Episode #133: How To Remove Tracking From Your Math Program – An OAME 2021 Panel Discussion
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Today we have a special treat for your ears! We recently held a live panel discussion at the annual OAME Conference (Ontario Association of Mathematics) on de-streaming the grade 9 math program here in Ontario with some pretty special guests!
We were honoured to host Dr. Christine Suurtamm who is a Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Ottawa, Hema Khodai, an Instructional Resource Teacher with Peel District School Board, Mark Chubb, a classroom teacher and past instructional coach, and finally Jason To who is a Coordinator for Secondary Mathematics and Academic Pathways with the TDSB.
In this deep discussion we discuss the benefits of de-tracking or de-streaming as it helps to break down barriers that prevent marginalized students from an equal opportunity to succeed, thrive, and reach their full potential.
- What our panelists are looking forward to most for this first year of de-streamed grade 9 mathematics?
- Some of the common challenges educators are concerned about with the introduction of an untracked grade 9 mathematics curriculum.
- How we can work towards meeting the needs of all learners in a de-streamed program.
- What supports the Ministry of Education, districts, schools and other education stakeholders can put in place to support teachers in making this move forward.
- How we might shift our assessment and evaluation practices to better promote an assessment for learning culture.
Jason To: We are now embarking on this incredible learning opportunity for staff, and it's going to be challenging. We have been streaming for 150 years, give or take, minus a couple of years in the '90s. So it's going to take some time for educators to figure this out, and I think we have to give ourselves that permission to figure things out...
Kyle Pearce: Today we have a special treat for your ears and your eyes. We've recently held a live panel discussion at the annual OAME conference. Yes, that's right, that's the Ontario Association of Mathematics Educators, here in Ontario, on destreaming the grade nine math program here in Ontario, and we managed to pull on some pretty awesome guests.
Jon Orr: Yeah, we were honored to host Dr. Christine Suurtamm, who's a professor of mathematics education at the University of Ottawa, and also Hema Khodai, an instructional resource teacher with the Peel District School Board. We have Mark Chubb, a classroom teacher and past instructional coach, and finally, Jason To, who is a coordinator for secondary mathematics and academic pathways with the Toronto District School Board.
Kyle Pearce: Yes, in this deep discussion, we discuss the benefits of de-tracking, or in Ontario, as we call it, destreaming, as it helps to break down barriers that prevent marginalized students from an equal opportunity to succeed, thrive and reach their fullest mathematical potential. Jon, are you ready to do this?
Jon Orr: Let's hit it.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are from makemathmoments.com, and we are two math teachers who, together...
Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of math moment-makers worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark curiosity...
Jon Orr: Fuel sense-making...
Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Jon, we are so pumped to dive into this panel discussion with so many of our fellow Ontario educators, and you know what? We were a little concerned, because we've never had this many guest on the show-
Jon Orr: That's true.
Kyle Pearce: ... at a single time, and actually we had a live audience. I felt like we were like Who's the Boss, where we're actually doing a live recording.
Jon Orr: A live studio audience?
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely, absolutely. But you know what? We didn't let it get off our game, or put us off our game. What we've got is an amazing panel discussion. Jon, what do you say we dive right into it?
Jon Orr: Yeah, before we dive right in, let's give the listeners here a little bit of background on that is, we hosted this live session at OAME, Kyle said that in the introduction, which is our annual conference here in Ontario, and we all gathered on Zoom and talked with questions, but what we did was, we polled the audience beforehand. So we polled Ontario educators all about different things that they want to ask us, but also the panelists, and what we got back was a good collection of questions.
They all centered around this idea that we themed that could be covered when we talk about destreaming our grade nine program, which is going to happen here in the next school year, which is a lot different than what, say, a lot of high school teachers have been used to. So we definitely dive into that conversation, so what you're going to hear is mostly the panelists talk about how they're addressing it, and why it's great, the benefits of it, and also some next steps and what to look for. So let's jump right in, Kyle, into that recording.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. We'll see you on the other side.
Bart: ... both at work and in our homes, on the ancestral lands and waters of all indigenous peoples, including First Nation, Inuit and Métis people in Ontario, who have left their footprints on Mother Earth before us. We want to show our respect for their contributions, past and present, and recognize the role of treaty-making in what is now Ontario.
Hundreds of years after the first treaties were signed, they are still relevant today. We have the responsibility to honor and respect the ancestors that walked before us, and all the wonderful elements of creation that exist.
We are grateful for the opportunity to gather on these territories and work in these communities. We must work towards reconciliation between indigenous people and all those who live on Turtle Island, also known as North America.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome, awesome, thank you so much there, Bart, and to the OAME team, thank you so much for coming up with such a cool and intriguing idea here for this session, and even just this format, this session format. We're honored, from the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast to essentially get an opportunity to chat with four awesome math educators, from the math education space, I should say, and to engage in some discussion around a lot of the topics that you folks in the chat brought up ahead of time. So, thank you again to Bart and the team from OAME 2021.
I'm going to do a shameless plug. I didn't tell Jon here about this, but next year, 2022, we are hosting, hopefully live, in person, face-to-face, here in Windsor, Ontario, Jon and I's neck of the woods, and Alice is here, she's on our committee with us, and we've got a great team, and we're really looking forward to having an amazing, amazing conference. Hopefully it'll be this rebirth of a face-to-face conference. So, that's the shameless plug for OAME 2022, and Jon, why don't we get right into things?
Jon Orr: Yeah.
Kyle Pearce: Let's introduce this panel.
Jon Orr: Right, yeah.
Kyle Pearce: Who are we going to introduce first?
