IFL Recommends 6/28

This week’s recommendation comes from:

Michelle Rimbey

Michelle Rimbey

ELA Fellow

Michelle says, “The points in the article align to the IFL’s work on equitable instruction to ensure that all students have access to high-quality literacy instruction.”

Reading by Third Grade: How Policymakers Can Foster Early Literacy

Nell K. Duke

“Fortunately, research reveals that professional development can have a significant impact on teachers’ practice and on children’s growth. To be most effective, professional development needs to be strong in both process and content.” – Nell K. Duke, profesor at the University of Michigan’s School of Education

This article by Nell Duke serves as a reminder of the complex practice of teaching children to read. She writes, “In my view, teaching reading to a class of first graders is akin in complexity to being an emergency room physician, requiring a broad range of knowledge and skills and the ability to manage and coordinate many “cases” at once” (p. 9). She concludes the article by outlining policy recommendations that address this complexity.  

Learning from Vic Bill: 5 Lessons for Leading Impactful Work

by Laurie Speranzo with Joe Dostilio, DeAnn Huinker, Kristin Klingensmith, Margaret “Peg” Smith, Mary Kay Stein, Beatriz Strawhun

It is a gift to work with people who want to create sustainable change! Victoria “Vic” Bill led the IFL’s math team for over 25 years. She pushed constantly for better tools, instructional materials, and assessments that would allow teachers to hone their practice and for students to be honored as doers of mathematics. This year we lost an inspiring leader, creative colleague, dedicated educator, and respected friend. Here, those who had the opportunity to collaborate with Vic over the years share how the ways in which Vic worked are lessons for us all.

1. Create accessible and applicable tools, and
2. Be relentless in the pursuit of what works.

Over her years with the IFL, Vic had the opportunity to engage with the researchers at the Learning Research and Development Center. Margaret “Peg” Smith and Mary Kay Stein worked with Vic on both tool development and on professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators.

Peg speaks to how one crucial tool came about: “Mary Kay and I kept going back and forth with Vic on the Task Analysis Guide (Smith & Stein, 1998). And Vic said, ‘I need something that’s one page!’ So, I created something. Mary Kay  would do something. And then Vic would say, ‘No, this is not right!’ We went back and forth with her, and finally she said, ‘Okay, this will work.’ And it hasn’t changed one iota since that initial creation. That was a really lovely example of how she really pressed the researchers to try to come up with something practical to use with teachers.

Vic was really big on the use of tools – the tools that we created. She was a firm believer that tools are carriers of knowledge and theory, and that having a tool helps scaffold your work on something. And so, by both creating tools and relentlessly encouraging teachers to always look back at them, we really left teachers with a way of moving forward once we were no longer there, because they still had the tools. The tool were the physical residue that was left behind; teachers had a toolbox of things to go back to.”

To read more about the collaboration among Vic, Peg, and Mary Kay, check out their interview with the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators.

Joe Dostilio, IFL math fellow, speaks to the power of Vic’s tool development process, “For years, the math team discussed the idea of writing guides to pull together important elements of lesson and unit planning. While Vic and the math team had many discussions and brainstorming sessions, over the years we never got around to developing the guides as various projects and partnerships pulled us in different directions. Then, before her retirement, she rallied her math team to create our Math Planning Essentials Guides (MPEs). She believed deep down that the MPEs would be used by educators to plan for lessons to engage students as mathematicians in rigorous mathematics. She was just plain relentless in working with her math team to create and develop resources and tools for educators. Vic’s energy and drive was truly inspiring.”

3. Talk the [Accountable] Talk, and then
4. Reflect on your work.

Whenever the opportunity arose, Vic loved to collaborate with others in a district together, providing teacher professional development (PD) sessions to teachers, coaches, and administrators.

Beatriz Strawhun, IFL math fellow, shares, “One of my fondest memories happened during a PD session I was  cofacilitating with Vic.  I thought I was prepared for my sections of the session. But after getting off a plane and meeting her for dinner, what seemed to be an inquisition began: ‘What will you hear from teachers that will signal they got it?’ Vic asked me, among other things. I had not even thought of this.  My prep for the session, which I thought had been thorough consisted of timing and groupings of participants and some questions I thought I would ask, but all those facilitation moves had to do with me and only me.  I had not reflected at all on the participant experience.  Vic’s questions were not asked because she was testing me in some way, but rather because they were true questions for her as well.  She wanted a thought partner. My prep for a session has never been the same.” 

Peg also speaks of her work in district with Vic: “In the early 2000’s, I’d done teacher education work, but I hadn’t done PD for large groups. I would do something and then Vic would come over and should say, ‘You should ask someone if they can repeat what somebody else just said.’ And I began to realize the power in doing that.  She lived what she believed in; she didn’t just talk the talk, she walked the walk.”

