Episode #83: How To Get Your Students Motivated – An Interview With Ilana Horn
In this episode we speak with Ilana Horn – A professor of math education at Vanderbilt University. Llana’s work is motivated by the underperformance of students in mathematics. Today we talk with Llana about her book Motivated and what is needed to START to motivate your students.
Ilana calls her book the prequel to Peg Smith and Mary K. Stein’s book The 5 Practices to Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions and we can’t agree more. There’s so much that we overlook when planning lessons that will either make or break what you do in the classroom.
- The two most important things to consider when motivating your students.
- How to help colleagues motivate students.
- What it means to be smart at math
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Ilana Horn: The thing I’ve written about actually, in this book and in another book, if we look at the history of mathematics, the kinds of competencies that move the field of mathematics forward are not quick and accurate calculation. I mean, it’s an important thing to have, but it’s not the only facility. It’s like asking a good question, knowing how to work systematically, knowing how to represent your ideas, reason and prove and argue [crosstalk 00:00:25].
Kyle Pearce: You’re listening to, Ilana Horn, a professor of math education at Vanderbilt University. Ilana’s work is motivated by the underperformance of students in mathematics. Today, we talk with Ilana about her book, Motivated, and what is needed to start to motivate your students.
Jon Orr: In this episode, she references her book as the prequel to Peg Smith and Mary Kay Stein’s book, the 5 Practices to Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions, and we couldn’t agree more. It’s so easy to think about our math lessons with the content in mind and how you’re going to deliver it, and it’s easy to overlook some of the key pieces that will allow your students to lean in and get motivated to learn. So, let’s get in and learn about how we can overcome those challenges. Let’s do it.
Speaker 4: Hit it.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast, I’m Kyle Pearce from tapintoteenminds.com.
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr from mrorr-isageek.com. 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 engagement, fuel that learning, and ignite teacher action. Are you ready, Jon, to get into this awesome conversation with, Ilana Horn?
Jon Orr: Of course, Kyle. Of course. We are always pumped to bring you a new episode. And you know what’s fantastic?
Kyle Pearce: What, Jon?
Jon Orr: Opening up Apple Podcasts and seeing a brand new five star rating and review from the Math Moment Maker community. And this five star rating review is from one of our own Making Math Moments That Matter academy and workshop participants, Joelyn Plateau.
Kyle Pearce: All right, Joelyn says, “I am enjoying the podcast as well as the online class these two gentlemen offer.” Oh, Jon, I don’t know if we can trust her, she said, gentlemen, and we know that’s not true. She goes on to say, “The common core standards in the US say that we need to get students to think more deeply but, Kyle and Jon actually provide a solid method for this to occur.” Wow, thanks again to our fantastic Math Moment Maker community and our academy member, Joelyn, who took the time to help ensure the podcast reaches the ears of more math teachers around the globe.
Jon Orr: Go ahead, what are you waiting for? It only takes a minute to fire us an honest rating and review, just hit that button right now in your podcast app.
Kyle Pearce: If you’ve been listening to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast for some time now, it’s likely that you’ve heard us rave about using vertical non-permanent surfaces in our classrooms to get our students up and actively fueling sense-making. While regular old chalk or whiteboards do the trick, oftentimes, there aren’t enough for vertical non-permanent surfaces in your classroom to accommodate all of your students.
Jon Orr: Well, that’s where our friends at Wipebook come in. Toby and Frank from Wipebook have these super cool and yet very portable flip book chart packs that are great for filling the vertical non-permanent surfaces in your classroom, or wherever you’re facilitating.
Kyle Pearce: Jon and I even use them at conferences and workshops to get our teacher participants up and actively fueling their sense-making. I even brought some to Israel recently, when I worked with a group of teachers for a full week. I brought them with me, got them up on the wall, and guess what? Now you can too. Wipebook is an official Make Math Moments partner, which means you can grab a flip chart pack for 40% off by visiting makemathmoments.com/wipebook.
Jon Orr: That’s makemathmoments.com/wipebook.
Kyle Pearce: All right, my friends, let’s dive into this conversation with, Ilana. Hey there, Ilana, welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. We are so excited to have you on the show today. How are things going over in Nashville?
