Learning Environment

Imagine two classrooms. In the first, a general education teacher and a special education teacher work separately. The general education teacher takes the lead on instruction and the special education teacher assists and provides additional support, focusing primarily on students with an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Communication between the teachers revolves around logistics such as time management. There is little common planning time; each teacher plans independently for their specific students.
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The beginning of the school year is filled with excitement and anticipation. There are materials to prepare and organize, lessons to plan, and classrooms to set up. As teachers, we think carefully about the norms, structures, and routines that we want to establish. Everything from housekeeping to how we communicate with each other to how we move about the classroom contribute to students feeling safe to share their thinking, take risks, and solve problems.
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Summer can be a time for students and teachers alike to take a break from the intense lockstep schedule and pressures of the school year and take a breath. We might be outdoors more often, engage in sports or the arts, and generally do things we don't have time for during the school year. It can also be a time to find joy in the life of the mind, without the usual structures, stresses, and constraints that come with days divided into time slots, subjects, and pacing charts. There may be time to discover what thoughts and theories one is curious about, what one likes to learn about, and what ideas are fun to play with. When children play with math, without expectations of demonstrating achievement or competence, they too may find the fun and the beauty in math, as well as a sense of empowerment in doing so. Developing a positive disposition toward math is likely to lead to learning, both in the summer and in the school year to come.
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You may ask yourself, “Who in my class has the potential to do well in math?” The resounding response must be that all children can succeed in math and even find pleasure in doing mathematical tasks (Boaler, 2016). Proficiency in mathematical concepts and competency with mathematical skills are not singular to a particular child, nor is there a certain group of children predisposed to be mathematicians (Boaler, 2016). Math is for ALL; it should be inclusive, transcending labels such as gender, classification (i.e., general education and special education) and ethnicity, among others.
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There has been much media coverage recently about “learning loss” that has occurred during the pandemic. Such reports often reference studies that have attempted to predict or measure student performance in reading and mathematics using  common assessment instruments such as the NWEA Map Test (e.g., Kuhfeld et al., 2020) or iReady (Curriculum Associates, 2021). Findings show that, compared to previous school years, students perform lower on these assessments in both reading and mathematics. These studies also show that the most marginalized students are disproportionally affected, with drops in performance being greater for the lowest performing students, and for students attending schools that serve a majority of Black and Latinx students or schools in low-income zip codes.
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As the saying goes, “Maslow before Bloom.” These three words sum up decades of research that show how a sense of physical and emotional safety is the foundation for the development of social, emotional, and academic competencies. Learning environments that are emotionally supportive are associated with a variety of positive outcomes in mathematics classrooms, such as improved mathematics achievement, greater engagement, greater effort, and less fear of making mistakes.
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