Archive for the ‘inclusion’ Category

what does it mean to be a “low” math student?

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

So typically on this blog I share stories of what is happening in Richmond classrooms and about professional learning experiences for Richmond educators. This post takes a different tone…one that I hope will provoke thinking and discussions about the intersection of language and students and math.

Here goes…

I am often engaged in conversations about mathematics teaching and learning where I hear from teachers, “I have so many low students,” and it makes me wonder what is meant by “low”. I am sure I have used the term myself in the past but I have been increasingly more aware of the impact of labels and language on not just the professional conversations we have but also on how this impacts our relationships with our students. I have begun to challenge teachers on their use of this term and stop them as they say it…”What exactly do you mean when you say ‘low’?” I don’t mean to put teachers on the spot or to to make them feel uncomfortable in our conversations but I think the language we use in conversations about students is really important and we need to be mindful about this.

My prickliness about how we talk about children was amplified when I had my own children, both of whom have their own personal strengths and stretches. I can’t imagine how I would feel, or how my sons would feel, if they were ever described as “low”. What impact does this language of  ”low” have on our students as learners and on ourselves in our role of teacher? How does this thinking affect our mindset about learning?

So what does it mean to be a “low” math student…

Does it mean that the student does not have an understanding of foundational concepts in mathematics? Did the student not have access to teaching at his or her just right level? Was the student absent from school or ill for extended periods of time? Was the student not assessed thoroughly to inform instruction? How can the student be supported to gain foundational concepts and confidence in mathematics? What structures are in place in your class and in your school to support core foundational understanding in mathematics?

Does it mean that the student has difficulty learning math because of memory, health, attention, behaviour or learning difficulties? When in class, does the student have difficulty paying attention, focusing, sitting? Does the student seem unable to retain information the way it is being provided? Does the student have behaviours that are affecting his or her learning and engagement? What practices, materials and structures are in place in your classroom or school that provide choices and adaptations in time/pacing, materials, place/learning environment, quantity of work output expected and depth of content knowledge?

Does it mean that the student has a different story than his or her classmates? Has the student had breakfast? slept? Is the student living in a safe home environment? Does the student have to care for siblings or parents? Does the student need to work to add to the family income? Does the student have regular absences? Why is that?  What might be affecting his or her image of self as a learner and as community member in your classroom? As teachers, are we acknowledging and checking our place of privilege and power and how this might be affecting our students? What is the student’s story and how might this be affecting his or her learning of mathematics? What supports does this student in your classroom and school need to be successful?

Does it mean that the student does not have access to resources to support learning and success at school? Does the student have the tools and resources (human and physical) he or she needs at home to support learning? Are assignments and studying accessible and equitable for all students regardless of their home or financial situations? What supports can the teacher and school provide so all students have equitable access to the resources needed to support their learning? Afterschool homework clubs or peer tutoring? Choices in assignment and homework formats?

Does it mean that the student’s written work, homework and quiz and test scores do not indicate achievement of learning standards? Is written work or practice not completed during class time? Are homework assignments not turned in or completed, or attempted? Does the student seem to understand the mathematics during performance tasks and class discussions but is not successful on quizzes and tests? What different opportunities are students provided to communicate their thinking and learning? (It does not have to be written down to “count”!)

In all of the above scenarios, it may seem that I suggest that it is the teachers’ and schools’ responsibility to ensure student success in mathematics. Well, it mostly is – that is our job. Of course we need to have students and parents as part of this story, but when they may not seem to be, we, as a system, need to think about how to bring them alongside instead of using fixed terms such as “low” as an excuse, and explanation or a dismissal of responsibility.

How can we re-frame how we talk about our students and how we talk about learning mathematics?  There is a strong movement in mathematics education coming from various voices including Dr. Jo Boaler of Stanford University. This movement is based on the belief and conviction that ALL children can learn mathematics. Dr. Boaler’s work around mathematical mindsets is shifting how educators, parents and students think about the learning of mathematics. More information can be found here.

I attended a Learning Forward dinner event at the end of April and one of the question prompts the secondary teachers from Surrey gave us to provoke discussion was:

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This issue of deficit language resonates with me and I think by re-framing the language we use will re-frame how we see ourselves as educators and how we see the students in our classrooms.

Inspired by Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert and the four fundamental questions of the NOII, I wonder how many of our students feel that their math teachers believe that they can learn? We know its important that teachers convey that they care for their students and that they believe they can be successful. How does our language need to be re-framed in our classrooms so our students believe this to be true?

Instead of describing our students as “low”, what different language could we use? Learning. Developing. Growing. Competent. Full of promise and potential. How does using strength-based language shift our conversations and interactions with our students and with each other as professionals?

My hope is that we can describe our students as curious and engaged mathematical thinkers and learners – what is the story that needs to unfold in our classrooms if this is our goal?

Math matters. Language matters.

~Janice

With thanks to Faye Brownlie, Shelley Moore, Jane MacMillan, Lisa Schwartz and Sarah Loat for their feedback and contributions to my thinking for this post.

inclusive practices in mathematics for grades 6-9

Posted on: October 30th, 2016 by jnovakowski

Building on interest from an ILC (Inclusive Learning Community) project Shelley Moore and I facilitated with grade 8 teachers at Boyd Secondary, we held an after school session in October looking at inclusive practices in mathematics for grades 6-9 teachers. These practices are particularly mindful of the personal, social, intellectual and physical needs of students in the middle school age range.

