In our second installment of UnboundEd’s “5 Things We’re Reading Right Now,” we explore the value of unlearning, teaching young learners to explain their math thinking, the power of diversity and more. As always, send any thoughts, questions or insights our way by posting in the comment section below or sending us a tweet @UnboundEdu.
Katrina Schwartz of Mindshift, part of KQED News, shares a video that shows how math educators are focused on encouraging students to explain their thinking at a young age rather than only focusing on getting the “right answer.” Why does it matter to start younger? Schwartz writes, “It’s hard to get kids in the habit of talking about how they are thinking about a problem when they’ve had many years of instruction that focused on getting the ‘right answer.'” The video shows the real impact of this teaching strategy and challenging younger learners to explain their thinking, provide evidence, describe patterns, similarities and differences, and to really dive deeply into math problems.
“Learning is fundamentally an act of vulnerability. It is an acknowledgement that what one knows is not sufficient, and that new information and new thinking about that information is needed,” writes Jal Maheta in his post on EdWeek’s Learning Deeply blog. Maheta describes a three-phased framework that practicing teachers can use to do the “unlearning needed for deeper learning.” The framework starts with first “letting go,” and then moving to a “neutral zone” in which an educator creates the sometimes uncomfortable space needed to move forward, and then finally the “beginnings” phase, in which educators and leaders “create opportunities for new and people in the organization start to assume their new identities and begin to try to do work in a new way.” Committing to this process of unlearning and new learning for educators, he writes, creates space for experimenting, for normalizing failure and for striving for real, significant positive changes in practice.
In an opinion piece for The Hechinger Report, Matthew Miller, Supt. of Mentor Public Schools in Ohio, details his districts’ usage of open educational resources and the shared learnings and success stories that have come out of that work. Miller proposes that there are three common misconceptions about OER. The “most troubling” misconception, he writes, is that districts use OER simply to cut costs. “In reality,” he writes, “every district we know approaches open educational resources with a single goal: to accelerate student learning by bringing the highest-quality instructional materials into classrooms. Districts are reacting to a product landscape that has not consistently met our needs.” Miller describes the second myth as, “…we can’t ask teachers to take on the additional burden to curate and create materials, with the underlying assumption that this work is always borne by teachers.” Miller contends that some districts have sought to lessen teacher constraints through district-wide sponsorship. District adoption, he writes, “allows for the development of broader materials,” an approach that facilitates sharing and norms that mitigate the “misunderstood” burden of bringing OER into the classroom. The third misconception, Miller says, is that OER are “comprised of an supplement-scale content, such as lesson plans, practice items, and articles.” He writes that, instead, “…curriculum-scale open educational resource options are increasingly available to districts, with all the features of traditional, publisher-offered curricula: student and teacher materials, scope-and-sequence guidance, and associated professional development.”
Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics education at Stanford University, writes that while our future may depend on mathematical thinking, “math trauma extends across our country — and the world — due to the ineffective ways the subject is often taught in classrooms, as a narrow set of procedures that students are expected to reproduce at high speed.” Boaler cites new research from University of Chicago psychologists that shows the negative connection between “math anxiety” and performance. In answering the question of what may be driving this negativity and anxiety, Boaler makes the case that math is taught in a way that is “removed from the research evidence on ways to teach well,” and students feel anxiety from practices like “timed tests, speed pressure, procedural teaching” that characterize today’s math classrooms. More than any other subject, he laments, students feel as though the main task in math is to get the right answer: ” … math is about tests, grades, homework and competitions.” To address this anxiety, Boaler argues that we need to not only change how math is taught but to fundamentally change people’s relationships with math. How? Look to the research to move away from procedural teaching, from focusing on that “right answer,” and move toward a teaching process focused on ideas and visual representation, one that facilitates deep mathematical thinking and exploration.
Associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, David Shih, writes about recent protests at college campuses relating to campus speakers, free speech and issues of diversity policies and racial inequities in higher education. He writes about the consequences of “interest convergence,” a controversial theory that describes what happens when a “conspicuous” lack of racial diversity converges with institutional initiatives to mitigate that lack of diversity, to improve inequitable circumstances. According to this theory, the result, Shih supposes, are policies that end up benefiting the majority, even at the expense of minority benefits. He proposes, “Interest convergence stipulates that black people achieve civil rights victories only when white and black interests converge,” and that “Schools and universities are natural sites to observe interest convergence because inequitable access to quality education ensures white social advantage.” Shih writes, “Interest convergence helps to explain diversity policies once we understand that institutions will lose more than prestige if they are perceived as unwelcoming or even hostile to students of color,” and argues, “Weak diversity policies fail to change the status quo today because they trade binding commitment for symbolism and good intentions.” As Shih sees it, then, the “vague” “compelling interest of diversity” is no longer enough to truly account for what is needed on campuses. Instead, he argues, we should embrace the reality of interest convergence, to make economic arguments that transcend those more “vague” interests. The result, then, would be moving the needle on supporting diverse interests in ways that may strategically benefit the majority but have the intended objective of meaningfully supporting those in the minority.
*Opinions stated above are those of the authors and their inclusion in this piece is not an endorsement from UnboundEd. We encourage open, productive discussion and diverse perspectives on topics that matter to all of us.