Jon Orr: Now, before we get into the panel, I just wanted to touch on what you said, Kyle, about this brand-new idea. When we had this idea with Bart, and talking about like, "What are we going to do with the podcast at OAME?" we talked about hosting a live panel session, live podcast happening in real time, and I had this image, Bart, I'm not sure if you did too, when we first talked about this, that we're all sitting fireside, we're having this great conversation, and we're recording, we got these microphones recording us, and everyone else is here-
Kyle Pearce: We get Jason's microphone. You're going to hear it later, friends. Wait for it.
Jon Orr: Yeah, we're sitting there, the attendees are there, and we were face-to-face, I think, that was the way I was imagining this. But this year has been definitely challenging for all of us, and we're now here Zooming with all of you.
But yeah, let's get right into introducing our panel. Listeners of the podcast may have known that usually Kyle and I chat with one guest, and that's pretty much it. At most, we've had two guests. We've got four guests here to chat with here tonight, but let's get into introducing the panel. Once we introduce you, we're going to ask you just to say a couple of quick words about like, what's your math moment? What we mean by that is, we've all got... When we say math class, or math, there's this image that pops into your brain, like your mind's eye, that reminds you of like, "That's what I viewed math class as from a long time ago." It's like, this sticks with us, and we're going to ask you to just give a couple quick words about what your math moment is.
So, we've got no particular order here to introduce you guys, but first we'll introduce Christine Suurtamm, a professor of mathematics education at the University of Ottawa. Christine, welcome. What would be your math moment?
Christine Suurtamm: I'm thinking about it two ways. One is learning math, and the other is teaching math. So, my math moment learning math really is preschool. My dad was an accountant, my mom was an English teacher. Car rides were always practicing multiplication tables and spelling bees.
The nice thing, though, my dad had this early vision of number talk, so it wasn't just practicing those tables, it was talking about coming up with numbers, and how we come up with the answers.
In terms of teaching, though, I think my favorite math moment was, I was teaching a grade nine class, and we were doing all kinds of interesting things, and about eight weeks into the course, one girl looks at me and says, "When are we going to start math?" I just thought that was brilliant. So I think, "Mission accomplished," there.
Kyle Pearce: Oh, that's fantastic, and that's always great to hear. One thing that resonates with students, I heard that, is the thing I always loved was when students, when the bell would go and they'd say... And this didn't happen every day. I'm not trying to make it seem like it was amazing every single day, but when this happened, when students said, "Wow, that went by fast," that was my big feel-good crosstalk... Yeah, they didn't need to have to say, "Math was my favorite," or that this was the best lesson. Just the fact that the time flew by. Awesome, thank you so much for joining us here, Christine. I know you're working hard at the conference, like so many others, and presenting. So, yes, thanks so much.
I'm going to move on, next, I'm looking at my little Zoom panel here, and I see Jason is hanging out next to me right now, the way it's arranged on the screen, so I'm going to introduce Jason To. Jason is secondary mathematics and academic pathways coordinator with the TDSB, and I know Jason from way back when. I've always had a huge respect for your perspective, and something that really resonates with me, that I'll call a quick win, that resonated with me was recently when I came across Jason To's video that summarizes the history of academic streaming in Ontario.
So if you haven't seen that yet, definitely have a look. Type it into Google, it'll pop right up. I'll also fire it into the chat in just a moment, but do us a favor and don't watch it while the session's going on, right? Wait until after. But Jason, thank you so much for joining us here, and we want to know, Jason, what is that math moment that pops into your mind when you think about math or math class?
Jason To: Yeah, thanks for having me, guys. For me, I think based on the work that I'm doing, which is so much surrounding academic streaming and separating students by perceived ability was, when I was in grade nine, I was the last of the de-streamed group in Ontario. So there was no separation, everybody was in the same room. I remember, though, in one of the first few days, I took a test, which I thought was peculiar. Then, a few days after that, I had different people in my class. So, some people left and some people came, and I thought that was just weird. I mean, I had no idea what's going on. I'm just a kid. I'm just 14, or whatever, and looking back and hearing what happened, they actually decided to stream this de-streamed school, essentially, right?
So that's really helped to inform me in the work that I do, that we have to let every teacher understand why we're moving towards destreaming, because you can't have eyes everywhere. Schools are going to be able to do their own things if we don't let everybody understand why this is happening. So, that's the memory that I have, which is just this fuzzy moment in my math class, it was weird, and then, thinking back, how gross it was, I guess, that stands out in my mind.
Jon Orr: Interesting, and yeah, good points to spark us, too, because we're going to discuss this, and I'm really looking forward to discussing this. But I was one of the first students, when I was in grade nine, to be non-streamed. So I spent my grade nine class, as well, in a non-streamed class for all of my classes, not just mathematics. It's interesting that you had that streaming happen to you, and definitely want to chat about that here today.
But let's move on to introducing Hema Khodai. Hema is an instructional resource teacher for mathematics K-12 with the Peel District School board. Hema, how are you doing? And let us know your math moment.
Hema Khodai: I'm happy to be here this evening. My math moment that I'm recalling is from five years ago, when I entered a graduate program, and I was feeling capable and competent, confident in my learning skills. I felt disciplined and committed to this, and I was really, really excited. However, I found that the teaching and learning of mathematics had not evolved as I had evolved throughout my career.
So I enjoyed the learning, and I enjoyed the experience, but only because I've always enjoyed math. So that's a part of my mathematical identity that I carry with me, and I'm consciously aware of how my experiences and success shape my perspectives and values when it comes to the teaching and learning of mathematics.
