IFL Recommends 10/26

This week’s recommendation comes from:

Michael Telek seated in front of bushes and trees

Michael Telek 

Video & Marketing Manager

Michael says, “I’m recommending Yahoo Sports Columnist Shalise Manza Young’s article because it’s a good reminder that it’s never too late to expand your education.”

J.R. Smith’s HBCU Journey Is a Shining Example of Black Excellence

Shalise Manza Young  

Smith is providing “a window into what it’s like to start college as an adult and seeing everything through older and more worldly eyes.”– Shalise Manza Young, sports columnist

Yahoo Sports columnist Shalise Manza Young shares the story of two-time NBA champion J.R. Smith’s foray into college. After a successful NBA career, 36-year-old Smith not only became a student at North Carolina A&T, he also joined the Aggie’s golf team. Smith has been tweeting his college experiences, which includes learning a less Eurocentric history. Smith has inspired others to return to school to finish his degree.

IFL Partner in Australia: Is there a better way to teach mathematics?

By Michael Telek

Institute for Learning

Dr. Kristen Tripet has spent more than a decade in and around the classroom trying to discover an answer to a question she found herself wrestling with as a young student, ‘Is there a better way to teach mathematics?’

Tripet, an IFL partner currently serving as program manager for reSolve: Maths by Inquiry in Canberra, Australia, was recently awarded the MERGA (Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia) Early Career Research Award for a research paper, The Reification of the Array: The Case of Multi-digit Multiplication, which was based on her 2019 doctoral thesis.

“For me, there was a lot of information around in early multiplication understanding, though it’s very limited in the multi-digit multiplication. So that’s where that interest came from,” said Dr. Tripet. “My focus was looking at a learning trajectory for multi-digit multiplication, in terms of a trajectory for a two-week teaching sequence. That was the focus of my work with a real focus on how students’ strategies developed, like them reinventing conventional mathematics for themselves.”

The crux of her research, involving 45 fifth grade students in Sydney, was looking at representations and how students use them. During this study, students would be using an array to understand a problem (in this case it was a bakery fulfilling cupcake orders) before the teacher would slowly move to more abstract versions of the array, and eventually an area model.

“What I found was that to actually make sense of the mathematics, kids kept going back to an earlier version [of the array],” said Dr. Tripet. “As they were making sense of the mathematics, they removed themselves from the context of the problem. I think that was significant contribution to the research that was out there.”

Another big takeaway according to Dr. Tripet was looking at the students’ cognitive development and the social development of understanding. By examining these perspectives, Dr. Tripet found herself asking how do you support the individual and how do you support the community of learners in the classroom?

That’s now a question reSolve and the IFL are looking to uncover. While these organizations search for a solution when it comes to students, they are also focusing on communities of inquiry in terms of teachers. Dr. Tripet said she will be doing some research into assisting groups of teachers with the goal of adjusting pedagogical practices while acknowledging the practical knowledge educators bring into the classroom and appreciating teacher agency.

Conclusions from Dr. Tripet’s Work related to the Reification of the Array

  • Students need the opportunity to use the array to explore the multiplicative structure, at first making connections between specific situations and the arrays that model them, and then using arrays for more generalized mathematical reasoning.
  • Students should not be restricted to one form of the array. Different forms of the array will serve different functions for students depending on their current levels of understanding. Students need opportunities to select and use a form of the array that makes sense to them as they make sense of and reason about the multiplicative structure.
  • Mapping the process of how understanding of arrays evolves, provides guidance to practitioners–teachers and coaches, alike–and offers insight into the design of instructional materials.

With Australian education officials preparing a new mathematics curriculum set to debut in 2022, there will be a lot of work needed to support teachers implementing the new curriculum and new resources to go along side it. That includes Content-Focused-Coaching from the IFL. Dr. Tripet says the reSolve program in collaboration with the Department of Education in New South Wales will soon begin training math coaches to eventually become facilitators of the Content-Focused-Coaching model.

“[Content-Focused-Coaching] is fantastic. This is such rich professional learning that’s embedded in the classrooms with teachers actually working on changing practice,” said Dr. Tripet. “One of the biggest things with the reSolve project, rather than talking now about professional learning, I’ve shifted to talking about professional learning and support. It’s got to be about supporting the classroom. Any professional learning has to be about them supporting teachers in in their classrooms to implement change.”

