By Ayanna D. Perry
(coauthor of Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Secondary Math; coauthor of the forthcoming Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Secondary Science; pub date January 2024)
I used to think that advocacy was an individual endeavor and that my responsibility was to do the work and to convince people to join in that work. Now I see advocacy as a collaborative effort where I learn from others about the many ways we approach and support causes that we hold dear. In our work as educators, equitable learning outcomes for all students is one such cause.
I’ve been grappling with and advocating for equitable teaching and instruction over the course of my 20-plus-year career in education. During my master’s degree program, I found that for many students, Calculus 1 was a barrier to degree completion—indeed, for one student Calculus 1 was a course that haunted them for 10 years! They tried and failed to master this single math course, which impacted their ability to complete their course of study. This thesis (Franklin, 2007) led me to suggest support that professors and math departments could offer to ensure that no student was allowed to continually fail a course in a math program. Two of these suggestions were to
- Follow up with students who remain in the major after failing Calculus to provide targeted support
- Work with the professors of the Calculus course to support them in teaching and reaching students who are struggling to pass their class
I continued this line of inquiry into my doctoral program. There was an abundance of research that indicates beginning teacher practices are less effective than those of veteran teachers (Leinhardt, 1989; Borko & Livingston, 1989; Stronge, 2007; Reynolds, 1992). But I wanted to approach research on beginning teachers with an asset-based view of their practice, to counter the current narrative, and what I found was encouraging. To differing degrees, early career mathematics teachers were demonstrating aspects of equitable teaching in their classrooms (Perry, 2018). The seven features I found were
- Using cognitively demanding tasks
- Giving clear expectations for how they wanted students to engage in those tasks
- Providing physical materials to ensure all students could participate during class
- Providing opportunities for students to share their work with their peers in written and verbal forms
- Providing students opportunities to justify and explain their thinking during class in written and verbal forms
- Answering questions with questions to encourage students to seek others sources of knowledge in their learning spaces
- Modeling high-level reasoning and sense-making during lessons.
In my current position as a professional development provider, I still advocate for equitable instruction and for early career teachers, but now as a part of a team. Now I see collaboration as a necessary component because it provides me an opportunity to learn. In the same way that I believe small group work benefits student learners because of the social aspect of learning, I am able to benefit from engaging with my peers. As a part of a team, I can consider aspects of equity that might have previously been blind spots due to my privilege, share underdeveloped ideas for workshopping, and co-create resources that better support our teachers due to our collective effort. Through our collective effort, cohorts of beginning teachers are supported in developing an understanding of equitable teaching. The teachers use collaborative inquiry to deeply investigate:
- What they think it means to do math or science
- What tasks they think their students can fully engage in
- What productive talk is and how it can be used to support their lesson’s learning goals
- The role of silence in their classroom
- What it means to develop a classroom culture where many students can experience academic success.
Collaborative inquiry is one way to enable early career math and science teachers to better understand their beliefs about teaching, learning, and equity.
Working in groups with other teachers increases their opportunities to learn and expand their beliefs about teaching to serve more and more students.
What’s your journey to advocacy been? How have others joined you in your work? How have others helped you work more effectively toward your cause?
Borko, H., & Livingston, C. (1989). Cognition and improvisation: Differences in mathematics instruction by expert and novice teachers. American educational research journal, 26(4), 473-498.
Franklin, A. D. (2007) Using a Markov Chain to map the flow of students through the mathematics and computer science departments at North Carolina Central University. [unpublished master’s thesis]
Leinhardt, G. (1989). Math lessons: A contrast of novice and expert competence. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 20(1), 52-75.
Perry, A. D. (2018). 7 Features of Equitable Classroom Spaces. The Mathematics Teacher, 112(3), 186-191.
Reynolds, A. (1992). What is competent beginning teaching? A review of the literature. Review of educational research, 62(1), 1-35.
Stronge, J. H. (2007). Planning and organizing for instruction. In Author (Ed.). Qualities of effective teachers, (2nd Ed., pp. 52-65). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.