Ilana Horn: Oh, a little bit crazy. I know this isn’t going to be broadcast for a little moment, but right now, we are in the middle of lockdown mode. So, my kids haven’t had school and, I don’t know, what are? Week three now? So, it’s just been little bit of cabin fever, but we’re working it out.
Jon Orr: For sure. And let’s hope that the people who are listening to this right now are like, “Oh, that was a while ago. [crosstalk 00:05:29].
Kyle Pearce: That’s what I was thinking.
Ilana Horn: Hopefully, this is ancient history and-
Jon Orr: Yeah, hopefully. Yeah, that’s what’s going on right now for you listeners. But thanks for that, Ilana. We got a little bit about where you’re from, Nashville, Tennessee, but could you help our listeners understand a little bit more about yourself and your role in education and what’s going on?
Ilana Horn: Sure. So, I’m in Nashville, I’m not originally from here. I’m a professor at Vanderbilt University, a professor of math education. And my research is really about math classrooms and the people who live in them. Most of my research focuses on teachers and trying to help support, especially secondary teachers in the very challenging work of teaching math in ways that are meaningful and accessible, and reach to as many of the kids in their class as they possibly can. So, that’s sort of what I do and what I’m about.
Kyle Pearce: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, you’ll fit in very nicely here. Both, Jon and I… I came out of the secondary classroom. I’m currently doing a K-12 role as a consultant, Jon still in the secondary math classroom. And it sounds like our philosophies align quite nicely as we predicted because we have both seen you live present, but also we have read your book, Motivated. So, we’ll talk a little bit more about that. But before we dive deeper into that conversation, we ask everyone on the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast for that memorable math moment from their math class. When you think of math class, what moment pops into your mind? Go ahead there and share with the Math Moment Makers.
Ilana Horn: Yeah, I mean, there’s obviously quite a few to choose from, but I think probably one of the most pivotal for me personally, was when I was in second grade and we were learning times tables. And my teacher explained how there was this trick to multiplying nines, where, if nine times eight, well, you just go one less and you get a seven and that’s what’s in the tens place. And then you find the compliment of nine, she didn’t use that word, and that goes in the ones place, 72. And that just seemed so magical to me that there was this really cool pattern hidden in the times tables. So, I wanted to find my own pattern, and I found one with multiplying fives. Now that I know some algebra, I can explain it a little more coherently than I could when I was seven years old.
Ilana Horn: But basically, it was, if you have an odd number, you’re multiplying by five, you can… Well, now, it’s easier to start with even number. So, five times four, take the four, cut it in half, and you get what goes in the tens place. And if the number is even, then it’s just 40. And actually, it works too, five times five, cut five in half, it’s 2.5. Anyway, it’s basically, multiply by 10 and divide by two. But I was able to see the pattern in the numbers and I was so pumped.
Ilana Horn: I was not very good at taking turns, seven year old, and I got super pumped, I got super excited, I went and showed my teacher. She had a moment where she kind of showed some curiosity for what I was talking about and had me write [inaudible 00:08:44] a couple of examples out. And just the look on her face, she just wasn’t prepared to deal with that and just said, “Yeah, you should probably just go sit down.”
Kyle Pearce: Ooh!
Jon Orr: Oh, no.
Ilana Horn: And it was this pretty devastating moment for me. And it sort of, I think, made me think that math wasn’t very interesting after all. But ironically, that same spark that had me really excited to look for a pattern… I did a lot of informal puzzling and playing, and I grew up in the era of the Rubik’s Cube, and there were a lot of little math puzzles around in my world, I was lucky that way. And I loved doing those things, but I never really thought of them as math. There was math class, and then there was all this other stuff that I really thought was cool, like [inaudible 00:09:32]. So, there was this weird kind of divide, that I had a lot of things that I see now were kind of deeply mathematical curiosities and hobbies and such, but school math was just this other thing.
Kyle Pearce: Right, right. That story you’ve shared, I mean, it came out… First, when you said times tables, second grade, I’m like, “Oh no, here we go with the everyone-stand-up and the feeling bad about yourself.” But it was really cool because you brought it back to this idea that, wow, there’s actually a lot of interesting things going on. I’m going to say a lot. There’s infinitely many interesting things about math and yet the response from your teacher is so common, especially when we’re feeling uncomfortable, right?
