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Mathematics Instruction with an Equity Lens

SRI International
   Deborah Jonas & Kerry Friedman
L-Evation
   Meaghan Cochrane

Pam Buffington models classroom strategies that promote equity and access in mathematics at the REL Appalachia Governing Board Meeting in Frankfort, Kentucky

Pam Buffington models classroom strategies that promote equity and access in mathematics at the REL Appalachia Governing Board Meeting in Frankfort, Kentucky

“What is the word problem about?” Pam Buffington, REL Appalachia (REL AP) Student Success in Mathematics partnership lead, asks an engaged crowd of education leaders during the October 2019 REL AP Governing Board meeting. “Proportions,” one participant answered. Buffington writes “Proportions” on the board and repeats, “What is the problem about?” Another participant says, “It's about friends sharing jellybeans.” Buffington was engaging participants in the three reads strategy (learn more about the three reads strategy) for approaching complex word problems. The three reads strategy asks students to read the problem three times, each time considering a different prompt: the context of the problem, the purpose or what they are being asked to do, and the important information. This example engaged participants in making sense of a language-rich math task, an approach that can help create an equitable math learning experience for all learners.

Buffington and Toya Frank, REL Appalachia experts on equity in mathematics education, delivered a hands-on experience for Governing Board members to explore various means to provide high-quality, evidence-based mathematics instruction with an equity lens. Buffington and Frank highlighted the importance of developing the depth of skills, knowledge, and understanding necessary for success in algebra and higher-level mathematics courses for all students—particularly for students from groups for whom data often show gaps in algebra readiness, including students who are English learners, belong to a racial or ethnic minority group, have learning disabilities, or are economically disadvantaged.

What does equity look like?

Governing Board participants brainstorm operationalizing equity in mathematics education

Governing Board participants brainstorm operationalizing equity in mathematics education

Following the modeling activity, Frank led participants through a brainstorming session on operationalizing equity, exploring the key question: What does equity look like in mathematics education?

Governing Board members noted that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to equity in mathematics education, and we cannot achieve equity by promoting sameness or taking a “color-blind” approach to teaching. They shared their ideas for what equity could look like in mathematics, including making activities accessible to the learner, providing opportunities with differentiated support, holding students to the same expectations while having different pathways to get there, and being inclusive.

Frank remarked, “If we think only about content and pedagogy, we won't get to equity in mathematics education,” and challenged the group to capitalize on diversity as a springboard for learning and to consider various means by which students of differing abilities, cultures, communities, languages, and socioeconomic statuses can gain knowledge in mathematics. One way for educators to continuously consider equity in their mathematics instruction is through regular reflection on who is actively participating in mathematics learning in their classrooms and how. Frank shared the following guiding questions to support this reflection:

  • What is the range of ways that students can and do participate in the mathematical work of the class (including talking, writing, leaning in, listening hard, manipulating symbols, making diagrams, interpreting text, using manipulatives, connecting different ideas)?
  • Which students participate in which ways? Which students are most active, and when?
  • What opportunities do various students have to make meaningful mathematical contributions?
  • What teacher actions might expand students' access to meaningful participation (for example, modeling ways to participate, holding students accountable, pointing out students' successful participation)?
  • How are norms, interactions, lesson structures, task structure, and particular resources facilitating or inhibiting participation for particular students?
  • What are the language demands of participating in the mathematical work of this class (for example, academic vocabulary, mathematical discourse practices)?
  • How can we support the development of students' academic language?
  • How can we support particular students we are concerned about?

Resources for Ongoing Learning

Interested in learning more and finding tools to help you bring an equity lens to mathematics teaching and learning? Here are some resources to explore.