Kyle Pearce: I've been having this conversation with many secondary teachers as we start to determine, what is it going to look like next year in grade nine with a de-streamed curriculum, the curriculum not being in the teachers' hands either is a bit of a challenge here, and we'll get into some of those details a little bit later. But that's something that I think secondary math teachers really struggle with, is this idea of being able to connect to this place where maybe you don't feel like you were understanding... You don't feel like math was your thing, quote, unquote, because maybe of prior experiences. And oftentimes, many teachers, not all, but many secondary teachers go into teaching mathematics because they enjoyed it, at least somewhat, right? And oftentimes that comes with maybe limited or less struggles than maybe some others may have had in their experience. So that's really interesting, and thank you for sharing.
I'd like to also introduce, and this is last, not least, Mark Chubb, who's hanging out with us, and I'm telling you, my friends, again, if you are on social media, if you are on Twitter in particular, Mark Chubb is someone you definitely want to give a follow to, because not only does he do a great job making you think about things maybe a little bit differently, he poses very purposeful questions, but he also comes up with some really interesting visuals for mathematics, and gets you thinking in those ways as well.
So, Mark is currently a classroom teacher, in elementary, I believe, and is a former instructional coach who has actually... Shocking, Mark, I didn't realize that you had made the transition back to the classroom, because last I remember, you were in that instructional coach position with the District School Board of Niagara. Mark, welcome. Do us a favor, give us a little bit of an idea of your math moment.
Mark Chubb: I'm going to take Christine's idea and share both my moment as a student and as an educator, because they contrast each other. I grew up with some wonderful teachers. I had teachers that loved problem-solving, probably years before it was popular. But my moment in high school that I remember was a teacher telling me that my grades on tests were no longer going to count, but only my attendance, and that was because I wasn't showing up to class. So I would just take the test and try to get away with it, and that speaks to how I viewed math. It was just getting the answer, right? If you get the answer, it was good enough. You can walk away from class, and you didn't need the other people there.
But for me, right now, my math moment is night-and-day the opposite. It's this idea of learning together, shared experiences, being confused and being unconfused together. Students saying, "Oh, I get it, let me help you out," and that exploration, problem-solving approach.
Jon Orr: Yeah, very good takeaway, I think, for all of us, and really looking forward to diving into lots of great discussions here with all of you. So let's get into our first question that we've got here for our panel. Now, just to give all the listeners and the attendees here in the live some background, we surveyed Ontario teachers a while back on what's on their minds, what would they like to ask if they had a chance to be in front of these wonderful educators. We gathered a number of questions, and then we also looked at similarities in questions, and looked at theming, and crafted some questions around that survey that we put out to Ontario educators.
The first one has to deal with the destreaming of mathematics, the course here in Ontario. Some might call this a first towards the Ontario Ministry of Education's commitment to addressing systemic discrimination, and helping to break down barriers for indigenous, and black, racialized students, maybe from low-income households, and students with disabilities, and other students with special education needs, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and thrive and reach their full potential.
So, for all of the live people here are teachers from Ontario, but if you're listening to this later, at a later date, currently here in Ontario, the grade nine program is streamed, which means that they're in tracks. They are placed or chosen different tracks based on teacher recommendations, parent recommendations, and they would go into that, and that limits some of their pathways, but also dictates where maybe their pathway is in the future. There's sometimes crossover, but sometimes it's tough to do that. So that's what streaming is. In Ontario here, we're trying something new but old, from the previous, and we're removing that streaming so that everyone in Ontario grade nine math will be in the same stream next year.
So, the question here from our listeners and from our Ontario educators here is, what are we looking forward to most about this upcoming school year, where we introduce this destreaming? So we're going to toss this one first to Christine. Christine, what are you looking forward to most about the destreaming of mathematics next year?
Christine Suurtamm: First of all, I think it's imperative that we de-stream. I mean, all students have the right to engage in rich mathematical tasks, and to engage in rich mathematical ideas. So I think what I'm looking forward to and what I'm hopeful about is, I'm hopeful that we approach this, as educators, with an open view, that we have that view that all students are capable and have the right to engage in rich mathematical tasks. I hope that we don't see what Jason experienced, which is streaming within a de-streamed class, and that can occur in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it's called grouping, or, "Well, I'll give you a different task, rather than that task."
So I am looking forward to teachers approaching this. This is a chance for us to play with these ideas, and it's a chance for us to engage students in some interesting tasks, not assume that they can't do them. Just give them space, and to have many different entry points, and to see not how we expect or necessarily have in our mind that they should solve it, but to open it up so that we create a risk-free space for them to show us what they know, and to use the mathematics that they know in their toolkit to be able to solve math problems.
You might need some scaffolding, but I picture that just in time, we don't know what students need until we give them a chance. So I think it's really important that the way that we're scaffolding the work that students do is by the kinds of questions we ask, prompting and probing and listening to their thinking. To me, that's the most important thing. So I'm looking forward to some open space.
Jon Orr: Awesome, yeah, open space is key, I think, for this new venture for us. Anyone else want to jump into the conversation here? Who would like to take it on next here? What are you looking forward to most in this destreaming for next year?
Hema Khodai: So, I am Hema Khodai. I'm a displaced refugee, living and working on stolen land, and I'm grappling with my identities as an Eelam Tamil woman who is currently surviving the Month of Remembrance while experiencing the daily triggers of violence in Palestine and in my island home.
I am also a mom to a gifted mind who's got an ancient soul, and I think I would describe myself as a professional troublemaker, and that comes from Luvvie Jones' book, and she describes a professional troublemaker as one who is committed to speaking to truth, and showing up always as themselves, and someone who is almost unable to bow in the face of a world that demands it.
