Six Strategies That Can Lead to More Equitable Online Mathematics Instruction

By Joe Dostilio and Laurie Speranzo

Institute for Learning

Every student has the right to be engaged in meaningful learning that draws on their unique abilities and backgrounds for making sense of mathematical ideas and relationships. Educators who believe this have looked for ways to engage all students in equitable mathematics instruction that advances each student’s conceptual understanding as they navigate this new world of virtual instruction.

These are three teaching practices that work in combination and can be used in virtual spaces for keeping every student engaged, talking, and supported in online learning.

  • Keeping Learning Focused and Advancing
  • Engage Students in Talk/Hear Student Voice
  • Engage In Formative Assessment

 For each of these practices, there are strategies that support equitable mathematics instruction when teaching virtually.

NCTM (2014) research shows that “Student learning is greatest in classrooms where the tasks consistently encourage high-level student thinking and reasoning and least in classrooms where the tasks are routinely procedural in nature” (Boaler and Staples 2008; Hiebert and Wearne 1993; Stein and Lane 1996) and “Not all tasks provide the same opportunities for student thinking and learning” (Hiebert et al. 1997; Stein et al. 2009).
Even when instructional time moves online, students need time to consistently engage in high-level tasks on their own and with their classmates in order to keep learning focused on sense-making.

Strategy #1:  Use Tasks that Require High-Level Mathematical Thinking and Reasoning

High-level tasks

  • have multiple entry points;
  • include or can be solved using a wide range of representations and tools; and
  • require problem-solving.

Focus tasks, a subset of high-level tasks, are a type of cognitively demanding task that requires thinking and reasoning that leads to sense-making, but they do not require the same level of investigation or problem-solving. Focus tasks explicitly press student thinking about a key mathematical concept or relationships by leveraging one of the following methods. Try using a focus task that

  • provides a model for students to interpret and make sense of the mathematics.
  • shows an accurate and an inaccurate solution, then asks students to analyze and name which is accurate and which is not, and explain why.
  • shares a way of solving that is not a traditional algorithm. Ask students to discuss the way of solving and apply it to a new situation or set of numbers.

Use focus tasks to help provide a steady diet of high-level tasks that leads to greater and deeper learning, especially in a time of potentially decreased instructional time due to the pandemic.

Investigating and discussing high-level tasks to make sense of mathematics supports students in seeing themselves as doers of mathematics.

Strategy #2: Provide “On Your Own” Time for Students to Begin Thinking and Reasoning about the Mathematics in the Task

Students need time to generate their own thinking and solutions to a task. Consistently giving students independent work time
  • honors each student’s thinking and develops their identify as a doer of mathematics;
  • provides formative assessment opportunities for teachers; and
  • makes it possible for students’ ideas and solutions to be discussed and compared in small breakout groups and in whole-class discussions.

When time is a concern, consider sending the task to student in advance with a pre-recorded set-up that supports students in understanding the context of the task (without unpacking or giving away the math concept for them). Ask students to engage in “On Your Own” time and come to the live class meeting time prepared to share and discuss their solutions.

It is critical to provide time so that students can process the task, formulate their own mathematical thoughts and solution path, and put their thinking on paper before engaging in discussions. Providing this time makes it more likely that every student—regardless of native language, identification, background, or grade point average—will share their ideas with others, instead of just hearing from those students who work faster and/or louder.

Carpenter, Franke, and Levi (2003) talk about the importance of student voice. “Students who learn to articulate and justify their own mathematical ideas, reason through their own and others’ mathematical explanations, and provide a rationale for their answers develop a deep understanding that is critical to their future success in mathematics and related fields.”

When engaging students in virtual classrooms, look for ways to keep students generating, talking about, and making connections between their ideas and solution paths. Making time for and providing ways for students to use their voice and agency will build positive math identities.

Strategy #3: Incorporate Manipulatives into Lessons

Representations help to clarify the reasoning of specific students, while also leaving a visible trace of the strategy, which allows other students to enter into and follow the mathematical thinking of their classmates.
NCTM (2017) Taking Action

Manipulatives allow students to show their thinking and provide a reference when explaining their reasoning. Consider these options for having students use and discussion manipulatives in virtual classrooms.

Using student manipulative representations allows students to discuss their own understanding and to comment on and explain the thinking of others. When using virtual manipulatives, sending out the link in advance is a good idea, as students (and adults alike) need to “play” with the manipulatives before using them for a task.

Strategy #4: Create Space for Students to Share Their Thinking

Victoria Bill, longtime Senior Math Fellow at the IFL, always says, “The person who talks the most, learns the most!” Use ways to provide time and provide space to ensure each and every student has opportunities to talk and for their voice to be heard.

Check out 4 Go-To Learner-Centered Routines to Bolster Math Discussions, In-Person and Online to read about some routines that prepare students to engage in discussions about deep mathematics. Consistently using these and other routines that get students to share their mathematical thinking, provides similar benefits as those listed above for “On Your Own” work time, honors student thinking, develops their identify as doers of mathematics, provides formative assessment opportunities, and makes it possible for students to generate solutions to share and compare with other students.

