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Assumption Paper 1

By: Germaine Marie Iglesias

Teaching mathematics has gone through many facelifts over the past few
decades. This evolution is a result of the demands of todays work force and
more importantly, technological innovation. The educational system
attempts to address this by providing professional development to educators
centered on effective instructional strategies for teaching and learning, but
the question is, is this enough? The following narrative accounts for my
experiences as a teacher transitioning into an Instructional Leader.
I started my teaching career at Agana Heights Elementary in the late 90s.
The manner in which I taught math mirrored my Master teachers teaching
style. I followed the content standards and performance indicators by cherry
picking what I felt my intermediate students needed to know for the next
grade level. I used the textbook to guide me with what content to teach. The
vehicles for teaching were simple; I taught the lesson using the textbook and
then gave students opportunities to practice individually. The emphasis was
mainly on isolated procedural memorization of skills. I rarely went through
processes that required critical thinking. If I did, it was because the textbook
had a problem solving question at the end of the unit. My goal at the time
was to finish the textbook. I wanted my students to be exposed to the breath
of the content, not necessarily the depth. I didnt employ any type of
effective instructional strategy. In my mind, I knew I had to use concrete
materials to accompany my lesson practice sessions.
I assumed, if I finished the entire textbook, then, my students would be ready
for the next grade level. The next assumption that followed was, if I provided
manipulatives, my students would acquire the target skill.
Looking back, I now know that I didnt understand the root of the skills
embedded in the standards. The professional development opportunities
afforded to me at the time were limited to asking my former Master teacher
or a fellow colleague. No one ever provided me with feedback so that I could
improve my lesson delivery or learning forum. So, I assumed that teaching to
the textbook, cherry picking standards and providing manipulatives was the
correct way to teach students math.
A few years later, the district attempted to work on the first phase of the
metaphorical facelift. It started to adopt reform programs targeting low
performing students. The actual curriculum became secondary to these

reform programs, later known as Direct Instruction (DI). The assumption

here was that this program would address all low performing Elementary
level students. For the most part, the program had some impact on
instruction but, did not allow for growth beyond the higher levels of the
depths of knowledge. The teaching remained the same, teachers stuck to a
scripted textbook and the goal was to finish certain lessons by the end of the
year. The professional growth catered to the program. The training centered
on fidelity and the structured ways to teach the direct instruction math
lessons. That is using clapping, tone and pacing. Even years later, the math
instruction didnt have much depth to the teaching with regards to student
thinking on their own.
In 2009, I decided to re-enter the administrative field as an instructional
leader. During that time period, the teachers at the school I am currently
assigned to, stopped using the Direct Instruction reform program. There was
a period of disarray. Teachers were trying to revisit how to teach without the
DI structured script. They ended up relying heavily on the textbook and
worksheets to facilitate math lessons. Collaboration with regards to student
progress was not evident during these years, nor was essential/ target skills
or common assessments.
My observations of the way teachers taught math mirrored the way I use to
teach math in the early years of my career. The instruction relied heavily on
the teacher directing the learning and not the student. The concepts grazed
the surface level of the depths of knowledge. It rarely required the students
to dig deep, find meaning to the concepts and then apply what they learned.
Teachers continued to teach abstract math concepts using the textbook and
a worksheet.
The most recent facelift the department had undergone was the adoption of
the common core state standards in 2012. Along with an awareness phase,
everyone had to unpack the standards and make meaning of what the
teaching expectation was for each math standard. In addition, there were
mathematical practices or ways of thinking tied along to the CCSS math
expectations. I was privileged to attend training that built my capacity as an
administrator. The training revealed that the manner in which teaching was
occurring defied the laws of effective teaching and what students needed to
succeed in the real world. Skills such as critical, global and collaboration
were not fostered. Almost immediately professional development started to
focus on how to collaborate as a team, use effective instructional strategies
and understand target standards and skills. Teaching now became a

collaborative effort that was supposed to be guaranteed and viable. Not to

mention teaching math to test every three weeks using a common formative
assessment. With all these mechanisms in place, one would assume that
effective teaching would yield high student achievement. This was not
necessarily the case.
I assumed that if I provided multiple opportunities for district level and school
wide professional development centered on all that was mentioned above,
students would be exposed to critical, global and collaborative style thinking
while being engaged in math lessons.
Yet, I was more than baffled at what the data revealed form the mini
observations. Maths instructional component showed less than 1% of rigor
and was mainly teacher led. After reflecting on the data and analyzing what
exactly wasnt being done, I came to one conclusion.
Teachers did not understand how critical it was for students to make
meaningful connections of the foundational concepts. They didnt
understand that the concepts werent meant to be taught in isolation.
Students were rarely given opportunities to own their learning by using
critical thinking skills for application.
With this data, I knew that the focus of professional development needed to
be on strategies that yielded more rigor and relevance. In February of this
school year, PD centered on rigor in the classroom. Almost immediately, my
mini observations went from worksheets to students standing in front of the
class explaining in partner groups, why fractions were simplified. The new
face of teaching mathematics today, includes collaboration amongst the
team members in a vertical and horizontal fashion. Teachers cant cherry
pick standards but are expected to follow the staircase of complexity.
Teaching must include rigor and relevance with opportunities to make
students own their thinking rather than teachers doing all the learning. There
is a great deal of work that needs to be done with regards to changing the
mindset of teachers and students. That includes revisiting the mathematical
practices regularly. It isnt enough to teach directly from a textbook using a
worksheet to assess learning. After all, when was the last time you walked
into any store that had paper or manual machines to provide you with a total
for your items? Or how uncommon is it for a two year old to be seen
navigating a mini IPAD? The ways we see our world is every changing and
teaching and learning must reflect that.