Many leaders in education have highlighted the importance of establishing collaborative communities for teaching and learning mathematics.
In recent years there has been a lot of research addressing the common occurrence of math anxiety and its negative impact on teaching and learning math. Specifically, experiences where there has been a focus on speed and reaching correct answers by following a particular rule, procedure or method have been connected to the development of math anxiety in many teachers and students.
So, how do we create safe climates for learning about a subject, where so many have had negative experiences and feel vulnerable?
A restorative approach will build positive school communities and support effective instruction, assessment and learning in mathematics. Restorative practices focus on developing relationships that allow everyone to take risks and build their confidence in math. There are a range of practices that can support learning in mathematics.
In restorative practice, classroom management is a collaborative process and shared responsibility of the group. Actively engaging students in setting the conditions and expectations for the class is an important first step for building a thriving learning community. There are some ‘norms’ specific to learning math that educators should keep in mind when setting classroom expectations. Focusing on reasoning rather than correct answers and acknowledging all strategies and solutions are important components of creating a safe environment where risk taking in math is valued.
Developing effective communication skills is key to building positive relationships and learning math. Using proactive circles is a powerful restorative practice that can support building community, solving problems, and learning course content. When facilitating circles, it is important to use descriptive, inclusive language to create a feeling of safety in the community. For example, saying things like, “Some of us are feeling confident with this answer and some of us are still thinking it through, so let’s share some more ideas” helps to create an environment where students feel safe to take risks and make mistakes.
Using affective statements is a restorative practice that involves expressing feelings. In mathematics students need to learn to share and manage their feelings as they engage in activities that are challenging. Expressing both positive and negative feelings can foster healthy relationships and highlight strategies to manage emotions while learning new math concepts. Educators can model affective statements by expressing feelings that learners may experience as they engage in tasks. For example, using statements like, “This problem is making me feel so frustrated that I just want to give up” and “Does anyone have a suggestion for what I can do when I feel this way?” is a powerful teaching tool for managing emotions and developing perseverance in math.
Effective questioning is another high impact strategy for learning concepts while nurturing positive attitudes and relationships. Open ended questions can prompt deeper thinking about math concepts and ideas while inviting everyone to share their thinking. How are you reasoning through this problem? Can someone restate what was just shared in their own words? Does someone else want to share how they were thinking about it? are examples of questions that help to ensure all voices are heard.
The global pandemic has interrupted and created gaps in learning for many students worldwide. It will be essential to create a nurturing, challenging, and responsive climate for all students to learn math in the coming years. A specialized knowledge of mathematics and a restorative approach to teaching and learning will pave the way forward for student success.
Costello, B., Wachtel, J., and Wachtel T. The Restorative Practice Handbook For Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators. International Institute for Restorative Practices, 2009, 2019
Costello, B., Wachtel, J., and Wachtel T. Restorative Circles In Schools A Practical Guide For Educators. International Institute for Restorative Practices, 2010, 2019
Boaler, Jo. “Math Anxiety.” YouCubed, www.youcubed.org/?s=math+anxiety.
Krpan, Cathy, Marks. Teaching Math with Meaning. Pearson Canada Inc., 2018
Zager, Tracy Johnston. Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You Had. Stenhouse Publishers, 2017
Maloney, E., Fugelsang, J., and Ansari, D. Math Anxiety An Important Component of Mathematical Success. 2017. Accessed at https://thelearningexchange.ca/math-anxiety/, 02/19/2021
Small, Marian. “Marian Small – Math Anxiety.” The Learning Exchange, 15 Mar. 2017, thelearningexchange.ca/videos/marian-small-math-anxiety/.