As chair of the math team, Vic required that all fellows regularly share practice as a means of both reflecting on their own work and also getting evidence-based feedback from colleagues. She held herself to the same standards both in the preparation of and reflection on her own work.

Peg recalls, “When traveling, Vic would get off the plane and she will have prepared for at a level that was beyond anything I’ve ever conceived of. She would write all over a case or have notes on a transcript. She said she needed to do that in order to be able to do what she did. The level of preparation was just astounding!”

Kristin Klingensmith, IFL fellow, shares the impact of the reflecting, refining, and revising process Vic put in place: “Final might mean done for now, but for Vic and the team she lead, it does not mean done forever.  The running joke was (and still is) which version of final are we talking about, Final 1, Final-VB, Final-Final, and even FINAL-updated. Regardless of which version of final we were working from or discussing, we knew it was just one of many that would show how our thinking evolved over time through inquiry and reflection. The desire and need to grow and refine thinking, practice, and tools, has led to ongoing revision.  Our work is never done, for the benefit of those we serve­–educators and students– we can always be better tomorrow.” 

5. Capture examples of great work from which others can learn.

Teachers and students are at the center of the work at the IFL. Vic thought constantly about the most impactful learning experiences that could be provided to teachers in order to influence classroom practice. She wanted to ensure that the question “but what does it look and sound like?” was able to be addressed.

Peg speaks to the work that Vic did capturing best practice in math classrooms: “We were able to use the videos from the IFL archives to create the Taking Actions books (NCTM) and Principles to Actions Professional Learning Toolkit (NCTM). I think those videos have had an amazing impact on people, and they relate to them. But I think that what most people don’t know is Vic  made almost all of those. When you think about what it took to even make those videos, and what she was trying to do, she was really creating a permanent record of instruction that we could all learn something from.”

DeAnn Huinker, mathematics education professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, co-authored the elementary version of the book Taking Action (NCTM, 2017) with Vic: “I quickly learned how amazing she was as a collaborator. A core feature of the book are artifacts from classrooms, most of which came from Vic. She had an endless supply of rich classroom experiences from which we drew vignettes and student work samples for the book. It was so clear that she loved spending time in classrooms pressing and guiding students toward deep understanding of the mathematics. I can recall on more than one occasion when I would find a few gifts from Vic in my email inbox in the morning with another draft section written or some new classroom artifacts to consider. I still wonder when she slept as she always made time to revise and improve a section of the book or to tackle the next needed section. I could not have asked for a better writing partner.”

Mary Kay Stein shares how instrumental Vic was in a making sure classroom practice was as the forefront of a state-wide coaching study in TN: “When we first received funding to study teaching in Tennessee, I went to Nashville to recruit teachers for our study. As usual Vic ‘opened the doors’ for us to visit PD sessions and classroom lessons. This image sticks in my head: Vic stooped next to a teacher working through a mathematical problem.  She was so intent; she was so focused, she was so patient. She cared! Vic was one of a kind.”

Vic Bill led work at the IFL with forethought, planning and reflection, and by listening to what teachers and students needed. She was intentional and supportive in her leadership and exemplified ways of working that can be employed by others as they endeavor to make and support change!


There are more lessons to learn from Vic and her colleagues. Check out these publications.

Teaching & Learning

Smith, M.S., Bill, V., & Ziegler, J. (in press). Supporting productive struggle in mathematics classrooms. New England Mathematics Journal.

Smith, M., Bill, V., & Sherin, M. G. (2019). The 5 practices in practice: Successfully orchestrating mathematics discussion in your elementary classroom. Corwin Mathematics and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Smith, M., Bill, V., & Raith, M. L. (2018). Promoting a conceptual understanding of mathematics. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 24(1), 36–43. https://doi.org/10.5951/mathteacmiddscho.24.1.0036

Bill, V. & Smith, M. S. (2008). Characteristics of assessing and advancing questions. University of Pittsburgh: Institute for Learning.

Smith, M. S., Bill, V., & Hughes, E. K. (2008). Thinking through a lesson: Successfully implementing high-level tasks. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 14(3), 132-138.

Huinker, D. & Bill, V. (2017). Taking Action: Implementing Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices in Grades K–5. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

McConachie, S., Hall, M., Resnick, L., Ravi, A. K., Bill, V. L., Bintz, J., & Taylor, J. A. (2006). Task, Text, and Talk: Literacy for All Subjects. Educational Leadership, 64(2), 8-14.

Goldman, P., & Resnick, L., with Bill, V., Johnston, J., Micheaux, D., & Setiz, A. (2004). LearningWalk℠ Sourcebook. Pittsburgh, PA: Institute for Learning, Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh.