The reSolve has seen such success with Content-Focused-Coaching in math, they are now working to adopt the work within the Science curriculum.

“I’m having a real love for the work that comes out of the IFL. One of the things I will highly recommend are the Taking Action1 books. Using that as a basis for communities of inquiries, I think it can be really, really useful resource for teachers,” said Dr. Tripet.

1  The Taking Action: Implementing Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices series, published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), offers a coherent set of grade-specific professional learning experiences designed to foster teachers’ understanding of eight effective mathematics teaching and practices and their ability to apply those practices in their own classrooms.

IFL Recommends 10/19

This week’s recommendation comes from:

Joe Dostilio posing in front of trees

Joe Dostilio


Mathematics Fellow

Joe says, “There is a lot of talk about learning loss these days. TODOS voices a rejection of learning loss that shifts the conversations and reminds us of what we must be mindful of this school year, and really, every school year.”

Where Is Manuel? A Rejection of ‘Learning Loss’


“Resist deficit thinking and do not send deficit messages to the students like Manuel, and others who did attend daily, and instead look for what knowledge they gained and how they grew.” – TODOS

TODOS is an organization that advocates for equity and high-quality mathematics education for all students, in particular Latina/o students. In this article, they first “clear the air” about learning loss in detailing how entire segments of society have historically been excluded from learning. TODOS then examines the deficit assumptions that are behind most narratives about learning loss. They conclude by listing what educators must resist in order to “identify the deep thinking, wondering, and imagining that (students) already do mathematically.”

IFL Recommends 10/12

This week’s recommendation comes from:

Tequila Butler

ELA Fellow

Tequila says, “Recently I was reminded of the work that still needs to be done concerning racial equity and social justice. The following article serves as a reminder that the ability to forget the importance of racial equity, the ability to be invisible, and the ability to avoid discussion centered on race when it’s not at the top of the news hour is a gift that not all are afforded.”

Walking While Black

Garnette Cadogan

“I was astonished at how safe the streets felt to me, once again one black body among many, no longer having to anticipate the many ways my presence might instill fear and how to offer some reassuring body language. Passing police cars were once again merely passing police cars. Jamaican police could be pretty brutal, but they didn’t notice me the way American police did. I could be invisible in Jamaica in a way I can’t be invisible in the United States. Walking had returned to me a greater set of possibilities.” – Garnette Cadogan

Garnette Cadogan, contributing editor at Literary Hub, takes readers on his journey of regular, nighttime walks as a child through Jamaica and how different, both physically and emotionally, those experiences were (and still are) from walking along streets in the United States as a black man. Cadogan shares that “Walking—the simple, monotonous act of placing one foot before the other to prevent falling—turns out not to be so simple if you’re black. Walking alone has been anything but monotonous for me; monotony is a luxury.”

Planning for High-Level Comprehension

By Sara DeMartino & Cheryl Sandora

Institute for Learning

We believe that all text-based work should begin with a high-level comprehension task and should take students beyond answering who, what, when, where, and why. We argue that solid comprehension work begins with a high-level question that asks students to make sense of a text as a whole. This means that students need to closely and carefully read and reread the text, and grapple with the ideas to craft statements about an author’s big ideas and be able to explain what in the text helps them to understand that big idea.

We see comprehension work as seeds for just and equitable literacy instruction that invite every student to collaborate and do the heavy lifting with texts that spark interest and curiosity around topics that students find engaging.

This work requires students to analyze and draw connections among the various information an author presents in a text, cognitive work that is situated as “high-level” in tools such as Bloom’s taxonomy. This comprehension work is important, as it provides the foundation for additional text-based tasks.  Student-centered routines scaffold students through the cognitive work of a high-level comprehension task. It’s the quick writes and the student-led discussions that happen during comprehension tasks that provide the foundation for the analytic and interpretive tasks that follow in a coherent arc of tasks on a complex and engaging text.  We see comprehension work as seeds for just and equitable literacy instruction that invite every student to collaborate and do the heavy lifting with texts that spark interest and curiosity around topics that students find engaging.  We’d like to share the process of planning for a comprehension task so that you might further support the comprehension work happening in your classrooms.