Wiliam noted that “the important point is that we must acknowledge that what students learn is not necessarily what the teacher intended, and it is essential that teachers explore students’ thinking before assuming that students have ‘understood’ something. In this sense, assessment is the bridge between teaching and learning” (2005).

As mathematical ideas and solutions are shared, translate some formative assessment best practices to the virtual world. When students say or write about what they think, these strategies honor that thinking and students develop a sense of worth of their ideas—that their ideas are worth sharing and will be discussed in the process of learning mathematics.

Strategy #5: Ask for Agreement/Disagreement . . . Then, Ask Why?

Asking every student to weigh in on whether they agree or disagree is a simple means of formative assessment that teachers may use throughout a lesson. In virtual classrooms, identify ways to continue to use agree/disagree to keep students engaged and provide on-going formative assessment throughout the lesson.

  • Ask students to use a Reaction or an Emoji.
  • Poll students using a simple “Agree” or “Disagree”.
  • Have each student send a message through the chat box; ask that the message be sent only to you when you want to make sure students are not swayed by others’ responses.

Then, prompt students to say more about why they agree or disagree! Without the justification of their agree/disagree stance, there is a missed opportunity for students to share their mathematical reasoning. If teachers are not in the habit of asking for students to back up their thinking, students may agree or disagree out of habit and not out of math content knowledge.

Strategy #6: Provide Effective Feedback

Learners engage better when feedback is focused on their work, identifies what they have shown in their work in regards to the mathematical learning goal, and provides an actionable way for moving forward from their work. Feedback that assigns a grade or score that can often send a message that the learning is complete and has been assessed (Butler 1988, Black & Wiliam 1998, Hattie & Timperley 2007).

When providing written or verbal feedback, call attention to what work the student(s) have done and pose actionable next steps that press the student(s) toward deeper meaning-making.

Characteristics of Feedback and Guidance
Feedback Guidance
  • Highlights mathematical ideas or strategies and lets the student know the benefit or usefulness of the idea or strategy.
  • Acknowledges student’s actual work.
  • Is focused on student’s work, not the student.
  • Conveys to students that they have an audience for their work, “I noticed…” “When looking at your work…”
  • Highlights components of the program that are valued (e.g., connections between representations, communication of mathematical reasoning).
  • Extends the student’s work from where the student is in his or her work to the next stage of the work.
  • Encourages the student to do the work, serves as a call to action, “Give it a try…”
  • Presents students with a challenge or a counter to their method.
  • Prompts the learner to consider the use of alternative representations, strategies, or processes.

Check out these two examples of feedback and guidance given to two different groups by a teacher who utilized Google Slides during small group work a focus task.

 

Provide time for the student to take action/respond and then respond/resubmit. As time with our students is often reduced in hybrid and remote learning, this process of providing effective feedback and having students take action and respond/resubmit can create a better virtual experience for students and strengthen student-teacher relationships.

Regardless of where students are in their mathematical thinking—not yet fully expressing their reasoning, exhibiting faulty or overgeneralized thinking, or even having the correct answer with sound justification— they all deserve feedback and guidance. Every student should be pressed to move forward from where they are to deeper mathematical understanding. This makes the instruction both equitable and differentiated!

Tell Us About the Strategies You Use When Implementing High-Leverage Teaching Practices in Virtual Classrooms

  • Which of these strategies that support equitable mathematics instruction do you already use in virtual classrooms? How is it going?
  • What other strategies that support equitable mathematics instruction do you recommend for virtual classrooms? Why?

Share your story here.

    References

    Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998) Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 7-74.
    Boaler, J. & Staples, M. (2008). Creating mathematical futures through an equitable teaching approach: The case of railside school. Teachers College Record, 110(3), 608-645.
    Butler, R. (1988). Enhancing and undermining intrinsic motivation: The effects of task-involving and ego-involving evaluation on interest and performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 58(1), 1-14.
    Carpenter, T. P., Franke, M. L., & Levi, L. (2003). Thinking mathematically: Integrating arithmetic and algebra in elementary schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), p81-112.
    Hiebert, J. Thomas, P., Carpenter, E., Fennema, K. C., Fuson, D., Wearne, P., Human, H. M., & Alwyn, O. (1997). Making-sense: Teaching and learning mathematics with understanding. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Hiebert, J., & Wearne, D. (1993). Instructional tasks, classroom discourse, and students’ learning in second-grade arithmetic. American Educational Research Journal, 30(2), 393–425. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.2307/1163241
    Hiebert, J., Carpenter, T. P., Fennema, E., Fuson, K., Human, P., Murray, H., Olivier, A & Wearne, D. (1997). Making mathematics problematic: A rejoinder to Prawat and Smith. Educational Researcher, 26(2), 24-26.
    National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Principles to actions: Ensuring mathematical success for all. Reston, VA: Author.
    Smith, M. S., Boston, M., Dillon, F., & Miller, S. (2017). Taking Action: Implementing Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices in Grades 9-12. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
    Smith, M. S., Huinker, D. & Bill, V. (2017). Taking Action: Implementing Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices in K – Grade 5. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
    Smith, M. S., Steele, M. D., & Raith, M. L. (2017). Taking Action: Implementing Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices in Grades 6-8. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
    Stein, M. K., & Lane, S. (1996). Instructional tasks and the development of student capacity to think and reason: An analysis of the relationship between teaching and learning in a reform mathematics project. Educational Research and Evaluation, 2 (1), 50–80.
    Stein, M. K., Grover, B. W., & Henningsen, M. (1996). Building student capacity for mathematical thinking and reasoning: An analysis of mathematical tasks used in reform classrooms. American Educational Research Journal, 33(2), 455–488.
    Wiliam, D. (2005). Keeping learning on track: Formative assessment and the regulation of learning. In M. Coupland, J. Anderson, & T. Spencer (Eds.), Making mathematics vital: Proceedings of the twentieth biennial conference of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (pp. 26–40). Adelaide, Australia: Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers.