Kyle Pearce: A student comes to you with something in your… Well, especially in the system that we all grew up in, it was sort of expected the teacher felt this pressure that they’re supposed to know everything about the subject area rather than approaching it as this curious, interesting limitless opportunity to explore. And I think now we’re seeing more and more people starting to be opened up to that idea. And clearly, you were open to it very young, but I wonder if that kind of shut you down for a little while and you had to almost re-explore that.
Ilana Horn: Yeah, no. I mean, honestly, I had little moments the rest of my math education. Most of it in school was pretty sad and standard. There were little moments and glimmers of things that were interesting, particularly my geometry teacher in high school. But then, I had an algebra teacher who was just pretty blatantly sexist and wouldn’t answer a girl’s questions and-
Kyle Pearce: Oh, jeez. Horrible to hear.
Ilana Horn: Yeah. And he was the calculus teacher in my high school. And I just told my counselor, I’m like, “I can’t take another class with him.” And so, I got to college with my math confidence fairly shot. Even though I’d always been… I’d gotten good grades, I didn’t really identify as a math person for a variety of reasons. And when I got to calculus, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is so awesome. This is like the puzzles that I like. This is like all those geometric connections that I liked.” Anyway, there’s a whole longer story there, but once I kind of got hooked back in, I ended up feeling this deep sense of injustice of like, wow, you mean this cool stuff is really what math is? And all that stuff I was doing in school is just like this weird school thing?
Ilana Horn: I was pretty convinced that there must be a lot of other kids out there who would really find the cool part of math very cool and exciting and engaging, who didn’t even have a chance to look at it and experience it. And that I think has been sort of a core in my passion for math education, is like, I really, really still believe that. I really believe that there’s a lot of people out there who’ve never really had a chance to touch the beauty of math. And what’s so amazing about it, those of us who love it, so amped up and pumped up and eager to share it.
Jon Orr: I feel that those people who are saying they hate math are the ones… They’re like, “Math was so terrible.” And you’re at a party and someone’s like, “What do you do?” Like, “Well, I’m a math teacher.” And like, “Oh, I hated math.” Those are the people that haven’t been exposed to what you’re talking about. They missed that. They didn’t have that experience somewhere along that line, and they just think math is school math. It is unfortunate and I think that’s why we’re here. That’s why I think you’ve written your book. And the work that you’re doing, the work that we’re doing, I think we’re all trying to change that belief about math. So, Ilana, I know that you’ve written this great book for math teachers and math educators for motivating students, we do want to dive into that during this discussion, but I want to give you a chance to give everyone a little elevator pitch. What is the book Motivated in a… Give us a few sentences to kind of describe that and then we can dive into it.
Ilana Horn: It’s funny that you asked for the elevator pitch because I’ve joked that, if I were pitching it like a Hollywood movie, I’d be like, “It’s the prequel to the 5 Practices.”
Kyle Pearce: Nice.
Jon Orr: Nice.
Ilana Horn: Yeah. Because it really actually came out of a PD that I did for teachers who were learning the 5 Practices at Park City Math Institute in Utah. And they were enjoying the 5 Practices, but part of the pushback that they were giving the workshop leaders was, “Yeah, but it wouldn’t really work in a real classroom. Kids don’t really want to tell you what they’re thinking about.” And that’s definitely something I’ve observed in classrooms, that kids are reluctant to tell you what they’re thinking about. And the 5 Practices sort of starts with the idea that kids are going to share their mathematical thinking. And especially, I think in secondary, we see a lot of kids who just are like, “Nope, not going to do that.”
Jon Orr: Yeah. There’s a lot that goes into it beforehand.
Ilana Horn: Exactly. So, I kind of wanted to start with, well, how do we set the stage for that? How do we even make a situation where kids are feeling like that’s a worthwhile thing to do, because it’s certainly not how most kids have participated in school. And so, to suddenly ask that of them is kind of changing the rules of engagement, but yet this kind of rich way of teaching math doesn’t really get very far off the ground if we don’t figure that part of it out.