Shelley began the session by sharing Richmond’s history with inclusive education and sharing some frameworks she has developed for thinking about inclusion (bowling pins, Fisher-Price stacker toy, planning pyramid, etc). She refers to inclusions lenses – personal, social and intellectual as well as places – different classrooms and places in the school as well as out of the school.

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In using the planning pyramid, Shelley considers goals, tasks and questions for all students, some students and a few students, starting where ALL students can access the unit or lesson. And here’s Shelley doing the tree pose – using the analogy that everyone/all could start this yoga pose by using the wall for support!

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Shelley shared the two year project with the grade 8 teachers and students at Boyd, with the first year addressing the Shape and Space curriculum and the second year examining the linear equations part of the curriculum. One example of a planning framework for an initial lesson on geometry looks like this:

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We shared photographs and video from the Boyd ILC project to share how the project unfolded with the students. Blog posts about the project and be found HERE and HERE.

I shared some of the practices and structures that we considered during the ILC project at Boyd and that can be used as a guide for planning mathematics lessons and units with inclusion in mind.

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Some of the choices that students were provided were what types of materials they might use. For example, during our lesson together about the volume of prisms, some students built prisms with cubes, some students used centimetre graph paper to create nets for their prisms and other drew 3D drawings that represented the measurements they were working with. Another choice was the range within the concept being addressed – for example, in the geometry lessons, identification of basic 2D shapes (faces) was an access point for all while some students investigated a range of 3D prisms. In the study of linear equations, choices of equations to investigate and represent with balances and other materials were provided, increasing in complexity or number of operations. Students were also provided with choices in how they processed or representing their thinking, for example, iPad technology was available and students could use the camera to take video or photos and then use a choice of screencasting apps to provide evidence of their understanding of the concept. Non-permanent vertical surfaces (NPVS) aka whiteboards or windows provide another choice for students who may not want to sit and work at a desk or table or use paper and pencil. The research-based practice of using NPVS has been shown to increase engagement and mathematical discourse, particularly at the middle-school age range.

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I shared the idea of mathematical routines such as number talks as inclusive practices with starting points for all and a way to build an inclusive mathematical community in the classroom. These routines also focus on the nurturing and development of the curricular competencies which are the same for grades 6-9. One of the routines shared was WODB (Which One Doesn’t Belong?). This routine has become very popular in Richmond classrooms as it provides an opportunity for the clear connection between curricular competencies and content. Four items are presented and they all belong to a set/group of some sort – integers, polygons, etc but each item is unique is some way. The goal of the routine is for the students to analyze and use reasoning to justify or defend which one they think doesn’t belong in the set and why. WODBs for geometry, number, graphs, etc are available at WODB.CA  - a site curated by an Ontario secondary math teacher.

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Shelley has posted a pdf version of our slides from the session on her blog. They can be found HERE.

Because of interest, we will be facilitating a repeat of this session on December 6 from 3:30-5:00pm at IDC – register on our district’s event page with further follow-up sessions planned in the new year.

~Janice

Richmond’s first IGNITE event – #sd38ignite 2016

Posted on: May 10th, 2016 by jnovakowski

The Richmond School District hosted its first IGNITE event on Monday, May 9th at the Big River Brew Pub. The first IGNITE took place in Seattle in 2006 and is now a movement that is international in scope. An IGNITE talk is a five minute presentation consisting of 20 slides, auto-advancing after 15 seconds whether the speaker is ready or not. The IGNITE tagline is….”Enlighten us, but make it quick!”  More information about the IGNITE movement can be found here.

Having presented a few ignite talks and experiencing the inspiration and fun that goes along with these social events, I really wanted to be able to bring this professional learning format to our district and my colleagues Rosalind Poon and Lorraine Minosky were on board and we ran with it. Chris Loat created our logo for us…

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And both Chris and Lisa Schwartz agreed to be our technical support for the event.  We found a site and had a meeting at the Big River Brew Pub to see where attendees would sit and how the technology and food service would play out.

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We invited Richmond educators representative of primary, intermediate and secondary as well as a balance of teachers and administrators to share a story about something they are passionate about. We also invited two out of district colleagues to add to our Richmond stories.

Two weeks before the event, we hosted a rehearsal especially for educators who were new to the ignite format. It gave them a chance to meet other igniters and to practice their presentation in front of an audience. By seeing and discussing what we appreciate about others’ presentations, I think it also gave presenters some ideas for their own ignites. And its always great to have sushi…and pens.

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As we were setting up on May 9th, we were all so excited to see everything fall into place. The venue was great and it was a beautiful day so the patio was open, the technology was cooperating and the tables were set with programs and sweet treats from Sinfully the Best for our guests.The burger bar was a hit and the company was great. Unfortunately two of our igniters (Neil Stephenson and Sarah Garr) had to pull out due to personal reasons.

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Some of the guests…

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And then the talks began! I was live streaming the talks using the Periscope app and people that weren’t able to attend the event could still watch the talks live. Between each “set” there was a 15-minute break for guests to chat about the talks, etc.

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Twitter was alive with #sd38ignite…we were trending!

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It was such a positive, passionate event and such a great way to build community amongst colleagues. All our igniters shared their own personal narratives within their professional narratives and these stories are what connect us and make us better together.

We will be releasing the IGNITE talks on youtube soon…watch twitter for announcements!

A HUGE thank you to our igniters…you are what made the event the success it was!

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~Janice