    Accountable Talk and Learning Walk are registered trademarks of the University of Pittsburgh.

    Tagged with: Academic Rigor, Agency and Voice, Equitable Instruction, Formative Assessment, High-Level Tasks / Curriculum, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Math, Multi-Lingual Learner Instruction, Online Instruction, Principles of Learning

    Organizing Instructional Tasks with Landing Pages

    By Sara DeMartino

    Institute for Learning

    Organizing Instructional Tasks with Landing Pages

    What is a Student-Centered Routine in ELA?

    A student-centered routine in ELA is a sequence of actions that students are asked to take to develop a response to open-ended, text-based task.
    This document shows the various elements of student-centered routines used during ELA instruction. We always recommend that students get an opportunity to capture their thinking in writing before being asked to share in pairs or with the larger groups. This practice offers students a chance to surface what they initially think, gives them a document to speak from as they share, and allows them to add to or revise their thinking.

    Although we are not physically present in your districts, we’ve been working with and talking to many of you virtually throughout the fall. In reflecting on our conversations with you, it’s clear to us that teachers are leading the way in understanding how various online tools work to facilitate student-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction. You’ve found that how teachers provide students opportunities to interact with a text, share their thinking with a peer (either synchronously or asynchronously), share their thinking whole group, and then reflect on what they’ve learned should remain consistent whether students are in class or at home. Keeping the routine consistent and using online tools to facilitate interactions among students allows them to know what to expect, whether they are present in the classroom or at home. It also provides opportunities for students who are in the classroom to interact with students who may be learning at home.

    Teachers have found great success using landing pages to organize learning for students across one text or across multiple texts in a unit. A landing page is a page on a website where students “land” to do their work or engage in a task. We’d like to share with you an example of a landing page designed for a sequence of work with the text, “The Censors” by Luisa Valenzuela. You can access the sample landing page here.

    Why Landing Pages?

    Landing pages, much like task sheets, provide students with both the why and the what of an instructional task. They support more equitable access to instructional activities by making expectations clear and providing step-by-step guidance for students as they engage in learning.

    Landing pages provide the why by explaining to students the purpose of the work they will be engaging in during one task and across multiple tasks. Purpose statements help students see where they are going and help them to see that the task isn’t just busy work.


    Purpose statements for an arc of work across one text and for a task.

    Landing pages also provide students with the what–the steps they need to take to be successful with a task and the tools they need to help them along the way. If you’re familiar with our student-centered task sheets, then landing pages should feel pretty similar. Landing pages help to alleviate some of the “Miss, I don’t know what to do!” comments we often hear from students, and students report that they appreciate the consistency that working from a landing page provides (whether students are working at school or at home).

    Setting Up a Landing Page

    We used Google Sites for creating instructional landing pages because it’s easy to use (no coding required!) and plays nicely with other tools in Google Suite (i.e., Google Classroom). You can link directly to landing pages in Google Classroom and provide students with a calendar of when the work will be completed.


    Once students navigate to the landing page, they will see that it includes links to sub-pages for each instructional task. For example, the first linked subpage for “The Censors” is the comprehension task.

    Subpages are built to mirror paper task sheets. We strongly recommend that when planning an instructional task through a landing page, that you begin planning as if you were creating a paper task sheet and then take a step back to decide how you’ will facilitate the student-centered routines (Do you need to structure the routines for a class with students who are both in school and online? Are your students entirely asynchronous?) and how students will demonstrate their learning (Will students work in a collaborative slide deck? Will you add links to an assignment in Google Classroom?). This guide provides a few suggestions for translating student-centered routines to online spaces. You will notice that we’ve annotated the following images of the comprehension landing page to provide some insight into how we structured the comprehension task for the text, “The Censors.” This task was structured for a class that utilizes some synchronous time with students.

    The comprehension subpage provides students with the purpose statement and information that students may need to help them engage with the task and text.
    Each step of the task is provided for students as well as links to the applications or tools needed to complete the step.
    In STEP 1, students are expected to add to a Jamboard to allow the teacher an opportunity to assess what students understand about censorship.