That captures, for me, what I'm looking for in terms of returning to the classroom in September, to a de-streamed classroom. I am most looking forward to the interplay of identities and full selves, that open space that Dr. Suurtamm talks about, in math communities, in a way that we haven't yet seen, and I think the timing is right to honor and value identities that haven't been seen yet, and haven't been honored yet.
Kyle Pearce: Great connection there to Christine's response as well, and something that pops into my mind, I'm getting these chills when I'm listening to these responses, because I do see this as, it's so overdue for this to happen. And for me, I'm fresh, I was saying to Jon earlier this week, I've been doing a lot of small group sessions meeting with secondary teachers. We call it the most likely to be teaching or leading a de-streamed section next year.
Of course, with the way staffing has been through COVID, who knows how that's all going to pan out? However, if things were to happen right now, we're meeting with these small groups of educators, and this hope for more for students, and elevating students' mathematical experiences, something that we've been talking a lot about, is this idea of streaming.
I took this, and Jason, you were part of a panel and we were showing a clip of another panel to our teaching groups, and something that resonated with me was this idea that streaming allows someone to benefit and someone not to benefit, or someone who doesn't. That really resonates, and we went in depth with educators, because many are really excited at this opportunity, but as you can imagine, there are some who are... And I would say some, probably all, who are wondering, how am I going to do this, shifting from what maybe they're used to.
So, for example, working with a teacher the other day who's taught both grade nine academic and the grade nine applied courses for over a decade, and feels like he's done a great job to develop a strong program, and having students feel productive, feeling a productive disposition at the end of those courses, there's a little bit of concern with some teachers on like, "How do we do this?"
I think we all here in this session know that educators are the right people for this task, right? It's going to be potentially challenging at times. It's like we're the right people for the job, because kids is what we do this for, and I think this will be an amazing thing. But I'm going to throw this one to Jason. I'm wondering, what are some of maybe the challenges, concerns, or maybe we just call them speed bumps, that you're hearing from educators? Maybe it's around the province, through social media, or maybe it's something a little bit closer to home. Maybe it's something in your district, or even in some of our own departments.
So, Jason, what are some challenges or concerns, and maybe they're even some of your own challenges or concerns that you have as we embark on this journey to offer higher opportunities for students to engage in mathematics and rich problem-solving?
Jason To: The overwhelming challenge that people are sharing with me, and are just putting it out there, is this idea that "Well, we're going to have students that are really, really advanced in your class, you're going to have students that are really, really not quite as ready as we want them to be. So if I teach to the middle, then the middle's going to be fine, but then I can't service the two ends of that spectrum."
I think that challenge comes with this remarkable opportunity, that I think, Kyle, you're talking about, is that we are now shaking the foundation of how we have sorted students, and how we've organized children in our spaces. Teachers will need to figure out new ways to reach a wider audience, and I think when we start to realize that we've always had diversity in our classrooms, but we just never necessarily have recognized it, I think now is an incredible opportunity to see the individuality, the individual gifts that everyone is bringing into the class, and leveraging that to help one another out in building community and, like Mark is saying, having these shared experiences that are going to be so valuable.
This is a really exciting time for teachers to start to really flex some of these differentiated instructional muscles that haven't really been used as much, because we didn't have to. If there was a student that didn't fit into your academic class, rather than having to adjust as an educator, the easiest thing to do is to have that conversation with the guidance counselor with the kid in tow, and say, "Hey, this kid doesn't belong here any more." I'm not saying that educators do that, but some educators have done that.
So, we are now embarking on this incredible learning opportunity for staff, and it's going to be challenging. We have been streaming for 150 years, give or take, minus a couple of years in the '90s. So it's going to take some time for educators to figure this out, and I think we have to give ourselves that permission to figure things out, and to be messy with this process.
There are going to be challenges, but I'm going to ask everybody that's listening that's going to be teaching a grade nine class to persevere, to be a learner again, right, if you aren't already, or to be even more of a learner, get excited about this, because like everybody has said, this is something that not only is overdue, but the communities that have been affected most by streaming have asked for this. It's time to listen, and it's time for us as teachers and educators and principals and whoever is supporting students, to work towards this together, and I think we can do it. I think that with exciting and innovative educators everywhere, I think we can figure this out, if we give it a chance.
Jon Orr: Yeah, it's going to be very exciting, and I know that everyone here in this room has probably had, I think we've all been in situations where you deliver professional development to teachers, and when you get a group of some teachers that are like, "Oh, I don't need to use those strategies, because I've got this great academic class," it's like, "I don't need to modify what I'm doing." I think, Jason, you articulated that well. We tend to, like, "Oh, we teach this way over here, but then we use these strategies over here, and if you don't fit here, you're over here," and it's not because of the math, it's because of the teaching style, so I'm really excited there. Mark, what challenges are you hearing from your teachers, or concerns that you've been interacting with?
Mark Chubb: So, first of all, I'm elementary, but I feel like the easy answer is simply, "Well, elementary's been doing it for years," but that's not at all helpful. I think we can all agree on that, right? I see, Jason, you're smiling there.
Just because a inaudible teacher has taught a whole group of students before, it's a different ballgame, partially because of the structures that are in place, but also because the teacher who's in grade nine right now, who I've had conversations with, are explaining how they have done something, and are trying to envision something different. I think that's a big piece of this. This idea of opening up a math task is different than what you might have done in your academic class versus in your applied class. Finding tasks that offer accessibility is going to require teachers to come together and learn together.
We need real structures put in place so that we as teachers can co-teach, we can co-plan, we can debrief a lesson to see, how did this lesson go, how did it work? We need structures put in place that help us manage over time, and I love the messages of it being messy, because it will be. It's not going to be easy, but we really need to hear, whose voices were heard in that lesson? Whose voices weren't? And ultimately we need to find out what we need to do as learners.