Resnick, L. B., Bill, V., & Lesgold, S. (1992). Developing thinking abilities in arithmetic class. In A. Demetriou, M. Shayer, & A. Efklides (Eds.), Neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development: Implications and applications for education (pp. 210-230). London: Routledge.

Resnick, L. B., Bill, V., Lesgold, S., & Leer, M. (1991). Thinking in arithmetic class. In B. Means, C. Chelemer, & M. S. Knapp (Eds.), Teaching advanced skills to at-risk students: Views from research and practice (pp. 27-53). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[Accountable®] Talk in Mathematics

Heyd-Metzuyanim, E. Smith, M., Bill, V., & Resnick, L. (2019). From ritual to explorative participation in discourse-rich instructional practices: A case study of teacher learning through professional development. Educational Studies in Mathematics. 101(2). 273-289.

Bill, V. & Speranzo, L. (July 2017). Using talk to make sense of mathematics: Teaching Children Mathematics NCTM.

Bill, V. L., Leer, M. N., Reams, L. E., & Resnick, L. B. (1992). From cupcakes to equations: The structure of discourse in a primary mathematics classroom. Verbum, 15(1), 63-85.

Instructional Coaching

Correnti, R., Russell, J., Stein, M.K., Yu, B., Thomas, A., Matthis, C., Bill, V., Speranzo, L., Booker, L., Schwartz, N. (In Review). Main effects of mathematics coaching on teaching and student achievement: Coaching differences for building theories of how coaching influences teaching. Cognition and Instruction

Stein, M.K., Russell, J.L., Bill, V., Correnti, R., & Speranzo, L. (2021). Coach learning to help teachers learn to enact conceptually rich, student-focused mathematics lessons. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education.

Russell, J. L., Correnti, R. C., Stein, M. K., Bill, V., Hannan, M., Schwartz, N., Booker, L., Pratt, N. R., & Matthis, C. (2020). Learning From Adaptation to Support Instructional Improvement at Scale: Understanding Coach Adaptation in the TN Mathematics Coaching Project. American Educational Research Journal , 57(1), pp. 148–187.

Russell, J. L., Correnti, R., Stein, M. K., Thomas, A., Bill, V., & Speranzo, L. (2020). Mathematics coaching for conceptual understanding: Promising evidence regarding the Tennessee math coaching model. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 42(3), 439-466. https://doi.org/10.3102/0162373720940699

Russell, J. L., Correnti, R., Stein, M. K., Bill, V., Hannan, M., Schwartz, N., Booker, L., Pratt, N., & Matthis, C. (2019). Learning from adaptation to support instructional improvement at scale: Understanding coach adaptation in the TN mathematics coaching project. American Educational Research Journal. 57(1). 148-187.

Bickel, D. Bill, V., Matsumura, L., Petrosky, A., Russell, J., Schantz, F. & Zook-Howell, D. (2017). Content-focused coaching for continuous improvement in literacy and mathematics. Pittsburgh, PA: Institute for Learning, University of Pittsburgh.

Bill, V. & Speranzo, L. (July 2017). Mathematics learning goals serve as a guide. Teaching Children Mathematics NCTM.

Bill, V., Booker, L., Correnti, R., Russell, J., Schwartz, N., & Stein, M.K. (2017). Tennessee scales up improved math instruction through coaching. The Journal of the National Association of State Boards of Education, 17(2), 22-27.

Russell, J. L., Stein, M. K., Correnti, R., Bill, V., Booker, L., & Schwartz, N. (2017). Tennessee scales up improvement in math instruction through coaching. The State Educational Standard, 17(2), 22–27.

IFL Recommends 6/21

This week’s recommendation comes from:

Joe Dostilio posing in front of trees

Joe Dostilio

Mathematics Fellow

Joe says, “On Marcus Miller’s website, there is a quote by mathematician James Joseph Sylvester, ‘May not music be described as the mathematics of the sense, mathematics as music of the reason?’ I thought, well, that’s exactly how I’ve always felt about two of my favorite things in this world. The way Marcus talks about math and music in this video is beautiful, brilliant, and kind of beyond infinity.”

WATCH: The Beauty of Math and Music

“For many of you at some point, someone pointed a finger at your and told you that you weren’t smart enough to understand it (mathematics) or perhaps that you didn’t really need math in the real world, so you were fine not knowing it. Often that person was you. This is common and it is false, and it will keep you from understanding the really cool story I’m about to tell you.” – Marcus G. Miller, musician and mathematician

 Marcus Miller simplifies “infinity + infinity = infinity” and how this helps us to experience our personal beauty with life-affirming, paradigm-shifting beauty of math and music. The size of number systems, adding to infinity, counting snakes, and saxophone solos…everything needed for a summer video!

