EdReports Director of Mathematics Tim Truitt had a chance to speak with Georgina Rivera, incoming 2nd Vice President of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM), about the importance of creating equitable math classrooms. Georgina has been a mathematics educator for more than two decades and shared her thoughts on the role quality curriculum plays in supporting teachers as they inspire each and every student to learn. 

In part two of their conversation, Tim and Georgina discuss how supports for English language learners and centering student experiences matters for ensuring mathematics learning is accessible to all. 

Tim: Can you talk about how the Common Core State Standards and Math Practices play a role in preparing students for college and career? And how are they potentially connected to engagement, culturally centered education, and English language supports?

Georgina: For me, for the math practices to come alive they have to be paired with very engaging, culturally relevant tasks. And when I say culturally relevant, I’m thinking of things that kids get really excited about from their own experiences. 

I think about modeling with mathematics. I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like to be able to show their thinking in different ways. This is an opportunity for kids to bring in their culture. I just saw an example the other day on a webinar where they were looking at yards of fabric to create a costume. Immediately in that problem, a little girl talked about a skirt they use in Mexico with all of these ribbons, and she was able to talk about it in pictures and words and model that same exact problem but in a culturally relevant context. Just like you would interpret that problem by bringing in your own experiences and memories, Tim, we can honor all of all of our students.

People see cultural relevance as this extra thing, but really if you think about it, it should be the foundation of how we teach. We should always bring the students’ life experiences into the room and tie it to mathematics in an authentic way so the students can connect their new learning to current learning. And we know from research that’s what we should be doing anyway, connecting new learning to students’ previous experiences. 

When we talk about English language learners, it’s the same thing. When you can tie in the math practices to their current schema, it’s going to help them engage better. When I think about it, I engaged in math practices all the time when I was learning a new language.  Let’s take the idea of looking for patterns. 

English language learners, and I know because I was one, look for patterns all day long. ‘What word do they say every time somebody touches a pencil? Oh, pencil. That is how I built up my vocabulary was to look for patterns so I could make connections from my first language to my second language ’ I lived for patterns. That’s a mathematical practice and people see that as something separate.

But if we can convince teachers to leverage those existing skills and knowledge, students will have real access to mathematics learning.

Tim: I would love for you to talk a little more explicitly on the use of multiple representations—both for students and their ability to communicate and with teachers in helping students understand. Would you mind expanding on multiple representations and why is it important to have English language supports and culturally relevant math materials in order to engage all students?

Georgina: When I see curricular materials where there’s only one right way for students to mimic and there’s only one representation as to how a problem can be solved, that’s a red flag for me. Multiple representations is the idea of each student taking what they think about a problem and showcasing it for the class and classmates. 

If you took the two of us, Tim, we’d probably have two different representations just because we have two different lived experiences. When you’re allowing multiple representations, you’re actually humanizing mathematics because you’re allowing us to show who we really are and how we do mathematics in our own authentic ways. 

Multiple representations are going to be critical for equity in any classroom because everybody wants to be seen. Those representations not only connect ideas which make a stronger model but also everyone benefits. Kids have come up with representations I’ve never seen, and I learn from them as well.

And isn’t that what teaching is all about? Teaching is not about dropping knowledge into kids; it’s about being curious and learning new things. So when I don’t allow for multiple representations, I’m actually limiting my capacity as a teacher and a leader. I’m limiting my ability to get to know my students and how they are thinking. Then we can grow as a mathematics community as a whole. 

Tim: How would you say that the EdReports review criteria apply the standards to prioritize equity in the math classroom? Or another way of saying that is how does the EdReports review tool ensure all students can engage in learning grade-level content?  

Georgina: I really appreciate that you have the expectation of engaging in the mathematical practices. Including the practices, and not just the standards, in the tool is critical. What I also noticed is that the practices are highlighted in materials both individually and weighted as to how they are authentically integrated throughout a program. That’s so important because I really want students to be using the math practices in all their tasks because those are the practices that are going to bring them into their 21st century careers and help them to thrive.

The other piece that is really critical is around formative assessments. The fact that you highlight formative, and not just summative, assessments is really important when we’re talking about equitable math classrooms. We have to make sure materials have high level formative assessment strategies where kids are given second, third, and fourth chances to revisit standards and teachers are checking for understanding throughout a lesson so they can provide just in time supports. It’s not one and done and we move on. If we’re really being equitable, we don’t give up on standards and we don’t give up on kids. 

I also have to talk about the tool’s prioritization of cultural relevance and student supports. To look at textbooks through the lens of cultural relevance is really important. For a student to see a task, a picture, or a project that’s connected to them, that means a lot. I think all of us have had that experience where we’ve read a book and connected to it personally. Those are powerful moments that you don’t forget. You get high levels of engagement which builds identity and agency. 

Right now, districts were just given millions of dollars and wouldn’t we want them to invest in materials that they know are fully vetted? Wouldn’t we want them to select materials that are high quality, have rigor, focus, and coherence, that include the math practices, that really lean into formative assessment and that are culturally relevant? We have this opportunity, but we want to make sure we’re choosing programs that truly support equitable math classrooms and EdReports’ tool helps educators do that.

Check out part one of the discussion where Tim and Georgina talk about her journey as a math student and educator and what an ideal mathematics classroom looks like for teachers and students.

Georgina Rivera is the incoming 2nd Vice President of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM)

Tim Truitt is the Director of Mathematics for EdReports