That's the big piece, and that takes time, and I feel like all of our teachers who's going through any change, any change at all, whether it be the elementary's new curriculum, or whether it be the de-streamed grade nine, you have to be willing to try something, and you have to be okay with it going off the rails one day, and for you to learn from that mistake.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, well said, and I was looking to the chat as well, as we've been going, and actually one came in, it says to panelists only, so the rest of the chat may not see it, but our panelists would be able to see this. It's from someone who is speaking to this implication that rich tasks do not occur in applied or locally developed courses.
I wanted to address this, because what I want to also mention is that academic doesn't necessarily mean rich tasks are happening either, and I think that's the big piece as well, that this is a shift in how we teach mathematics fundamentally. I have a pretty sneaky suspicion that if anyone on this panel were to go into a classroom, that it doesn't matter what the name of that course is, that they would be doing rich things there.
But the piece there that I want to make sure that everyone takes away from this, especially our friends who are joining us in the chat, is this idea that not always, we're not going to blanket-statement that this is happening in every single classroom, but quite often, the standards or the expectations that we're holding students to in certain classes are different, and in applied and academic, I know that I held my own students to different standards. So I have committed that crime, I'll call it.
So this is about fundamentally changing what it means to learn and teach mathematics. So I want to go back to Christine on this question, because this is a wonder that I have, and I truly believe that we have a lot of work to do, and I think Ontario, we are doing a great job in mathematics, by the way. So, everyone, pat yourselves on the back, that we've come a long way in the past decade or so in terms of how we think about math and how we teach math.
However, I still think that we have a lot of learning to do ourselves as educators, from K through 12, to be able to offer this rich opportunity for students. Now, we obviously can't just turn a switch, so now my question to Christine would be, is, how do you see us moving forward? What are some next steps we can do, be it from the Ministry perspective, maybe it's from a district perspective, so that we can better support our teachers to put them in a position where they can do these things and hopefully, we'll say, sooner than later. Because, again, we can't just flip a switch and say, "Math is now rich in my classroom," right. I mean, I wish it were that simple, but I think it's a lot of work that needs to be done. So I'm curious to get your perspective, and I'm hoping a few other panelists will also jump in on this one as well.
Christine Suurtamm: Yeah, so I think you're exactly right. It's not a flipped switch, because it's not a dichotomy. So, in other words, we don't have those who teach this way and those who teach that way. I think that it's a bit of a continuum.
We talk about, we need to change the way we teach, but I also know I'm in a lot of classrooms doing a lot of research, and I know that I see a lot of this kind of teaching already occurring, and I think we need to pat those teachers on the back as well.
So, in other words, whether we have an academic class or an applied class, we already have a class that needs differentiation, and I see many teachers doing things like using rich tasks in both of them, and being able to have students working in groups that are heterogeneous, stepping in, giving prompts when students need it, valuing the work that students do.
So, for starters, we know that a lot of that is happening. So, moving along that continuum, and I think every teacher's in a different place in terms of their beliefs about, what does it mean to teach, and their comfort with teaching in different ways.
So, I'm going to go to, I guess, what Mark suggested. I really think that we need to allow teachers some time for some of that co-planning and co-teaching, because I know, when I've asked teachers, even in some of the research I do, "How do you best learn how to implement a new curriculum or learn new ways of teaching?" their number one response is dialogue with colleagues. Completely, that is how teachers actually learn and experience new ways of teaching.
So we need those opportunities for them to have dialogue with colleagues, and I think somebody else mentioned, I think it was in the chat, that we need a lot of examples of the kinds of tasks that we're talking about. We know that the task alone won't do it, but we do need the task, and it's often hard for teachers to think about, what might this look like, this particular expectation or series of expectations, what does this look like in an open-ended task?
So, a couple of things. That dialogue with colleagues, and having that structurally set up, so thinking about ways that we can build into timetables time for teachers to collaborate and co-plan and co-teach, as well as thinking about developing resources that people can draw from, and examples of what this looks like in a classroom, so a few ideas.
Jon Orr: Yeah, for sure, those are great steps to move forward, is that we all definitely need to have some time to think about this. I think active time, like time that we are definitely... Spent seeing how this can play out on our classrooms, for sure, and the resources are so important.
I know that we've had resources around us, but we need to make sure that it gets in the hands of these teachers, and I think the destreaming, it's like trial by fire a little bit for some of our teachers, that I know some teachers that definitely need that to move forward.
Hema Khodai: I just want to share a sentence from Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Paulo Freire writes, "Education must begin with solution of the teacher-student contradiction by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students." I think that speaks beautifully to Dr. Suurtamm's point about dialogue. We learn from dialog with colleagues, but we can also learn with and from students, and I think I'm a little concerned that the conversation around destreaming has primarily focused on programming and curriculum, but we have already served the sliver of maths that is K-12 math ed in Ontario.
So, can we possibly think about serving the children in our classrooms, and what does that look like, and what does that dialog look like? Because I don't think that program and curriculum are the solution to the problem of systemic oppression. I think people and relationships are.
So when we look around, and where are the indigenous math ed leaders, where are black math teachers? I do not believe I am the only racialized math ed person that can speak to those. Where are queer math educators? Where are disabled math educators? Where are they? Why haven't we made space for them? And if we don't start making space for students through this amazing opportunity of a province-wide initiative, we're never going to have the fulsome math communities that we can have.
Kyle Pearce: Very well said, and speaking to the sort of demoting this challenge of curriculum. For example, again, many educators are saying, "When will we have this curriculum?" And I had actually surveyed my school board, and the math teachers there, and asked them about, what are they excited about, essentially some of the questions that we had asked here, and looked for, like, "What are you most excited about?" I asked, "What is your biggest worry or challenge?"