    STEP 2 engages students with the text. This work is linked through Google classroom. It allows students to individually work through reading and annotating the text, while giving the teacher an opportunity to see how students interact with the reading.
    In STEP 3, after reading the text, students are asked to complete a quick write in response to a comprehension question. Working asynchronously, students are asked to post the quick write to a Pear Deck presentation with the expectation that when the class meets for their synchronous time, students will share and discuss what they wrote.

    STEP 4 is the final step in the work for the comprehension task. It lets students know that they will be expected to have steps 1-3 finished when they meet with the rest of the class online to collaborate around a slide deck that will be used during a virtual gallery walk and whole class discussion of the text.

    We love hearing from our teachers!

    • How are you organizing online learning experiences for your students?
    • Have you tried landing pages? How are they working for your students?
    • What are some other digital tools that have proven useful for you and your students as you work together online?

    Tell us your story here.

      Tagged with: ELA, Elementary, High School, High-Level Tasks / Curriculum, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Middle School, Online Instruction, Reading / Comprehension, Writing

      4 Go-To Learner-Centered Routines to Bolster Math Discussions, In-Person and Online

      By Laurie Speranzo and Kristin Klingensmith

      Institute for Learning

      Educators who believe that every student has meaningful ideas to contribute can use learner-centered routines to ensure that every student is actively engaged in a math discussion. These routines create space for students to reason about the mathematics of the task in ways that make sense to them using their knowledge from both inside and outside of the classroom. Using learner-centered routines gives teachers multiple opportunities for formative assessment within a single lesson from which they can make adjustments in real-time to better meet where students are in their understanding.

      To School Leaders & Coaches

      These routines support learning at all ages, so consider if and how you might use these routines during in-person and online professional learning to support deeper understanding of the ideas being explored and discussed with other educators.

      Based on two decades of experience with in-person teaching and learning and several years of engaging in online teaching and learning, here are four go-to learner-centered routines to use while facilitating meaningful mathematics discussions in-person and online.

      1. Turn and Talk
      2. Stop and Jot
      3. Step Back
      4. Quick Write

      When used consistently, these routines enhance Accountable Talk® discussions in mathematics, support engagement, and scaffold learning.

      1. Turn and Talk

      Why Use a Turn and Talk?

      Turn and Talks create space for students in groups of 2 to 3 to share their ideas related to the mathematics being explored and hear the ideas of others. Turn and Talks are an informal way for teachers to assess (little “a”) where students are in their thinking. Teachers can and should use the insights gained from a Turn and Talk to inform the direction of the mathematics discussion.

      Tips for Using Turn and Talks

      Turn and Talks are low-risk talk opportunities that can be useful throughout a discussion because students get a chance to “try out” and “rehearse” their thinking alongside others. Turn and Talks are a great go-to after 10 seconds or more of wait time when students need to talk through their thinking before being ready to share with the whole group. If you are familiar with Accountable Talk moves, Turn and Talks are particularly beneficial when used in combination with the moves: challenging, pressing for reasoning, or expanding reasoning.

       

      Adapting Turn and Talks for Online Discussions

      In person Turn and Talks are as easy as turning and talking with a neighbor, and allow the teacher to listen in to get a feel for student thinking. Turn and Talks are not as easy to replicate online but are still important for supporting student thinking and engagement.

      For online Turn and Talks try

      • moving students into breakout rooms with just 2-3 people for a very brief amount of time.
      • asking students to mute their mics and say their thinking aloud to themselves.
      • establishing Turn and Talk partners so that students can chat privately with a pre-assigned peer via the chat box.

      Though online Turn and Talks do not afford the opportunity to “overhear” the Turn and Talk of others, all of the adaptations offer students’ the opportunity to put their thinking into words and to rehearse how they want to express their understanding. Because students cannot be overheard, teachers may want to have a few students share out to the class what they said aloud to themselves or what was shared during their exchange with a peer. If planned in advance, a teacher may pair a Turn and Talk with a multi-select poll to see which ideas resonated with the students following their Turn and Talk.

      2. Stop and Jot

      Why Use a Stop and Jot?

      Stop and Jots provide each student time to collect and record their thinking as it relates to the mathematical idea or relationship currently being discussed. Stop and Jots are commonly used during critical points of discussions and usually involve students adding something new to their written work. This provides teachers the chance to casually check on student thinking as they walk around and glance over students’ shoulders. The information gathered from glancing at students’ Stop and Jots can be used to determine the pathway of the discussion.

      Tips for Using Stop and Jots

      Because Stop and Jots start out as private thinking time, students tend to feel more comfortable expressing their initial, and possibly incomplete or unfinished, thoughts. Stop and Jots can ask students to write about how two concepts are related, create another or connect two representations, record another/different equation, describe a situation, etc. When using a Stop and Jot, teachers may look for patterns in responses, unique responses, and responses that suggest over-generalizations, to determine what to “take up” next in the discussion.

       

      Adapting Stop and Jots for Online Discussions

      During online discussions, it isn’t as easy to sneak a peek at what students jot, so consideration has to be given to low-risk ways for students to share their jotting.