Kyle Pearce: I’ve heard some of those responses from teachers as well because, Jon and I, we constantly are advocating for this idea that there’s so many great resources out there for our math classroom, but it’s all parts of a much bigger puzzle.
Ilana Horn: Exactly.
Jon Orr: Pieces are floating around.
Ilana Horn: Exactly.
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. And for us, with the Make Math Moments three part framework, we talk about the three things, sparking curiosity is one, fueling sense-making, and we call it igniting your teacher moves. And we had Peg Smith on a little whiles back, and we love 5 Practices and it hits so nicely on that fueling sense-making and igniting teacher moves. And we thought it would be great to bring you on because we thought Motivated really fits in nice with our first part of the framework, this idea of sparking curiosity. And we say, getting kids to lean in. So, can you tell us a little bit about, I guess the book itself? So, we know it’s about kind of getting kids to that place so that we can go deeper with the mathematics, because we always say, if we don’t get their attention, it doesn’t matter what we do afterwards. It’s not really going to matter. So, take us on a little bit of a trip here, what do you think is important to motivate students in the math classroom to get them to do lean in on those lessons?
Ilana Horn: Right. So, one of the big kind of framing ideas of the book is that a lot of times teachers talk about motivation as a property of individual students, some students are motivated and some students aren’t. And it’s not that there’s not any truth to that, of course, there’s a reason why we say that, right? You have the kids who come in and tell me how high to jump and I’m going to do it, but that’s not the typical kid and we certainly can’t take that for granted, and it’s not to be expected. So, instead of thinking of motivation as a property of kids, thinking of it as a problem of classroom design. So, part of what the book is trying to do is to invite teachers to look at sort of just what goes on in their classroom, how are things structured? How are the systems of rewards set up? How are discussions being facilitated? How is kid to kid relationships, being managed?
Ilana Horn: All of those different kinds of things that give kids a different sense of just the very first idea of belonging in that classroom. Because we know that if it’s not a safe learning environment to take risks, your kids are preoccupied with the idea of looking dumb or being judged. They’re not going to be motivated and it’s not anything about them as an individual, it’s more so the environment that they’re in. And so, trying to attune teachers to how they can kind of tweak the way that their classrooms are set up, the way they do assessment, the way they think about homework, all those different kinds of things, with in mind, what messages am I sending kids about who belongs, what it means to be smart? Which is competence and all these different things in the framework.
Jon Orr: We’ve often talked about that too, that one of the biggest questions we get asked when we’re working with the teachers in our academy, in our online workshop, and here on the podcast, when we do some of our coaching calls is, how do you get kids who… They’re trying to be motivated but they’re just not being motivated, how do we do that? How do I structure my 3-act math tasks? Because nobody’s saying anything when I do this.
Jon Orr: And often, our response is, we have to set up the culture first. And we miss that part. We think that sometimes it’s just going to work, and it just doesn’t because it’s… Like you said, you’ve changed the game by saying, “Hey, we’re actually going to have your voices heard. We’re going to ask you to notice things. We’re going to ask you to wonder things. We’re going to value your creativity and curiosity, but that’s not the way math has ever been done for them. So, they’re like, “What’s going on right now?” And like you had said, there’s some kids that are going to be like, “I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.” And some of those kids that are, I’m going to do whatever you tell me, are really weirded out.
Ilana Horn: Yes, they are.
Jon Orr: Some of the other kids are like, “Okay, I’m into this.” But it’s that building of that culture, and I think this hits on… Geoff Kralls wrote a book recently, he has the three pieces. His book is called Necessary Conditions, and his first condition is academic safety.
Ilana Horn: That’s exactly right.
Jon Orr: Yeah. And this hits right in there with that. So, it’s pretty important and I think it’s like… When we had Peg on, she had steps one through five of the practices, one being anticipate learning and anticipate solutions, but then she added a step zero to say the tasks, you’ve got more, you’ve got like… We’re adding steps negative one and negative two. And we’re like, we’re going backwards. There’s a lot more to think about-
Kyle Pearce: It’s an integers lesson, I love it.
