By Laurie Speranzo

IFL Mathematics Fellow

Propel Pitcairn, one of the Institute for Learning’s newest partners, went through the process of an organization-wide curriculum adoption for both math and English language arts last year. As a result, the teachers will now be regularly using high-level tasks, which dovetails with the network’s vision that students will do the thinking. Propel Pitcairn is just starting their work with the IFL this year as a means of offering ongoing and systemic support for teachers in the implementation of tasks that are cognitively demanding. This work includes monthly content-specific PLC meetings, ongoing school-wide professional development sessions around equitable instruction, and classroom-based data collection.

Propel Pitcairn is part of Propel Schools, a Pittsburgh-based network of charter schools, whose mission is “catalyzing the transformation of public education so that all children have access to high performing public schools.” After attending the IFL Summit last June, Lindsey Smith, the assistant director of curriculum and instruction at Propel Schools, worked with the senior director of curriculum and instruction, Pat Coyle, to revise the network’s vision for mathematics. Inspired by the equity messaged in the work of David E. Kirkland and Rochelle Gutiérrez, the vision now reads:

Propel Schools develops problem solvers who are prepared to use their mathematical power to improve the world. In our classrooms:

• Scholars do the thinking.

• Scholars see that mathematics has the power to help us understand and potentially change the world.

• Scholars are learning more than mathematics.

Ariane Watson, the principal, and Veronica Strueve, an assistant principal, who have been working for several years to establish a clear vision of teaching and learning at Pitcairn, fully believe in the new vision for mathematics instruction. They share their hopes for the upcoming work: “The purpose of bringing the IFL in to support our work is to hone in on specific high-leverage practices in order to have a clear focus for instruction for the year. With our push to deliver high-quality instruction in conjunction with high-quality resources, our focus is laser-like to support teacher development through specific, purposeful professional development.”

One way in which the partnership with the IFL will support teachers and administrators is via the implementation of professional learning community (PLC) modules through which math teachers will examine and then implement the high-level practices of Accountable Talk® discussions and provide opportunities for writing about mathematical reasoning. By engaging in the PLC modules, the administrators say, “Our hope is to build teacher capacity and confidence with high-leverage practices in order to support scholar-to-scholar collaboration and to develop conceptual understanding of content.”

The PLC work consists of unpacking the high-leverage practice and then using the premise of improvement science to identify something small to change back in the classroom as a “test,” collect evidence of the impact of that test, and then determine if the small test of change worked as intended or if it needs to be tweaked and tried again. The goal is to refine the use of the high-leverage practice after implementing and reflecting on its implementation over time and across various conditions, including the content studied, so that it becomes a regularly used practice (see the cycle inherent in the Design Structures and Routines of a PLC diagram). By working together as a group of professional learners, the PLC will share and generalize practice towards the goal of high-quality education for every student.

To gauge the impact of the work of the PLC in helping teachers implement high-leverage practices when using cognitively demanding tasks, Propel Pitcairn School will work with the IFL this year to collect and code data. By looking at transcripts from classrooms and at student work, a lot can be learned about to what extent practices are being implemented. It is the hope that this year the teachers in the PLC will see both an increase in the depth of the discussions in their math classrooms, as well as an increased amount of writing in math in which the students clearly express their reasoning around and understanding of the mathematics.

When asked about their role related to the PLC work, Watson and Strueve shared, “[We} will be facilitating the PLCs with support from Kristin Klingensmith, mathematics fellow, of the IFL. We are so excited to be partnering with the IFL to support all learners in our school community.”