      For online Stop and Jots try

      • asking students to write their thoughts on paper and having those who are comfortable share orally or, in the case of visual models or equations, by holding the paper up to the camera.
      • inviting students to type or draw in a shared document.
      • having students use the chat box to share their thinking with the teacher only or with the whole group.
      • using PollEverywhere.com (or a similar platform) so that students can text their responses anonymously and have them collected on a single shared screen.

      When making a choice about how to have students share their ideas after a Stop and Jot, keep in mind that some students may feel more comfortable sharing what they wrote verbally than actually sharing their writing. Things like spelling, sentence construction, and use of formal math language are not and should not be a focus during Stop and Jots.

      3. Step Back

      Why Use a Step Back?

      Step Backs offer an opportunity for students to reflect verbally on key learnings from across the entire discussion and to share their conclusions or generalizations with the whole group. Step Backs offer teachers a glimpse into how students are taking stock of the ideas being discussed and their progress toward the mathematical learning goal. They also allow students to again hear the salient and mathematically critical ideas that surfaced during the discussion.

      Tips for Using Step Backs

      Step Backs are best used following big “ah ha” moments related to the learning goals for the lesson. These moments may occur in the middle or at the end of a discussion and sometimes both. Use Step Backs to create space for students to ponder and consider the Why of the big “ah ha” moment(s).

       

      Adapting Step Backs for Online Discussions

      Step Backs do not need to be adapted for online discussions, but they may be used more frequently to help students hold on to critical ideas as understanding is constructed.

      For online Step Backs try

      • pre-determining several places during the discussion to do a Step Back so that the discussion has multiple summary points that culminate by the end of the discussion.
      • having at least one or two students “say back in their own words” the teacher’s summary so that others can hear it more than one time and students have a chance to paraphrase the key ideas.
      • varying who is responsible, teacher or students, for summarizing the discussion at a given point.

      4. Quick Write

      Why Use a Quick Write?

      Quick Writes create space for each student to put their thoughts into writing, allowing them to take stock of their knowledge, reflect on their learning, and/or apply their insights, generalizations, and conclusions in a new way. Quick Writes can and should be used as formative assessment because they contain evidence of each student’s thinking and reasoning, especially after engaging in an Accountable Talk discussion.

      Tips for Using Quick Writes

      Quick Writes can be used at the beginning of a unit of study to learn about students’ prior knowledge. Quick Writes can also be used toward the end of or following a math discussion or summary. In this case, it is important to make sure that the Quick Write relates directly to the mathematical learning goal of the lesson.  Additionally, students and teachers can gain insight about how learning is progressing over time by using Quick Writes after each lesson in a series.

       

      Adapting Quick Writes for Online Discussions

      Quick Writes can be used when teaching online in much the same way they are used in-person. The adaption to Quick Writes is mostly about how students will submit them.

      For online Quick Writes try

      • having students write a response in the chat but wait until everyone is done writing before sending it so that no one’s thinking is compromised by reading others’ responses.
      • setting up a Padlet (or similar applet) for students to submit their responses and comment on the thoughts of others, using a combination of multi-media options: text, pictures, drawings, and video.
      • having students submit their response via an online form or through email.
      • using a shared document or slide deck.

      When making a decision about how to have students submit their Quick Writes, consideration should be given to what the submission option affords. Some options only allow written responses, while other options offer the ability for students to create images and upload pictures or video.

      The second article in this two-part series will be released December 1 and will explore how these four learner-centered routines can be used to foster student voice and agency and support students in developing positive mathematical identities as doers of mathematics.

       

      Tell Us About the Learner-Centered Routines You Use

      • Which of these routines do you already use? How is it going?
      • Which of the routines might you add to your toolbox? Why?
      • What other routine do you recommend? Why?

      Tell us here.

      Tagged with: Accountable Talk® Discussions, Equitable Instruction, Formative Assessment, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Online Instruction, Principles of Learning

      Remote Coaching for Rigorous and Engaging Online Classroom Discussions: Layering New Forums with Fresh Insights

      By Lindsay Clare Matsumura and Dena Zook-Howell

      Institute for Learning and LRDC

      In many districts, teachers have worked hard to incorporate Accountable Talk® practices that enable rich classroom discussions. In the COVID-19 pandemic, inequities in resources available to students have been further exacerbated. Often student learning is interrupted by inequitable access to computers and to the internet. Burdens on teachers and other educators also are extreme. Teachers are contending with their own hardships in addition to teaching online for the first time with little training. It can feel like rigorous and interactive conversations are no longer an option. It is possible, however, to engage students in the kinds of rigorous and interactive discussions online that are foundational to student learning. Coaches, even while practicing social distancing, have an important role to play in assisting teachers to continue, rather than abandon, this important pedagogy. Here we describe some things that we are learning from our ongoing research at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center on how coaches can support teachers remotely to engage students in rigorous and interactive online discussions.

      What is different about coaching in a pandemic?

