluid, the current moment presents "an opportunity to examine critical areas in need of support," the two women wrote, and to "create the best opportunities for teachers and students to be successful whether they are in classrooms or in other spaces."
The two organizations suggest that district and school leaders think about planning for math instruction in three areas. For each, it challenges leaders to consider three things: Who should be part of the conversation, what supports are necessary, and what questions should be asked before moving forward.
- Structural considerations. These include strategies to support students and help them catch up, such as differentiated supports, heterogeneous grouping, carefully thought-out interventions, and reworking school schedules to create more time for math. They also include approaches to support teachers, such as looping, co-teaching or team teaching for teachers, and creating vertical teams to enable teachers to coordinate content from the previous and current grades. The paper urges teachers to collaborate in teams to figure out what's most essential to teach in the fall, and to figure out what students missed by using tools like a "coherence map," rather than standardized testing.
- Teaching practices. It's important for teachers to use teaching strategies that lend themselves to formative assessment, the report argues, so they can see how well students are learning as they go, and make adjustments. Using the NCTM's "eight equitable and effective teaching practices," such as posing purposeful questions and eliciting students' thinking, are more important now than ever, the report says. It includes links to resources on math tasks, questioning strategies, and formative assessment.
- Advocacy. The two organizations urge all educators not to limit their thinking about math equity to the classroom. They argue that the conversations should be extended into considerations of policy and budget, testing, and professional development. "[G]etting back to the 'status quo' should not be the collective goal," the report says. "The current situation has revealed existing challenges and problems, which cannot be ignored."
Both organizations have been sounding the alarm about equity issues for years. And both released recent reports calling for closer attention to changing structures and practices that perpetuate inequitable math instruction, including eliminating tracking and ability grouping in math.
Here are links to those reports:
- NCTM's "Catalyzing Change" for elementary and middle school, a pair of follow-ups to its report, by the same name, for high school in 2018.
- NCSM's position paper, "Closing the Opportunity Gap: A Call for Detracking Mathematics," which urges policymakers to do away with practices such as tracking and ability grouping in math.