The biggest worry or challenge overwhelmingly was not having the curriculum, and I was a little taken back by that, because I thought, "Oh, boy, that is not what I think the biggest challenge is at all," because I think no matter shows up, no matter what, it doesn't matter what the content is, to me it's about, how do I meet every learner where they are? And when I felt that, I struggled to do that no matter what the class I was in, right? So how do we figure this out, so that we can offer a rich opportunity for all students? And again, that's definitely going to be a process, as we've heard everyone speak to here.
I'm noticing in the chat, as well, we are trying to monitor the chat as we go, Jordan Rappaport's in here, and Jordan actually had a great session on assessment last night, and he spoke to assessment in the chat. He said, "We need to have fundamental shifts in assessment practices in order for this work to happen," and, I'm assuming, happen in a successful manner.
So, I'm going to flip this over to Jason, and I'm going to ask Jason, how do you see assessment and evaluation practices evolving or needing to evolve, maybe, in some cases? Because I do see that things are shifting. Growing Success is over a decade old now, but I'm not seeing it in full force everywhere, especially in math classrooms, and especially as we go up the grades. So, how do we do this, or what do we need to do in order to better promote an assessment-for-learning stance, rather than assessment-for-labeling stance in a math classroom? So, we'll go to Jason, and then hopefully we'll hear some perspectives from Mark and the other panelists.
Jason To: So, definitely leveraging the hidden parts of Growing Success that we haven't all delved into, particularly around the idea that it's a criterion-referenced grading system, where we're not comparing students with one another, which seems to implicitly or explicitly happen in a lot of math classes, and we need to move away from the sorting and ranking. Because I think as math teachers, we're very logical thinkers, and so we want this very standardized way of assessing what our students know, and I think we need to be much more flexible with how we gather evidence to find out what students know. We need to let go of this idea that everybody's got to do the same thing in order to find out what everybody knows, because not everybody needs that same kind of instrument to demonstrate what they know.
I think that's something that people are going to have to grapple with, and have to really have dialogue around this idea of fairness versus sameness, that we have been forever struggling with in math classes.
So I think it really comes back to recognizing that there's differences and diversity in your classroom. So, starting from assessment, and recognizing that, and saying, "All right, if my students are different, then maybe assessment needs to be different for certain..." And I'm not saying that if you have 30 kids in a class, that you're going to do 30 different kinds of things. But there should be choice, there should be options, there should be a range of things that students could do over time to demonstrate what they can do, and that begins with, again, back to what everybody is saying, is about dialogue, and talking and talking and talking with people, that you're not going to figure this out on your own, and I think even if you do, you're probably going to have much more fun doing it with other people, and bouncing ideas.
That's the other part that's so exciting about destreaming, is that there's so many different things that you can start with to figure out a next step in this work. So, if assessment is a huge thorn that your school has been trying to deal with for a long time, please take advantage of this opportunity to visit assessment with your team. But maybe it's about creating rich tasks, and go ahead and do that, too, right? There are so many entry points into destreaming, that I think everybody, if they sat with their team and thought about, "Oh, what do we want to do, starting..." Well, starting now, hopefully, but in September, that there's something that's there for everybody. And if it's about assessment, then good on you, go forward.
Jon Orr: Yeah, I think that is a great starting point, and I was reading the chat as well, because Jordan is in the chat, and he's saying, "Everything has to start with assessment," and I think that it's so important, sometimes I feel like when I switch my assessment policy, it's partly because I was like, "I wanted to teach differently to all my kids, and get them engaged in thinking tasks, and wanted to see..." We always use our phrase from Al Overwijk, it's like, we want to uncover curriculum instead of cover curriculum, like, "I want to do that in my class."
Then I realized that my test mark on September 23rd in my mark book bad to change along with that, and part of me is like, "I wish I had switched that around and maybe started with thinking about assessment changes early, just to build into the program." So I think starting with assessment is great, but I totally agree with you in the sense that there's lots of entry points, because you can start with this way of teaching, and then it changes. It's like it forces a change, and I think it's so important, and I think the structure of us destreaming is also going to force this change.
I'm wondering what else... Mark, what specifically are your teachers and the teachers you've been talking with or working with, what do you think the biggest difference in assessment for them or you is going to be, come this destreaming of grade nine, thinking like...
I know that I'm thinking of some teachers that I work with who are very traditional. We use the word traditional teachers here, but I'm thinking back to my father as a math teacher, because my dad was a math teacher. It's like, test on Friday, and that's one mark, and that mark is like, that's it, that was the only mark.
I know that even, like Kyle, you mentioned, Growing Success has been around for so long, but you know in high school that there's still teachers like that. Mark, I'm wondering, what are some of the changes that you're going to see, or you're going to assist with, or be in active involvement with, come September?
Mark Chubb: I mean, first of all, I feel like we really need to think about the words we're using. So, we're using the word assessment, but I think we're saying different things, and I think maybe some people are hearing different things than what we're trying to say.
So, sometimes when we use the word assessment, we're using it as a synonym for marking, and if we take this idea that math is a performance subject, you give a task, you mark it, you give a task, you mark it, you give a task, and at the end of the day, you want all of your mark books filled, and then you're going to calculate some mark. I actually don't think that's assessment. I think that's evaluation.
So, I think we need to reform what the word assessing means, and I'm hoping it personalizes this, this idea of listening to our students, to hearing their voice, that is assessing. I forget who had said at OAME years ago, that the word assess comes from the Latin assidere, which means to sit beside. It's this act of actually understanding your students' thinking, understanding their point of view, their perspective, and getting to know where they are as a learner.