      Coaching teachers remotely during a pandemic is similar to face-to-face coaching in its focus on student thinking, rigorous content, and cultivation of an inquiry stance toward instruction. Overlaid on top of these, however, is a new role for coaches to support teachers to use features of online platforms to achieve particular learning goals and establish positive online communities. Compounding these knowledge demands is the very real uncertainty that teachers themselves are experiencing in this pandemic. Uncertainty and anxiety provide a weak springboard for learning and responding to teachers emotionally in this new environment is a larger part of the coaching context than it was previously. In the following sections, we discuss specific ways coaches can support teachers to move their discussions online.

      ⁘ Helping teachers reestablish their classroom learning community.

      Even though teachers may have established a strong learning community in their face-to-face instruction, it is likely they will need to reestablish their learning community in the new online environment. Teachers may find, for example, that students who jump in right away during in-person discussions are reluctant to participate in online conversations (and vice versa). Encouraging teachers to take the time to promote the same climate and norms online is essential. This is not a step backwards but instead a path forward to creating the necessary conditions for optimizing online instruction.

      Coaches can assist teachers to think imaginatively about options that develop a new sense of community.

      Coaches can assist teachers to think imaginatively about options that develop a new sense of community. These should begin with non-academic, low-risk interactions that build toward the academic, robust interactions that support student learning. A sample sequence might begin with each student showing a pet or a favorite toy/hobby to the group. The next interaction could require students to share or upload a picture or description of their favorite place in their home to read or relax, and then, in turn, explain to the group why they chose that place. The idea is to reintroduce students to each other, strengthen a home and school connection, and allow students to get used to the platform before launching into rigorous academic content.

      Certain features of online discussion platforms also can be useful to support a low-risk way for students to gain entry into online discussions. This can be especially important for students who are developing their English language skills or for other reasons may feel shy to participate. For example, the polling feature on many platforms can be a useful way to start a discussion or keep students engaged throughout a discussions in the same way that turn and talk can be useful for students to try out their ideas with a peer before speaking with a whole group. We describe this further in the next section.

      Establishing powerful and clear online learning routines.

      Clear and consistently applied routines that scaffold students’ engagement with complex content are critical to effective classroom discussions, and this is especially the case for online class discussions. An important job of coaches is to help teachers think through what their learning routines will be to achieve particular purposes and goals in discussions, and then connect these routines to features and functions of learning technologies and platforms. Online learners can very easily get lost and confused. Teachers must be far more explicit when giving directions to students online than when teaching face to face (which is all the more reason to develop routines and stick with them). Coaches can assist teachers by helping them develop and trouble shoot directions for participating in different activities. This can help ensure that students’ energy is spent learning and not figuring out what they are supposed to be doing. Fortunately, technologies have advanced to the level that powerful routines for in-person instruction can be translated to an online environment.

      ⁘ Learning new technologies to support student learning. 

      The ability to put online student-centered learning routines into play is dependent on teachers’ familiarity with technology (e.g., discussion platforms such as Microsoft teams). For many teachers, however, the demands entailed in learning new technologies and discussion platforms are overwhelming. The need for differentiated assistance from coaches includes understanding and responding to the range of comfort levels and knowledge of technologies/platforms that provide current instructional options. Coaches can differentiate tech support in a number of ways, such as the following:

      • Modeling a classroom online discussion. One way coaches can support teachers is to engage a group of teachers in a discussion (e.g., a model lesson), showing them ways that features can be used to meet particular learning goals (e.g., small group breakout rooms in place of “turn and talks” or a polling feature or chat box to gather individual student thinking for all to see.).
      • Creating a safe place to experiment. Coaches also can act as students in practice meetings so that teachers can “try on” various teacher moves through the features of the platform, or convene a group of teachers to take turns conducting a mock discussion and using the features.
      • Co-teaching. If teachers feel unsure about conducting online discussions, coaches can co-teach with teachers, acting as a co-host to assist with technology, if that is necessary (e.g., moving students in and out of breakout sessions, switching to a whiteboard or document reader, etc.).
      • Cultivate peer mentoring. Coaches need not have all the tech wisdom. Coaches can also assist teachers to share their knowledge and support mentor/learner partnerships between teachers via conference calls or video meetings. This is a time to cultivate peer mentoring and “think partners,” and coaches are uniquely positioned to know the strengths and needs of the individual teachers and grade levels, and harness the potential for new kinds of professional learning communities.

      ⁘ Planning lessons for teachers.

      Ordinarily, coaches support teachers to plan for class discussions. In a pandemic, however, coaches can ease the stress teachers may be feeling by creating model lessons for class discussions to support individual teachers or groups of teachers. In planning for an online lesson, it is important to consider how particular features of an online platform might be used to further particular learning goals. For example, what kinds of questions might be more productively taken up in whole group discussion or small group breakout sessions? Students can sometimes get antsy sitting in online discussions—what kinds of activities (e.g., polls, responding to teacher questions in the chat feature, doing a stop and jot on sticky notes to share onscreen) might be useful for helping students stay engaged in the discussion?

      ⁘ Choosing texts.