Jon Orr: Yeah. So, Ilana, I wonder, if we zero in on something you think is the most useful for teachers to hear right now, what would you say that would be for them to get started?
Ilana Horn: It’s hard for me to choose one, so I’m going to cheat and choose two. But I think the thing that I’ve gotten the most feedback from teachers on are the dimensions I mentioned, which are belonging and competence. I should say that there’s a five pronged motivational framework that I go through in each chapter in the book to try to sort of describe the research basis. And I describe sort of different teachers that I really kind of dug into who are good at this kind of work, and how they think about these different dimensions of motivation. But the two dimensions of motivation that teachers tell me are the most crucial for building that culture that you’re describing are belonging and competence. And I think they’re the ones that require attention from teachers that maybe they haven’t thought of before. Another dimension for example, is meaningfulness, and I think a lot of math teachers who are reflective and would be listening to your podcast would think about the meaning of mathematics. I think that one is pretty well understood.
Ilana Horn: But belonging and thinking about who belongs in this room and how do I send kids the message that this place is for them, even if they have a history of not succeeding in math, even if they’ve been told that people who look like them, don’t do math, whatever the baggage is, you belong here, and how powerful that can be for students? And then, the competence one is probably, again, if I think about who your audience is, they’ve probably thought about, what does it mean to be smart in math? Isn’t just about getting the correct answer quickly, even though that’s kind of how school has set us up to think about being smart at math. And to really push teachers deeper in thinking about other kinds of ways of being smart at math, and then challenging them to think about, how does that show up in your classroom in a way that makes it real for students?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Something that’s really… I’m connecting with, and I’ll start with the belonging and competence piece because, Jon had mentioned it about that culture, and creating that culture is so important. We stress it all the time. We actually have an episode where we focused on how to start the school year off right. And in that episode, yeah, it was just about, let’s not get too deep into the math too quick. Not that… We want to do math. We’re going to do math each and every single day, but we want to make sure that the way we approach it is in such a strategic way to ensure that students get this message, this pull, right? Where they’re like, “I want to go back to that class and I want to get back in there because this is exciting, and I feel like I do belong.”
Kyle Pearce: And then, secondly, and I think maybe the one that… It kind of slides under the radar, so many people are convinced that yes, growth mindset is so important and people have posters about it. And we’ve learned so much about it, especially through Jo Boaler’s work and Carol Dweck, and so many others that have really pushed this forward. But the problem is, is there’s a disconnect for a lot of people. And when students are being told the growth mindset message, but we haven’t created our math classes to be accessible enough so that students at varying levels of readiness are able to access the math. Then that competence piece just sort of falls off. And I think if the competence piece falls off, even if I’m high five-ing my kids on the way into class, the belonging piece falls off, too.
Kyle Pearce: So, I could have built this beautiful culture, but if the students aren’t seeing the growth mindset work for them, because the tasks aren’t open enough, they’re not accessible enough, not low floor-high ceiling enough, then that will essentially erode at all the work that we’ve invested into belonging. And I know this is big, I just gave you kind of a question that was packed into a huge paragraph, but I’m wondering, how do you navigate that land when we’re building that culture, and then teachers are trying to help but they’re struggling with this idea that like, wow, I have kids at such a wide range in my classroom? Do you have any get-started tips or reflective ideas for people to walk away and think about and chew on?
Ilana Horn: Yes, I do. And you’ve just articulated exactly the set of issues that teachers have to grapple with. And I think that one of the big things is, school tends to get us thinking about math achievement, math ability, as sort of like a linear… We could line kids up. It’s like a one dimensional space, right? Where we could be like, “You’re a little bit stronger than you.” And that’s just… You could kind of go from highest to lowest.
Kyle Pearce: Comparing one to another.
Ilana Horn: But the thing I’ve written about actually, in this book and in another book, if we look at the history of mathematics, the kinds of competencies that move the field of mathematics forward are not quick and accurate calculation. I mean, it’s an important thing to have [crosstalk 00:24:51], but it’s not the only facility. It’s like asking a good question, knowing how to work systematically, knowing how to represent your ideas, knowing how to pose a good question, I already said that.
Kyle Pearce: Reason and prove.
