Anita, Math Teaching, and the System

I had coffee today with Anita, one of the year 10 teachers in our longitudinal study. She was in my School & Society course (foundations course) in initial teacher education and I have observed and interviewed her each year since. She is a very strong teacher in every way, but has just moved to a new school and is facing some challenges. She said about 40% of her grade 4/5 class have very low SES backgrounds and the government is reducing special education support, ostensibly to promote inclusion but actually to save money. One thing she talked about relates to how difficult it is to teach math skills and concepts without concerted system direction and teacher training (as noted in my previous posting about the PISA results). She said it will probably take most of the year to teach her class how to do a 3-part math lesson (direct instruction/group work/whole-class discussion), whereas if the whole school was doing it and all the teachers had been trained in it she could have used this approach immediately. We also talked about how the principal needs to provide leadership in getting all the teachers pulling together around such pedagogy, but principals aren’t being trained in this role or receiving a consistent message that it’s a major part of their job. Anita, then, has to fine-tune and prioritize her teaching activities largely on her own (there are effectively 2 PD days a year), hoping to survive and thrive as a teacher and be there for her students. Clive

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2 thoughts on “Anita, Math Teaching, and the System

  1. Some questions pundits in the media and in other blogs seem to ignore include.
    – What aspects of mathematics (note it is a plural word) should every citizen have? Given how politicians in all parties at all levels can’t agree on numbers that come up in their portfolios (how much spending / saving? is it meaningful? it is wise?) we need to be better. Politicians need to take responsibility for setting a poor standard for the rest of us.
    – What aspects of mathematics are needed for specific vocational needs? The answer to this might be similar to the answer to the “citizen math” question.
    – What aspects are needed for post secondary math needed at a professional level- scientists, engineers, etc?
    – Does the math PISA examines meet criteria for answering any of the above questions?
    – Will adding more math time in math class improve the learning, assuming we have satisfactory answers to the above questions or might we have more cohesion with other subject areas that require numeracy such as science and the geographic components of social studies?
    – Will adding more math time come at a cost other areas of the curriculum such as
- citizenship and democratic participation
- global perspective taking and understanding how the rest of the world works
- appreciation of music and the other arts
- physical fitness and healthy living Given the state of the air pollution in Shanghai I wonder if their curriculum is “balanced”.
    I have quite enjoyed the discussion here. Thanks for tipping me off about this, Claire.
    Now how do we get our messages out to the public? This may be the most challenging question of all.

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