IFL Recommends 6/14

This week’s recommendation comes from:

Courtney Francis smiling for the camera

Courtney Francis

Director of Online Learning and Product Development

Courtney says, “This is a great game for students to learn about the government. The pacing, characters, and simplicity of Branches of Power also make it a fun refresher for adults (I can attest; I played it just now).”

Branches of Power

Branches of Power is a classic learning game for young people created by iCivics. Players generate ideas, gain support, and pass bills by making decisions through the three branches of government. The pacing, characters, and simplicity of the game also make it a fun refresher for adults. Like many iCivics games, Branches of Power includes additional resources (https://www.icivics.org/teachers/lesson-plans/branches-power-extension-pack) for using the game as an instructional tool.

Celebrating Success in the Dallas ISD/IFL Network for School Improvement

By Sara DeMartino and Michael Telek

The IFL, in partnership with Dallas ISD, researchers from the Learning Research and Development Center, and the Center for Urban Education, secured funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation in 2018 to form the DISD/IFL Network for School Improvement. The goal of the network is to identify and eliminate inequities in literacy instruction to improve teaching and learning for students in underperforming schools in grades 6-9. The network is currently made up of seven middle schools and their seven feeder high schools.

“The network teachers who committed to give students opportunities to write about and to talk amongst themselves in pairs or trios about the big ideas in texts has opened up learning and student engagement,” said IFL Director Anthony Petrosky. “It’s a pleasure to walk these classrooms, to hear the student-to-student talk, and to feel their engagement, their enthusiasm, as they explain their thinking and argue about ideas.”

Across their time together, Dallas ISD teachers and the IFL have worked to develop the DISD/IFL instructional model. This model of instruction invites students to engage with a coherent sequence of text-based tasks that begin with comprehension. The tasks are developed around a set of student-centered routines that invite students to annotate, use quick writes, share their thinking in pairs, and then make their thinking public during a gallery walk or whole group discussion. The frequent engagement with these routines has led students to became more confident and competent in their own thinking. As students’ expectations for themselves shift, teachers have begun to expect more from their students.

“I always said that I had a real problem, working with students that struggle, but I realized that all students struggle, it was just a different kind of struggle,” said Janie Payne, an ELA teacher at Atwell Middle School. “I mostly used to work with the Pre-AP and honors students. We would be going and they’d struggle too. I just had to see it in a different way. I think my greatest success is realizing that I can teach any student and get those students to learn. I can foster their ability to question themselves and to get in there and get those mental processes doing that. They weren’t accustomed to doing that because nobody made them do it, but in my classroom it’s a no, no, to say I don’t know. It’s I don’t know yet. We don’t do I can’t. We get help to figure it out.”

JoeAnn Nguyen, an LRDC researcher on the project, said the teachers who were very purposeful and humanized themselves to their students saw significant change in the classroom and on their achievement tests. By empathizing with each other, both students and teachers built bonds that strengthened their communities.

“One of the teachers talked about how she wrote a letter to her students letting them know who she is. Then she had [the students] use that as a model to write a letter back to her,” said Nguyen. “It’s a humanizing theme. She now knows about her students, who they are outside of school, and then they know who she is outside of the school. But she also used the letter as an assessment tool that I thought was a really cool way of learning where they are in their informal writing.”

The NSI hub team of IFL fellows has also worked to build community with teachers in the network. The hub serves as a guide for the project. Hub members collaborate with teachers on literacy instructional change ideas, advise teachers on instructional practices, and organize whole network meetings, where teachers share and reflect on their practice. Through monthly network convenings, teachers have come to trust the hub team and each other for advice and feedback on instruction.

“I had a teacher who was so reluctant with the IFL work,” said Crystal Newman, a team coordinator at Zan Holmes Middle School. “Why? Because English teachers, we like to control everything. The IFL work, its student centered right? And so, she was afraid to really let go and to let her students do the thinking and talking and go through everything. One lesson I said, ‘Hey, just trust your kids.’ And when she finally came back to me, she was like, that was so good, they have so much to say. It was really worth it. To see her go from ‘I don’t want to do IFL,’ to ‘my kids can really do this; let’s do more’, that was amazing.”

As the NSI enters its fifth year, both teachers and the IFL team are looking forward to meeting together again in person after spending the past two years engaged in virtual meetings. Data analysis on the impact of the NSI instructional practices on student achievement has shown positive results for teachers who consistently implemented the instructional model, and network members are hopeful that student achievement will continue to grow as teachers and the IFL continue to work together to improve literacy instruction for every student in network schools.