Ilana Horn: Reason and prove and argue. There’s all these things-
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely.
Ilana Horn: If we really look at the meat of what mathematics is, that we give kids very little… Who have those skills, who may not be fast and accurate calculators, but who are really good at working systematically and thinking through a problem, or really good at posing a thoughtful question that pushes everybody’s thinking a little bit deeper, or who can draw a really good representation when we’re trying to understand why something works the way it does. And they’re able to come up with that diagram. We don’t really celebrate that. We don’t really develop that. We don’t really say, “Wow, that’s important mathematical thinking.”
Kyle Pearce: Right. And sometimes we even play it a down, we say things like, “Oh, you drew it out.” And that to me is like… Early in my career, I was like, “Ah, that’s not as efficient as this.” And now I look at that and I say, “What was I thinking?”
Ilana Horn: But you knew what you were thinking, you were thinking of the kind of math that had been valued in your education. And so, we’ve been socialized to see certain kinds of mathematical activity as more valuable and more worthwhile, but that’s based on school, not based on what mathematics actually is. And I think that’s one of the things that… Helping teachers see that. Because I think sometimes people hear me when I say, yeah, we really need to broaden our notion of competence. I think sometimes people hear me, is like, we need to water down the mathematics. We need to make it more accessible to more kids by making it less rigorous. And that’s not what I’m saying.
Ilana Horn: I’m saying actually, we need to make it more authentic, we need to make it more like what mathematicians do, which isn’t just about coming up with calculations to things that… Problems that other people have thought of, but posing your own problems and coming up with your own representations and solutions, because we don’t give kids that opportunity. It goes back to the opening story I told you, there’s probably kids out there who can do really cool mathematical things, who have never really had a chance to explore that part of themselves because they’re not quick and accurate calculators.
Jon Orr: Yeah. That shift has to happen because I don’t think it has happened yet where we celebrate all these other things that has to go into mathematics. It reminds me of a talk I saw from Conrad Wolfram-
Ilana Horn: Yeah, no, I’ve met him before. Yeah.
Jon Orr: Okay. And he brought up this interesting idea that I wrestled with when I was the… The listeners of the podcast know that I was a very traditional teacher for a number of years and before I kind of opened my eyes, and I always wrestled with that idea, like you said, is it watered down? And versus, is a less rigorous or more rigorous? And it brings up this idea of like… This one question that I always wrestled with was, there’s the skill of getting kids to factor, well, did you want kids to factor? Or do you want kids to know when to factor? And it’s like, which is the better, the more worthwhile thing you want kids to know? And that one kind of question kind of stuck with me.
Jon Orr: And it really came from his… He did a talk and it was [inaudible 00:28:16] a hundred years ago or more when people had to have a car. Back then, if you owned a car, when the cars were first built, you had to know how the car worked. You had to know how to change the oil, but you had to also know how it was built, so that you could fix the engine because there was no one else to fix the engine for you if it broke down. So, you needed to know everything there is to know about the inside of that car so that you could fix it. And he says today, you don’t know that, I don’t know how to fix anything on a car. I take it to the mechanic and they fix it. And it brings up this kind of philosophical argument about mathematics.
Jon Orr: And he’s created this computational engine on the internet that can do all of the computation for us. So, it’s like, he’s bringing up this idea, is like, what do you want? We should be freed up to be deeper thinkers than just mechanical computation, the bigger skill, or what you’re saying, the reasoning, the proving. And it’s a shame we’re not there yet, that we are shunning the apps that are Photomath, that take pictures of… We’re like, “Oh, you can’t use photo math because it’s going to give you the answer.”
Ilana Horn: Then maybe we’re teaching the wrong things, right?
Jon Orr: Exactly.
Kyle Pearce: [crosstalk 00:29:27] Totally.
Jon Orr: You’re valuing the wrong things if you’re thinking that… You’re worried about kids taking picture, scanning their questioning, having it giving them the answer. So, yeah, lots of big questions here going forward, for sure. I’m wondering about a couple of more things about your work. And one being… I always think about colleagues, and I think one of the biggest struggles some of the teachers and the educators listening in on our podcasts, a lot of them are coaches and they work with teachers on a regular basis. And I think there’s a lot… Especially in high school, a lot resistance, right? To change.