When we talk about a rich task, it's not really the task itself that matters. It's our ability to, like Hema said, that who's the learner and who's the teacher right now? We need to have a task that allows us to listen, allows our students to talk, and then allows us an opportunity to know when and where to jump in with the right in-the-moment kind of conversations, build that kind of dialogue that is that rich dialogue we're aiming for.
But this is a radical shift of seeing assessing, not evaluating. Assessing as we think about it can happen when we're actually doing a shared learning experience, where all of our students have access to this task, and we're learning where students are. We're hearing their ideas, and we're thinking about how to move all of our students forward, and have their voices be part of it.
That, to me, is that act of assessing, and I know that that's not easy, and I think it actually gets a little bit trickier as years move on, because of the need that we feel, we feel that we need to be precise in our marks, instead of us being as helpful as we can as a teacher, and our students to be as rich understanding as possible as learners. I think that's at least a part of how assessment can change, and that also includes conversations, observations and products, not simply just, what did you hand in?
Kyle Pearce: I love it. You've said that so well, and I think that is so key when we're talking about assessment and evaluation, because really the act of evaluating, we really do it at the time when we have to submit a report card, likely, right? So if it's a progress report or if it's a term report card or whatever it might be, and of course, students are taking your assessment feedback, and maybe sometimes converting that into some sort of evaluation for themselves on next steps. I really like how you clarified that. I see Chris has her hand up, so I'm going to go to Chris. Yeah, so let us in on what you'd like to share, there, Chris, thanks.
Christine Suurtamm: I just wanted to add a couple things. Assessment happens to be an area of my research, and two things. One was, kind of building on what Jason said, and the whole discussion of what comes first, a change in instruction or a change in assessment? Sometimes it's quite difficult, when teachers want to make a change, to actually begin with assessment. They don't know what to do, and often that's a difficult place.
But I find that when teachers choose something, let's say, as Jason suggested, maybe they want to work on rich tasks, I find that as they're working on a change in instructional practice, all of a sudden they start to question their assessment practices. They start to say, "I'm doing this, I see my kids, I observe them, why am I giving them a test later?"
So I think that there's nothing wrong with having teachers start where they feel comfortable starting, and everything's connected, so I find that all those other pieces start to come along.
The other thing I wanted to mention, somebody mentioned criterion-referenced. We all know that we used to be norm-referenced, bell curve, long ago, before our time. Then we moved to criterion-referenced, which I often think of, I mean, that's fine, we give explicit criteria, but I think of it often as a target. We're looking at that kid trying to hit that target.
So, I would encourage that we also think, particularly when we think about a de-streamed class, but any class, think about self-referencing. So, in other words, thinking about, where was the student, and where are they now? Because progress probably has been made, and all too often we don't recognize that program. We still have that student who... We keep moving the target, right? The target keeps moving, and that student keeps trying to hit that target. Well, let's just take them from where they are, and see where they are now, and let's talk about that success in terms of them moving along the continuum.
I think the same is true with teachers. We have to think about where a teacher is, and think about moving them along the continuum. Anyway, I just wanted to add those things about assessments.
Kyle Pearce: I am so happy that you did share that, Chris, because I'm thinking back to what Mark had said, and then if we actually go back through every that we've discussed here tonight, what you helped us to bring together is this idea that we want to, regardless of the class, which you also referenced, regardless of the class, regardless of the age of the child, they are coming to us with what they have, and where they are.
And we need to, like Mark said, sit and listen and observe to determine where they are, so we know where that starting point is for them, and we want to nudge them along that path. And if we focus too much on that content, as we've heard alluded to in our conversation here tonight, focusing too much on that curriculum content will negate where they begin, and we're just going to see them not hit that target. Some might not hit that target. So, I really love that messaging, and I'm looking at the time here. We have about seven minutes left, and I think we had, what, 48 other questions that we had prepped here, Jon?
Jon Orr: Yeah, we definitely crosstalk.
Kyle Pearce: So, one question that I do think is really important, and we want to go around the whole panel and ask the whole panel this question is, if, let's say someone is either here in this audience right now, live, or listening to this on the podcast at a later date, and there's only one thing that you want them to take away, what would that thing be? I'm going to start with Jason. Actually, I was pointing to you on Zoom right now. I can see I'm pointing to you, right there. Jason, what would be the one thing that you would like, as a key message, for people to take away from this discussion here tonight?
Jason To: For me, it's to be excited about learning again. It's been a long year or two for people, and I know that everybody is tired, and at their breaking point, and they're just in survival mode for the most part. But I really do hope that, with a little bit of a break, if we do start in September to really embrace this opportunity, and to really see yourself as a change agent, right? Because I think we are doing something as a collective to right a historical wrong, and finding this way of better servicing our black and indigenous students, our students from lower-income communities, our students with special education needs, everybody that's been marginalized by the school system, this is a fundamental shift in what we're doing, and I hope everybody... The importance of this cannot be overstated, right? That you are doing something that is shifting children's lives, and I think we knew that we had a responsibility before as educators. I hope that people see destreaming as another layer of that responsibility.
Jon Orr: Thank you. Thanks for that. I think getting energized for that is a worthwhile and valiant effort that we all need to make, for sure. Hema, I'm going to flip it to you. What is the one big takeaway that you hope everyone reflects on here?
Hema Khodai: The success of destreaming will feel different to each of us as educators, but more importantly, it will look different to the communities that have been traditionally underserved. It hinges on the social and emotional wellbeing of learners in our care, and I think the way we've been practicing fairness and consistency are actually quite inequitable. So I ask, how can I gain insight into a young person's mathematical thinking, and how do I do this in a way that fosters a robust mathematical identity?
