Continuing the Journey: Mathematics Learning 2021 and Beyond

NCSM, NCTM, & ASSM recently released a position paper, Continuing the Journey: Mathematics Learning 2021 and Beyond. The purpose of the paper provides guidance for strategizing how to best meet students’ needs in the face of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. AATM recognizes the challenges that teachers are facing. Some highlights from the paper follow. 

Educators must be prepared to address perceived potential learning and opportunity gaps that have been magnified, in some cases, by the disruptions and challenges associated with the ongoing pandemic. It must be acknowledged that not all students have the same shared experience and that they have been impacted in different ways. Terms such as learning loss and learning gaps frequently appear in the media and conversations. These terms reflect a deficit mindset and devalue the amazing work teachers and students have achieved. We must keep in mind that students did learn last year. “They learned through virtual lessons; in-person classroom instruction; and interactions with teachers, other students, and family members” (NCTM, NSCM, ASSM 2021). Terms that better describe the current conditions include unfinished learning, opportunity to learn, and accelerated learning

Moving forward, educators must address three key areas that have implications for equitable access to high-quality mathematics teaching and learning: (1) a focus on grade-level content; (2) instruction through equitable, effective teaching practices; and (3) planning for advocacy. 

Focus on Grade Level Content 

Students deserve access to current grade-level content. A focus on coherence is known to provide students with an opportunity to better understand mathematical concepts and their connections. Students thrive when their teachers remain focused on connecting ideas with their current standards while briefly connecting to previous-years’ content. 

Additionally, experiences that incorporate the standards of mathematical practices provide students with foundational opportunities to make sense of mathematics and approach problems using their strengths. “The process and practices must be viewed as co-equal partners with the specific content priorities for a course or grade. One cannot be fully realized without the other and both are essential in helping students reach the broader mathematical goals for student learning” (NCTM, NCSM, ASSM 2021). 

Coherence can be improved by considering the mathematical progressions and through identifying the big ideas in a course or grade level. Finally, scaffolding should replace remediation. Scaffolding brings a strengths-based approach to teaching and learning. Just in time scaffolding is proven to diminish learning gaps while remediation often has the opposite effect. It is important for teachers to focus on grade-level materials and plan for just-in-time scaffolding. 

Foundations for Equitable, Effective Teaching Practices 

All students deserve access to high quality math instruction and materials. “Focusing on equitable instructional practices is imperative, as is being mindful of instructional strategies employed to support students in on-grade-level learning. We need to position all students as competent, confident and capable learners and doers of mathematics, while affirming their strengths every day in ways that cultivate positive mathematical identities and support students in developing agency. (Aguirre, Mayfield-Ingram, and Martin 2013). 

Mathematics instructors should turn to effective math teaching practices for guidance. Examining the math teaching practices while reflecting on their own practice and adjusting as needed, is crucial in providing all students with excellent math instruction. Many unproductive beliefs persist. Educators must reflect and disrupt these unproductive beliefs.  

Planning for Advocacy 

Along with the many challenges that COVID-19 has presented us with comes the opportunity to change. We must pursue the dismantling of inequitable practices. We must support and promote high-quality, equitable teaching and

learning of mathematics for each and every student. We must ensure that all stakeholders, including teachers, have a voice when decisions are made that impact students, educators,  and our larger society. Too often, decisions are made by homogenous groups that do not consider the strengths and assets of each student. Rather, these decisions focus on deficits and what are considered to be disadvantages as starting points for learning.

For more information and specific actions that can be taken in the three key areas, please refer to the original article presented by NCTM, NCSM and ASSM. Link to full article.