Planning a high-level comprehension task that launches a sequence of coherent work with a complex and engaging text takes time. However, the effort is worth the reward because you set all students up for success as they re-engage with the text during analysis and interpretive tasks. The below graphic is one representation of the planning process. It’s important to note that planning for text-based work is not as linear as it is shown below and can be iterative. You might find yourself reading, annotating, and discussing a text only to find out that it won’t work in the unit or in the sequence of instruction that you are planning, and you then must go back to selecting, reading, annotating, and discussing again.

Check out how one of our district partners defines Just & Equitable Literacy Instruction.

We recommend working in a PLC to tease out the definition and come to a shared understanding of what Just & Equitable Literacy Instruction looks and sounds like at your school.

Learning Goals: As you know, the work you plan for any text begins with a set of learning goals for your students. Determining specific goals will help with text selection and narrowing the genres and types of text that you explore for instruction. We also believe that the text should drive the work that you do with students, so be prepared to revise or shift these goals as you find texts that will support engaging and high-level work.

When selecting texts to use with students, there are several important ideas to keep in mind. The first is, who are your students? What do you know about them and what are they interested in learning about? Although it’s tempting to make assumptions about the answers to these questions, really listen to what your students have to say. Ask them what they want to know and what they like to read about. Students want to see and hear themselves in the texts that they read, but we also want to make sure that we provide students windows into lives of people different from them to help students develop a broader perspective on the world.

Before you develop a comprehension task, it’s important to first read and annotate the text to see the work that the text invites.  As you read the text, note complexities and sentences, paragraphs, or sections where students might get stuck. You’ll also want to note the big ideas, ELA content worth digging into, what the text does well, and genuine questions the text leaves you with.  Your notes and annotations will prime you for a discussion of the text with a peer and also provide you with the information you’ll need to craft your comprehension task and any scaffolds you might need to create to provide every student access to the text and the high-level comprehension question.

Your work selecting a text and creating a comprehension task should not be done alone! Work with a peer or in a professional learning community (PLC) to discuss the text that you’d like to use with your students. Your discussion should focus on a few key questions:

    • Is this a text that is worth extended study?
    • What makes this text complex?
    • What do you see as the big ideas?
    • What is the ELA content that is worth digging into?
    • Does this text support students to reach the learning goals?

If the result of your discussion around the text is agreement that it’s a text that’s worth asking students to spend time with, then you’ll move into developing the comprehension task. You’ll want to work with your peer or PLC to develop a comprehension task that

    • invites students to make sense of the ideas in the text using evidence from the beginning, middle, and end of the text.
    • doesn’t give the ideas in the text away or tell students what to think.
    • provides an educative nugget of information to help students engage with the question.
    • uses student centered routines to help students make meaning and learn from each other.

After the task is written, work with your peer or in your PLC to complete the task. You’ll want to be sure that the task as written generates the responses you would expect from students.  It’s quite possible that the question you ask may not generate the types of responses you are looking for or takes the students away from the text (be honest, could you have answered that question without having read the whole text? Without having read the text at all?). You’ll also want to check for coherence throughout the task – students should be writing and talking about the same question throughout their work with the task and should have opportunities to revise and reflect on their thinking about the text.

You want to start with comprehension, but you definitely want to move beyond the comprehension work. You’ll want to work to develop Analysis and Interpretation tasks that

    • build on the work done in the comprehension task by inviting students to revisit quick writes
    • focus on genuine inquiry within the text (not all texts lend themselves to interpretive work, so don’t force it).
    • ask students to analyze an interesting aspect of the author’s craft
    • Remember, it isn’t necessary to do everything that a text offers (work to be focused – you don’t need to mine a text for all of its gems, just the really valuable ones).

The end result of your planning work with the text should be a coherent arc of work that takes students deep into important and interesting ideas and ELA content. Below is one example of how an arc of work might look using an excerpt from Jacqueline Woodson’s New York Times article, “Jacqueline Woodson on Africa, America and Slavery’s Fierce Undertow.”

Creating a coherent arc of work across a text means that you are selective about the content students are invited to study. As an English teacher this can be hard (the commas! the figurative language! tier 3 words!). However, resisting the urge to do everything you can possibly do with the text (remember, you are looking for the gems) leads to instruction that invites deep study of the elements of writing that the author really showcases in a text.  As you invite students to study the text, remember that high-level comprehension tasks lay the foundation for every student to succeed as they dig into analyzing an author’s craft and drawing on text evidence to respond to genuine inquiries.