Mark Coté, CPM Project Manager
Only twelve short months ago, the idea of kickstarting a program for continually investigating instructional improvements was just that, an idea. But such a solitary spark has been responsible for many a transformation in the history of mathematics education. And so it is today. With several thousand hours of inquiry, data analysis, and reflection under its collective belt, the CPM Teaching Redesign Corps has become CPM’s idea engine.
“We have spent the last 25 years creating text books to realize our vision…now is the time to put people and intellectual effort into improving how the current books are used,” was the charge shared by Tom Sallee during the TRC’s inception in the spring of 2014. By simply asking, “What if…?” the twenty seven participating teachers who gathered in Baltimore last summer turned the ignition switch and set the pedagogical power plant in motion.
With plans for improving study team structure, student engagement, questioning strategies, mind set behavior, and consolidation in place, the eight cohorts made changes in teacher behavior (x), and then meticulously scrutinized the effects on student learning (y). Monthly Skype meetings helped teams refine proposals, clarify procedures, fine-tune operational definitions, adjust data collection instruments, and share findings. Each teacher also found time to reflect on their classroom observations and insights by keeping a weekly personal journal.
By the end of autumn, it became clear that numerous x ? y relational understandings were emerging, especially in the area of mindset. Differences in student learning behavior were significant enough to warrant sharing findings at the CPM National Conference in February. Presenting to a standing-room only crowd, TRC members Mark Atkinson, Beckie Frisbee, Natalie Ijames, Beth Johnson, and Mark Ray offered detailed accounts of their investigations. Instructional changes included dedicating a small portion of the week to helping students understand brain development, coaching students to foster a growth mindset, altering assessment activities to encourage perseverance, and harnessing the power of learning from mistakes. As one conference attendee put it, “Wow! Cool to hear the struggles and successes of the panel. Time to get more out about mind-set. Thanks for plenty to think about.” CPM plans to do just that. A first writing session designed to explore the possibilities of incorporating these new ideas into curriculum and professional development is on the calendar.
TRC members were not the only ones gaining new realizations as the investigations unfolded. Mid-year, Tom told the CPM Board of Directors, “We now understand that this entire endeavor is an organic process and change will be the rule rather than the exception for all concerned throughout the year. Regular feedback is even more critical than previously imagined.” In addition to change, flexibility and interest also became the rules as each TRC member honed in on a specific facet that fell within a core set
of group activities.
With the target of fostering a growth mindset, Christy McConnell challenged her students to set ambitious goals. “I like the goal setting I’ve been doing. I’ve already noticed a change in student behavior. It seems to be another channel toward building perseverance. Overall, I’ve noticed a big difference (attitude of writing goals and quality of steps to achieve goals) from the first time. Students ramped up the seriousness/importance of writing goals as they saw more success from their prior experience. The first time I did the goal writing activity, students got busy quickly and did what I asked. The second time they went to work with more of a purpose, and I thought the overall product was better for more students. I think one of my kids said it best when he stated, ‘This gives me a great sense of direction and a good map.’”
John Hayes and his team wondered how a teacher might improve questioning practices. He collected data about his frequency and sequencing of the four levels of questions that teachers generally ask. As he analyzed the data, subtle tendencies in his questioning patterns began to emerge. “The questioning level is often determined by the previous question I ask. Oftentimes, when I question at a level 2 (‘How’ without a context), I am trying to scaffold the problem for the student. If I just questioned at a higher level, I could avoid the scaffolding. I think as a teacher, I like to scaffold for students because I get to see the ‘a-ha’ moment immediately, but as an educator I know this isn’t always necessary. If I question at a higher level, the students are often able to scaffold themselves. Students are much more capable of thinking than we give them credit for.” When asked about participating in TRC 1.0, John commented, “How often do you get to sit in a room of teachers that are open-minded enough to change their teaching methods, and motivated enough to actually complete the process? It really is impressive how much room there is for improvement if you make the decision to improve.”
Many additional key insights for improving student learning have emerged. Penny Smitts said, “Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate! Any opportunity to have students consolidate their learning about a topic or idea should be taken. Giving students the time to reflect about their learning through writing is a key component to checking their understanding of a concept. When this writing is paired with peer discourse, it helps solidify the consolidation of learning for students and it affords them the opportunity to add additional ideas to their own written response.”
As far as any permanent changes in her own teacher behavior, Penny noted, “This journey has shown me that if I am faced with time constraints within the classroom, eliminating the learning logs is not the answer. I have come to realize the power and importance of having students consolidate their thoughts and ideas through writing learning logs. Students need time to reflect on their learning and they need an avenue to do so. My students have shown me that not only is the writing important, but the discourse among peers about the writing is also a key component to further consolidate their learning. In order for students to truly grow, they need to read, hear, and discuss other’s written consolidations.”
Brenda Linebaugh noted a fundamental shift in her role as a secondary mathematics teacher. Good curriculum is only the beginning. “As a teacher, I have learned that these ‘non-math’ skills, like asking higher order questions, can be threaded throughout the course. Student-generated questions can build upon and improve the math instruction and learning. I could say I knew that before, but I never really put it into practice to the extent I did this year. I have become more cognizant of the process of layering new skills that lead to the desired result of better student questioning. I have kept the end goal in mind, and I keep that focus throughout my lessons. It has become part of the learning atmosphere.”
The wheels are in motion. Every member has discovered at least one original, significant strategy that will become a permanent addition to their teaching repertoire. New ideas about how to redesign teaching are gaining traction thanks to the inaugural efforts of TRC 1.0 members Mark Atkinson, Beth Baker, Bruce Brusoe, Kerry Cardoza, Cisco Cox, Jocelyn Dunnack, Geoffrey Enriquez, Beckie Frisbee, John Hayes, Natalie Ijames, Lisa Jasumback, Beth Johnson, Tanya Lantrip, Pam Lindemer, Brenda Linebaugh, Alan Little, Christy McConnell, Sarah Morrison, Mark Ray, Meghan Sanders, Valerie Scott, Staci Shackleford, Penny Smits, Jerry Yoder, Jeanne Villeneuve, Heather Wade, and Bonnie Walczak.
Since it is our intent that CPM continues to be a place where good teachers can and do contribute good ideas, TRC 2.0 will cross the starting line in late June. If you would like to join in this endeavor and make a contribution to CPM’s ever-growing encyclopedia of teacher-based knowledge about curriculum design and effective instruction, please contact Mark Coté at email@example.com.