Change your Language, Change the World

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Mark Ray, Sun Prairie, WI  markray@cpm.org

In February, I attended an Eric Jensen workshop in San Antonio, TX to learn more about supporting students who struggle in math. Eric was a compelling speaker, interesting person, and much of what he said resonated with me. During the workshop, one of his constant reminders was to be mindful of the detrimental language and thinking that can be used about students. Finger pointing, as he often called it, is also known as deficit language or deficit thinking. Reflecting on this was really an eye-opening experience and definitely changed my life. It is now a goal of mine to change the world by changing our language through awareness. The following information is intended to engage you in a way to raise awareness about deficit language and deficit thinking.

Read the following hypothetical teacher quotes and think about how language like this impacts teacher and student actions.

If my low students would just do their homework…
Oh, my honors class, I’m not worried about them.
They just can’t read the text.
There are always a couple who don’t care in each class.
There isn’t much hope for Joe Student.
There is not much we can do for those kids.

Even if these statements were made behind closed doors, I would argue they frame thinking in a way that is not supportive for any student.

Deficit thinking can also extend to how tasks may be modified. Consider the following task (that has not been modified) and think about how a student might answer this question.

Now consider a situation where the task has been modified to “meet the needs” of “those kids who need it.” As you complete this task, ask yourself, “How has the cognitive demand of the task changed?”

I do not necessarily want to tell you how the cognitive demand has changed, but I do want to mention one possible situation to consider. What if a student sees cubes? What now? It is important to remember that students who struggle still need support. The goal is to support productive struggle without reducing cognitive demand. (If you cannot see the cubes look at Figure 2 and adjust your eyes as if you are looking at a 3D poster). My hope is that by raising awareness about deficit language and deficit thinking we can be mindful of our language and actions. Maybe we can catch ourselves in moments of deficit thinking and learn to prevent these moments.

I recently conducted a professional development workshop and did a very short segment on deficit language with my participants to raise awareness. After the segment, a special education support staff member attending the workshop pulled me aside and said, “I’m not sure you have thought of it this way, but CPM is probably preventing suicides with this.” This powerful feedback, to me, is proof we can change the world.

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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

This series contains three different courses, taken in either order. The courses are designed for schools and teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM curriculum materials. Teachers will develop further understanding of strategies and tools for instructional practices and assessment.

Building on Equity

In this course, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their  classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for implementing Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Follow-up during the school year will support ongoing implementation of equitable classroom practices.

Building on Assessment

In this course, participants will apply assessment research to develop methods to provide feedback to students and to inform equitable assessment decisions. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

This professional learning builds upon the Foundations for Implementation Series by improving teachers’ ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rigorous, team-worthy tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.