Kyle Pearce: Thank you, that's a great message as well, and I think it's really important that we all reflect on, again, our experience is our experience, and that there are so many others who have a very different experience, be it mathematics, be it other aspects of life, as well, and I think you're helping to make that resonate with everyone who's coming from different perspectives here. So, thank you for that. Let's go to Mark. Mark, a final thought, a key idea that you're hoping people will take them here tonight?
Mark Chubb: Yeah, I think it's important for us to know that any time we're in the middle of change, it's very normal for us to think about ourselves first. How is my program going to change? What's my set-up going to look like? I think that has to be part of it. I don't want to not count that at all, because it's real, right? Somehow, in the midst of all this, we need to be thoughtful about whose voices are going to be heard in our class, whose voices have weight in conversations in the room, and how do we expand that?
The other is, how we expand what we consider to be mathematical? So, sometimes that means for us to change what we think a final product would look like, or the conversations that our students will have, but really, if we're expanding whose voices are heard and what we count as mathematics, then really what we're doing is we're making mathematics more accessible to a broader audience.
The only way to really have this happen is for us to somehow get out of our own person, "What do I need to do?" And that has to happen through conversation. It has to happen through colleagues getting together, whether it's co-teaching, co-planning, co-debriefing, it has to happen together, because the only way we're going to have our students learn together is if we can model that form of learning ourselves at the adult level first.
Jon Orr: Thank you, Mark. Finally, to Dr. Suurtamm?
Christine Suurtamm: Yeah, there are so many things to say. I think I'm going to echo, it was maybe Hema who talked about relationships. I think that the key is about relationships, and, one, the relationships within a classroom, and that idea of honoring and valuing the student thinking. But then I also think the relationships, too, are the relationships among teachers, and thinking about working together, and helping one another, co-planning, co-teaching, doing all of that. We could use that phrase, we're in this together, but gee, I think that's been used before.
But still, that notion that we are in this together, and I do think that we have to think collectively, rather than the whole destreaming experience is resting on isolated grade nine teachers' shoulders, that we all are working together to help to move teacher and student from where they are to along the continuum or along the network.
Kyle Pearce: That's fantastic. These are big messages, and to ask you to send everyone off with one key message, I think is really difficult for everyone. I know I have so many ideas circling in my mind here, and I wish we could continue the chat even longer, but it is nine o'clock tonight, so what we are going to do is, we are going to sign off for now. I want to thank all of you for participating, for being willing and open to sharing your ideas, and I'm hoping those who are participating in this live tonight or listening to this afterwards, I hope that when you listen to each of our panelists tonight and you think about all of these ideas, everyone has something they can take in order to put towards this, in this together, as Chris just mentioned, here.
So, again, I want to thank you all. I want to thank Bart and the team for inviting us to engage in this panel discussion, and at this point, at this time, I'm going to flip it back to Bart, to give you your sign-off duties, my friend. Thank you so much.
Jon Orr: Thanks, crosstalk.
Bart: Thank you so much, on behalf of OAME, and especially on behalf of all the attendees, I want to thank all of our panelists. Chris, Jason, Hema, Mark, thank you for your thoughtful insights. But most of all, I want to thank Kyle and Jon. Thank you for going on this journey with me, and putting this together, and being able to transition and making this work in the virtual environment. We really appreciate all that you brought to this, and hopefully we can do it again. Maybe we'll do it live sometime. So, thank you everyone.
Just some reminders to people attending. There is a feedback form link in the chat, so we'd really appreciate your feedback. Also, just some reminders that all of the prerecorded sessions are available on MCIS. The prerecorded sessions open up at one o'clock every day, and as well as all the recordings will become live in your MCIS link, and they'll be available until June 11th. So, again, thank you again for attending OAME 2021 today, and we'll see you back tomorrow at four o'clock. Thank you, everyone, for joining us.
Jon Orr: Thanks, everybody.
Kyle Pearce: Take care, everyone, have a great night. Well, we hope that you had an awesome time either watching this, if you're on YouTube, or listening on your favorite podcasting app. It was a powerful discussion. I know it was powerful for us, and we're hoping that you have a big take-away. So, what is your big take-away and your next steps for you in your classroom? If you're living outside of Ontario, maybe you're working in a math program that is tracked. Maybe this is a discussion that you want to start having with the different stakeholders in your area as well, because again, we want to make sure that all students have the opportunity to reach high levels, and succeed at high levels in mathematics.
Jon Orr: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, in order to ensure hang onto this new learning you had here in this episode, so that that learning doesn't wash away like footprints in the sand, we must reflect on what we've learned. So, an excellent way to do that is to create a plan for yourself, take some action on something you've learned.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome, and a great way to hold yourself accountable is to write it down or, even better, share it with someone. So, have a conversation. A partner, a colleague, or maybe with the Make Math Moments community, you can go ahead and get on social media, tag us, @MakeMathMoments on Twitter, or Instagram. We've also got a private Facebook group that you can join. Join a vibrant community, where you can share some of these ideas, but not necessarily share it openly with your entire Facebook friends list. It keeps it within the math community. So go ahead and search for that Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12.
Jon Orr: In order to ensure you don't miss out on our new episodes as they come out each Monday morning, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform, or, hey, if you're watching this one over on YouTube, subscribe over there too.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome, and show notes, links to resources, and we have complete transcripts to read from the web, or you can download them and take them with you, head on over to makemathmoments.com/episode133. That is makemathmoments.com/episode133. Well, until next time, I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us, and a high five for you.
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