      Something to consider in lesson planning is that students may miss multiple days of school. It might be a good idea to plan around short texts that contain sufficient grist to support a rich online discussion but would not pose a barrier to students reengaging in discussions after several absences. Another consideration is that students are likely to feel more disconnected from school when attending online than when they are attending in person, in addition to grappling with challenges and hardships. We always want students to read engaging texts. But now more than ever is a time to think about texts that will pique student interest and get them thinking, but not require extensive scaffolding to wade through the language. Notably, if groups of teachers want to use the lessons, as described earlier, coaches could engage the teachers in a run through of the lesson with the teachers providing instruction around the platform use throughout.

      ⁘ Reestablishing a positive professional collaboration. 

      In the same way that teachers need to reestablish their classroom learning community when they move to an online format, it is important that coaches work to reestablish their professional learning communities with teachers when coaching remotely. Now more than ever, the balance of content for initial coaching conversations, if not all coaching conversations, will require much more time upfront supporting the social emotional aspect of professional collaboration. Teachers, like many other Americans, are stressed, anxious, lonely, fearful for loved ones, and/or may be experiencing financial distress. Many of their students are also facing significant hardships. Listening to teachers speak to their own experience and concerns is important for both supporting teachers emotionally and helping coaches gauge the kinds of options to pursue together, based on each teacher’s interest and readiness to try new things—one new thing or many new things. Some teachers might feel ready to learn all of the ins and outs of a platform; other teachers might want to move a little slower if they are feeling overwhelmed.

      ⁘ Reestablishing a positive professional collaboration. 

      Although the sense of co-accountability and collaborative problem solving may already be a foundation for your coach-teacher relationships, it is incumbent upon coaches to reframe an inquiry stance in light of this moment. Reminding teachers that we, as a national and global educational community, are all learning together right now, positions discussions to lean into tests of small change. Cultivating an inquiry stance about technology options and which factors seem to be supporting or impeding student learning is critical. Additionally, focusing on student engagement, which is easier to assess and address in-person, requires a critical stance.

      Adopting an inquiry stance also can help draw teachers’ (and coaches’) attention to some of the potential affordances of online instruction—for now and for later. Many teachers are reporting that some students participate more in this online environment and some participate less. By studying student engagement, coaches can support teachers to notice aspects of online instruction that support the majority of students as well as specific students. Again, approaching this as an inquiry allows actual study to occur. It may well be that some students will be most supported with a part of their day online, even when instruction becomes in-person again.

       

      ® Accountable Talk is a registered trademark of the University of Pittsburgh.
      Tagged with: Academic Rigor, Accountable Talk® Discussions, ELA, Equitable Instruction, High-Level Tasks / Curriculum, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Instructional Coaching, Online Instruction, Principles of Learning, Reading / Comprehension

      Translating Accountable Talk® Practices Between In-Person and Virtual Teaching

      By Jazmin Rotger de Parra and Kristin Nuñez

      Teaneck Public Schools

      Like many of you, we are still navigating the world of remote instruction and virtual classrooms while wanting to stay focused on providing academically rigorous instruction and having high expectations for all students.

      At the center of most of our decisions is the idea of instructional equity. Equity does not mean that every student should receive identical instruction. Instead, it demands that reasonable and appropriate accommodations be made as needed to promote access and attainment for all students (NCTM 2000)[i]. Up until now, the decisions that led to a greater degree of instructional equity largely occurred in schools and classrooms. But now we are having to apply all that we know about teaching and learning to maximize equitable opportunities for every one of our students in a world outside the school walls.

      …we are having to apply all that we know about teaching and learning to maximize equitable opportunities for every one of our students in a world outside the school walls.

      During the 2019-2020 school year, the use of Accountable Talk practices was a pedagogical foci for our Grades 3–5 mathematics classrooms. Through our work, we incorporated and refined our use of discourse and supported students as they engaged in verbal, visual, and written communication. We increased opportunities for students to learn from one another through the collaborative clarifying of ideas, unpacking misconceptions, and making connections across different ways of doing mathematics. Because of our focus on the use of Accountable Talk practices in the classroom, we know how important talk is to developing mathematical understanding. And even in the time of COVID we are continually trying and tweaking different ideas and approaches during online instruction to foster a learning community that engages in meaningful math discussions that advances student understanding.

      Mrs. Nuñez is one of our third grade teachers, and she continues to reimagine instruction while holding students and the role of instructional conversation at the center of her efforts. Read on as she describes her first-hand experience with establishing Accountable Talk discussions in her classroom and then transitioning to accountable communication between and among her students and herself in an online world.

      Why focus on talk, and specifically, the use of Accountable Talk practices?

      From the moment a new group of learners come together, establishing community is vital for their academic success, and the foundation of the community is talk. Skillful teachers recognize the power in leveraging talk to guide understanding and collaboratively construct knowledge.

      Building the community this year has been a bit different because we started the school year working online. For the first couple weeks of virtual learning, we engaged in many whole group conversations about respect, uniqueness, and culture. We centered our conversations around read alouds that focused on different social emotional skills. Over the course of a week, we developed class promises to hold each other accountable for our learning and make the most of our time together.

      How have you been able to capitalize on the unique opportunity to build community from a distance while students are at home?