Ilana Horn: It’s actually in the educational literature that secondary math teachers are among the hardest to get to choose the practice.
Jon Orr: Yeah, I totally agree.
Kyle Pearce: We know.
Jon Orr: We’ve-
Ilana Horn: I know you know already, but sometimes it’s nice to know. Research shows-
Jon Orr: Research shows we’re working with the hardest group.
Kyle Pearce: No, I know, it’s just sad to hear. It’s sad to hear, but it’s so true.
Jon Orr: And so, I guess, we always want to know and I think listeners also would like to know is, what tips and suggestions could you bring forward to say, I want to try these things in my classroom, I want to make these things happen? Or, for my teachers, because I’m a coach, how do I get them to do that? Or, how do I get change to happen?
Ilana Horn: It’s really hard. I mean, teachers are grownups, right? And there’s a lot of messages that confirm the kind of perspective and worldview that they have about what math is and who’s good at it. And sometimes people even have sort of personal, psychological investments in… No, part of what makes me a worthwhile person was I was always the smartest one who got the answers right that nobody else got on the math homework. And so, there’s a little bit of an identity threat that happens if they start to peel that back a little bit and say, “Huh, maybe there are other legitimate ways of being smart in math that I can start to value in my classroom.” That’s really not a trivial thing for teachers to take on. Some teachers, not everyone’s really open to that.
Ilana Horn: So, change can be hard. And what I have found though in my time working with teachers is that nobody goes into teaching to harm kids. Most people go in because they care about kids. And so, starting with that assumption and helping teachers to see, a kid that they’re may be invested in, in some ways who’s not learning as they expect, and to have them kind of uncover some of the layers about, why is this kid struggling? What have you done to help? How have you supported? That can be a productive line of inquiry for a coach to take up as long as the teacher is not defensive. Obviously, this requires a trusting relationship between a coach and a teacher. But the other thing too, is when I’ve done work with entire departments, I’ve shared things, I’ve done data collection, things in people’s classes. Sometimes, for example, teachers assume that they’re having richer discussions in their quote, unquote higher level math classes.
Ilana Horn: So, we’ll do a peer to peer observation thing where, just write down, take a sheet of paper, fold it in half, one side, write teacher, the other side, write students. Write down all the teacher’s questions, write down all the students’ questions. Just to get a sense. It’s like a real quick way to get a sense of the richness of the discourse. And they’re often surprised to find that kids aren’t asking very rich questions in their so called higher level classes, as well as their lower level classes. They just feel more successful as teachers because they’re able to get through the lessons that they plan more successfully. So, we start to sort of peel back some of the layers through these exercises. The other thing I’ve done is, and I got this from a teacher I used to work with, a DF analysis of… After the first marking period, take a list of all the kids who aren’t passing your class and make a couple of columns after, all their names and explain what you see as the source of their challenge, and what you’ve done to try to support them.
Ilana Horn: And that can also sort of uncover like, wow, the pattern seems to be, it’s my quiet kids, or it’s the kids who aren’t doing their homework. And there’s just ways to kind of uncover and help spark teacher’s curiosity about what they’re doing. That being said, the most powerful learning that I’ve seen happen with teachers who are maybe a little reluctant or skeptical, and I have to say out of respect, it’s often a healthy skepticism because we know… I don’t know if you all are as bad about this in Canada as we are in the US, there’s always a new pony in town or whatever, a new show in town, there’s always some latest and greatest something that is… Some district person has gotten excited about.
Ilana Horn: So, I find that wariness… It doesn’t make me mad, because I understand I’m like the new kid in town, the new show who’s going to change everything. And why should they trust me? I haven’t done anything to earn their trust. But what I do find even with the wary teachers is, if they see a kid who they struggled to reach being successful and animated and engaged in somebody else’s math class that will open people up like nothing else.
