Note: This post was originally published in June 2020.
Last week I had an opportunity to share my work on how to engage Black students in productive mathematical discourse as part of #NCTM100 Professional Learning series. In the wake of the recent events following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I wasn’t sure what to share as I watched the news coverage and read posts on social media until one of my friends posted this wondering on her FaceBook page, “What will it look like when Black Lives Matter in school?”
I started to consider answers to my friend’s question as I prepared for this week’s presentation. My response was to share what I’ve learned in my almost 20-year experience in supporting Black students and other underserved students as a culturally responsive teacher and coach.
My presentation Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk: Routines for Math Workshop focused on how to build a learning culture for Black students by implementing practices that give them access to the mathematics. It’s important for teachers to develop a learning culture based on meaningful relationships with each of their students to increase the learning.
Listen to the NCTM recording here.
In Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond’s research on the brain explains how students can’t learn if they don’t feel a part of the community. A part of the brain, amygdala, tells your body how to react in a situation. When students face microaggressions, stereotype threat, or other stressful situations that are a part of many underserved students’ classroom experiences, the brain shuts down and their bodies will either fight, flight, freeze or appease to keep students safe.
More than 500 educators who attended my session described the learning cultures they wanted for their Black students in Mentimeter. They described learning cultures that were safe, inclusive, and challenging in which Black students are loved, respected, and valued in the word cloud image below.
Leaders and teachers have control over the learning culture created in their schools and math classrooms. Giving students a sense of belonging in a community is important for Black students who come from a collectivist culture that relies on relationships and collaboration. Belonging is often missing from the math stories shared with me by educators and students alike.
One strategy that creates belonging are routines. Number sense routines are an essential part of the Math Workshop structure because they provide time and space for students to engage in meaningful conversations about the math. Hammond explains that routines “are a way to make space for the important affirming/communal activities that create social bonds among students.”
Which Doesn’t Belong is a number sense routine I shared as one example of how to engage Black students in a mathematical conversation about why the numbers don’t belong in the set. I used numbers relevant to Black students based on historical and current events. Add your thinking about which numbers do you think don’t belong in each set in the comments.
I shared multiple discussion strategies that I use in classrooms such as Talk Moves and Give One, Get One. The discussion strategies are key to facilitating productive conversations.
Engaging Black students in mathematical conversations to share their thinking and reasoning opens up the content to them. The conversations have to focus on making sense of a math problem in the same way we want readers to understand what they read. Students need to see themselves as “doers of mathematics” so they can be empowered and successful.
What policies/practices are you planning to implement in your schools/districts/classrooms to create a culture of learning for each and every Black student? Share in the comments or on Twitter.
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