Combating Status Issues in a Student Centered Classroom

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Sharon Rendon, Coaching Coordinator,

Each of the standards for mathematical practice begins with the words, “Mathematically proficient students will”, not “Teachers will.” Research on effective mathematics instruction clearly articulates the need to transform secondary math classrooms from being teacher centered to more student centered. When classrooms experience this transformation it is possible that status issues may arise. While in a teacher centered classroom, there is clearly one person with the status in the room, however in a student centered classroom there may still be only a handful of people with status. If you have study teams that are primarily dominated by one student or other students choose to wait for the “smart” kids to contribute, there are status issues that must be addressed so that every student has a voice, equal status, and meaningful opportunities to consider the mathematics.

I was able to attend a session at the NCSM Annual Conference this last month in which teachers from the Delaware Mathematics Coalition shared what they have been learning about this issue of status in their student centered classrooms. Their work began by examining video clips of lessons, when they noticed that issues of status were occurring in their classrooms. Once they became aware of the issues they started working together to consider strategies and norms that would support their work in promoting more equitable learning environments in their classrooms and schools. They have been trying to incorporate six strategies that are fairly simple to implement and have shown to help improve status issues.

  • Incorporate Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces – Having teams work at the board, on whiteboard walls or reusable poster paper, promotes risk-taking and gives more opportunities for students to showcase their ideas to both peers and teacher. It also helps to build their status in a safe space; gives opportunities for inter- and intra-team collaboration and reinforces the belief that math is a social construct stemming from multiple people in the class.
  • Teach students about Rough-Draft Talk (a.k.a. Exploratory Talk) – When students adjust their thinking that the first version of thinking is just an initial “rough draft” there are more opportunities for all students to add value to class and raise status. With this idea students can identify as meaningful contributors to the class and see the class as a safe space for risk-taking.
  • Independent think time before team collaboration – Insisting on this time gives students opportunity to craft their own ideas to bring to the team discussion; without this time some students will cede the discussion and thinking to more vocal group members. This small amount of time gives students a chance to invest themselves in the problem, which will motivate them to share in their team.
  • Randomized teams more frequently even as often as daily – When students cannot consistently rely on a “stronger” teammate an expectation is created that everyone works every day and works with all their classmates. This strategy prevents students from identifying/classifying “smart/dumb” teams and greatly reduces social status issues. It also fosters reliance on co-constructed inter- and intra-team knowledge since students are working with new teammates more often.
  • Encourage Multidimensionality and Multiple Abilities – Both researchers Boaler and Cohen have articulated the importance of creating a classroom environment that celebrates multiple strengths in students. In these spaces there are additional opportunities for students to demonstrate competency while instilling a multiple abilities mindset. Students can begin to see strengths and competencies in their peers outside of traditional metrics.
  • Building on student mistakes – In order to reduce the pressure on students in class, many recent studies suggest de-emphasizing the focus on always getting the right answer. Allowing for more openness of math demonstrates to low-status students that high-status students make mistakes too. This strategy helps equalize the room by communicating to all students it is okay to make mistakes, so making mistakes does not negatively impact a student’s status.

In a student centered classroom opportunities to meaningfully engage in the mathematics can be and often are powerful experiences for participating students; unfortunately, these opportunities are not being equitably accessed when high status students frequently dominate these opportunities as low-status students passively observe. Teachers need to build awareness of status issues and be intentional about creating an environment that levels the status. Start by collecting evidence of teams either by video taping or having a peer or coach collect data for part of a lesson focusing on one or two teams. Then make a plan to begin incorporating some of these strategies.

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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

The Building on Instructional Practice Series consists of three different events – Building on Discourse, Building on Assessment, Building on Equity – that are designed for teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM instructional materials and who have completed the Foundations for Implementation Series.

Building on Equity

In Building on Equity, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Essential questions include: How do I shift dependent learners into independent learners? How does my own math identity and cultural background impact my classroom? The focus of day one is equitable classroom culture. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture. The focus of day two and three is implementing equitable tasks. Participants will develop their use of the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Meaningful Mathematical Discussions and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will use an equity lens to reflect on and revise their Chapter 1 lesson plans.

Building on Assessment

In Building on Assessment, participants will apply assessment research and develop methods to provide feedback to students and inform equitable assessment decisions. On day one, participants will align assessment practices with learning progressions and the principle of mastery over time as well as write assessment items. During day two, participants will develop rubrics, explore alternate types of assessment, and plan for implementation that supports student ownership. On the third day, participants will develop strategies to monitor progress and provide evidence of proficiency with identified mathematics content and practices. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

In Building on Discourse, participants will improve their 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 rich tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices incorporated through intentional and reflective planning.