      Even though I miss teaching in-person, one of the advantages of our current situation is that we have been able to truly expand the walls of the classroom to better encompass students’ lives at home. We unpacked and shared elements of our cultures to learn more about one another. From morning meetings and brain breaks to icebreakers and structured assignments, our classroom community is building a foundation of patience, perseverance, and celebration, which is integral to establishing community both virtually and in-person.

      How did you start using Accountable Talk practices during instruction?

      There is an assumption that students know how to talk about their thinking; however, this specific type of discourse needs to be explicitly modeled and practiced. Students need opportunities to engage in academic talk that leads to learning. Accountable Talk stems on charts or flip-rings can be used as scaffolded support and referred to during discussions. Similar approaches can be used when working online. Talk stems work because they provide students with diverse backgrounds a common language with a specific, intended conversational purpose to use during our discussions. As students take ownership of what it means to be accountable to their learning community, to accurate knowledge, and to rigorous thinking and truly internalize the expectations, academic conversations flourished, providing rich opportunities for students to build knowledge together and think deeply about content.

      What conversation dynamics do you plan for during your instructional minutes?

      At the beginning, we do a lot of partner and whole group discussion, and within that I balance student voices and keep mine to a minimum.

      After routinely hearing and engaging in Accountable Talk discussions as a whole group, the students adopt the language practices and lead their own conversations—acknowledging and building on each other’s ideas, questioning one another, and supporting claims with evidence. The conversations can seem almost natural in small group discussions, partner conversations, and conferences with me.

      I plan for a combination of teacher to student(s) and student(s)-student(s) discussions.

      What challenge(s) have you faced integrating Accountable Talk practices into instruction, in person and online? How have you met the challenge(s)?

      Though the path to having a language-rich classroom sounds easy, it is not. Not all students are comfortable exposing their thinking, especially when they are aware of the expectation that thinking can (and should) be questioned and challenged. As an adult, it is hard to feel comfortable with the idea that after sharing my best thinking, I am going to have to explore it more deeply—and publicly.

      It takes time and intention to create an instructional space where students feel safe enough to willingly take these risks. Since some students may feel more comfortable than others with this exploratory thinking and talking, I have to think critically about the ways in which equity and engagement intersect.

      One of the ways I’ve met this challenge, both in person and online, is by establishing expectations for participation. Within the structure and routine of a lesson, I find a variety of ways for students to participate. Everyone gets time to work on and is responsible for working on the problem independently. When working in-person, I have them talk with a partner who works at a similar skill level and pace. Then I have two partner groups talk with each other before we have our grand conversation as a whole class.

      When working online, the students share their thinking in a variety of ways. One low-risk way I got them started was by using polls. The polls let me do quick whole class snapshots, and, using follow up “why” questions, let me hear from individual students about their thinking. I also have them use a collaboration board to share their thinking with others after working independently. They use a shared white boards or Google slide in breakout groups. I’ve had students take pictures and send them to me to share with the group. These intentional decisions are the scaffolds for supporting students as they grow their own Accountable Talk practices. Through these efforts my students are more comfortable taking academic risks and have learned the value in hearing and seeing diverse ideas from all members of our classroom learning community.

      Say more about how and why you used the collaboration board with students.

      When we first started digital learning, I was losing students left and right. Students and families struggled with using the attachments in “order” or had difficulty toggling between multiple sources. I needed to regain control of the wheel, so I researched and experimented with different apps and resources to better guide students in their virtual learning spaces. I searched for digital ways to increase and improve collaborative interactions among the members of our learning community.

      I embedded virtual drawing and collaboration boards to engage students in our learning community. Virtual drawing boards allowed students to share their processes and thinking. These boards gave me an opportunity to digitally “walk” through my classroom—to listen in on student conversations, provide feedback through assessing and advancing questions, and make adjustments to my instructional practice. Collaboration boards provided students the ability to respond to the content and each other.

      What else did you consider when making decisions about platforms?

      These instructional decisions empowered students and created space for them to use their voices. It was important that I strategically chose platforms where they could share their diverse ideas in this virtual space not just with me, the teacher, but also with each other.

      Jazmin Rotger de Parra is the Supervisor of Instructional Programs – Mathematics and Kristin Nuñez is a Third Grade Teacher at Teaneck Public Schools.

      IFL Step Back

      Mrs. Nuñez’s story illustrates the art and science of teaching. She tried several small tests of change as she translated her Accountable Talk practices from in-person to online instruction.

      • Honor students for who they are and all that they bring to the classroom.
      • Make time for and expect talk from students.
      • Provide scaffolds for students to support them as they engage in learning discussions.
      • Allow for a range of communication dynamics.Plan and experiment with different ways of getting students to collaborate and communicate with each other using pictures, images, and written words in addition to spoken words.

      Click here to tell us how you are translating Accountable Talk practices during your online, in-person, or hybrid teaching. We want to celebrate your successes and support you in facing the challenges.

      [i] p. 12. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.
      Accountable Talk is a registered trademark of the University of Pittsburgh.
      Tagged with: Accountable Talk® Discussions, Agency and Voice, Equitable Instruction, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Math, Online Instruction, Partner Spotlight, Principles of Learning