Kyle Pearce: You said so many good things and I made a note to myself because we talk about this a lot, that some of our teachers that appear to be kind of pushing back on change, it’s because they think they’re doing the best that they can currently. So, they are at a place where they’re doing the best they can. And like you just said, just mentioned, that this idea is really tough because people are getting all of these ideas thrown at them all the time and things come and go, and even building trust as well, like you had mentioned, why should they trust someone like yourself, or me, or Jon, to come in when they’re like, “You don’t know me, you don’t know my students. How do you know what’s to work for me?”
Kyle Pearce: So, I think that your approach makes perfect sense. And I think for any consultant or coach who’s listening, that’s the number one lesson I wish I would have had when I started this type of role. For the first three or four years doing this role, I kind of came in and I felt like I had to… You feel like you have to do the fake it till you make it sort of thing, and it doesn’t work. So, I think you just have to take people where they are just like we need to take our students where they are, and we need to meet them where they are and work with them there.
Jon Orr: We’re getting close to the end of the episode, and before we kind of sign off here, I know that we’ve got lots of big takeaways from this conversation, and I know that people at home also do, but before we say our goodbyes, can you share where our listeners can learn more about you and where they can access some of your resources?
Ilana Horn: Sure. I have a website, ilanahorn.com, it’s I-L-A-N-A-H-O-R-N.com. And you can get links there to my books that I’ve written, including Motivated that we talked about today. And my Twitter feed, I’m pretty active on Twitter, @ilana_horn. And I’m happy to answer questions there. I talk to teachers all the time, and coaches, and such other math educators. So, I love talking to people about teaching and teacher learning, and coaching, and math, and all the good stuff.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Awesome. Well, Ilana, we can’t thank you enough for taking the time to chat with us and our Math Moment Maker community. We thank you for your time and we can’t wait to connect with you again sometime in the near future, hopefully, when we are not on lockdown. Hopefully, this is a thing of the past by the time this episode comes out.
Ilana Horn: Yes, we’re all running in the streets-
Kyle Pearce: But thanks again.
Ilana Horn: … and dancing, and not washing our hands every 10 seconds.
Jon Orr: That’s what we’re all going to do as soon as [inaudible 00:37:30].
Kyle Pearce: Yes, definitely. Thank you so much, and definitely say hi to, Justine for me.
Ilana Horn: I will do so. Thank you for having me on your show.
Jon Orr: Thank you.
Kyle Pearce: Take care.
Ilana Horn: Bye.
Kyle Pearce: Talk to you soon. We want to thank, Ilana again for spending some time with us to share her insights, and with you, the Math Moment Maker community.
Jon Orr: As always, how will you reflect on what you’ve learned from this episode? Because we talked about some big ideas. Have you written any of those ideas down? Have you sent out a tweet or called a friend or colleague, have you shared it with your PLC group? Be sure to engage in some form of reflection to ensure that the learning sticks.
Kyle Pearce: If you’ve been listening to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast for some time now, it’s likely that you’ve heard us raving about those vertical non-permanent surfaces in our classrooms to get kids up and actively fueling sense-making. We know regular chalk or whiteboards will do the trick, but oftentimes, there just aren’t enough in the classroom to accommodate all of our students.
Jon Orr: Well, that’s where our friends at Wipebook come in, Toby and Frank from Wipebook have these super cool and very portable flip book chart packs, that are great for filling the vertical non-permanent service void in your classroom or wherever you’re facilitating.
Kyle Pearce: Jon and I even use them at conferences and workshops just like I did recently, when I traveled to Israel to work with a group of teachers for a full week. I brought them along, stuck them to the wall, and we were all up and fueling sense making together. And now, you can too. Wipebook is an official Making Math Moments That Matter partner, which means you can grab a flip chart pack for 40% off by visiting, makemathmoments.com/wipebook.
Jon Orr: That’s makemathmoments.com/wipebook.
Kyle Pearce: In order to ensure you don’t miss out on any new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcasting platform. Also, if you’re liking what you’re hearing, please share the podcast with a colleague and help us reach an even wider audience by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts, and tweet or Instagram us your biggest takeaway by tagging @makemathmoments on Twitter, or on Instagram, or seek us out on Facebook.
Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode83 Again, that’s makemathmoments.com/episode83.
Kyle Pearce: Well, until next time, I am Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.
Jon Orr: And high fives for you.
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