An Administrator’s Six Spheres of Influence in Mathematics Teaching and Learning: Part 4

As an administrator and instructional leader in your school or district, you are well positioned to positively impact the teaching and learning of mathematics. The ways you empower teachers to engage in best practices in mathematics teaching are reflected in your Six Spheres of Influence:

  • The lens through which you observe teachers
  • Your expectations regarding the posting of lesson objectives
  • Your requirements related to lesson structures
  • The ways you hold teachers accountable to provide feedback to students
  • The structures you have in place for intervention
  • How you support teacher planning

In this fourth post focused on unpacking the spheres, I will share my views on teacher feedback during instruction. I will make sense of the remaining spheres leading up to and following the 2018 Model Schools Conference. My session on June 25 will provide a window into schools and classrooms where these spheres operate in ways that increase student achievement in mathematics.

Holding Teachers Accountable to Provide Feedback to Students

What are your expectations for teacher feedback during mathematics instruction? If you were at all influenced by the work of Madeline Hunter or many others more recently, you likely expect that teachers provide students with specific and immediate feedback. If you do, you have research to support you. However, you also may be overgeneralizing the use of this practice.

Students benefit from specific and immediate feedback when the learning goal is procedural, research shows. However, if the feedback is provided too quickly, the result may be to inhibit the development of perseverance in students. Just as with the first three spheres of influence, how and when feedback is provided should depend on the learning goal for the lesson.

Think about a lesson where a first grade teacher is encouraging students to use strategies to add within 20. The teacher has asked students to discuss with a partner how they could help a classmate add 7 + 8. The teacher circulates around the room checking on students’ progress. One student shares that she drew a picture to solve the problem. The teacher responds by saying, “Can you come up with strategies where you wouldn’t need to draw a picture?” This would not be classified as specific and immediate feedback; it is more closely associated with pressing for deeper thinking. By withholding more specific feedback, the student is actually encouraged to persevere in solving the problem using another strategy.

Contrast this scenario with a lesson where the teacher facilitates students to solve addition and subtraction problems in context. The students are given the following problem:

Jessica has 8 balloons. Alex gives her some more balloons. Now Jessica has 15 balloons. How many balloons did Alex give her?

The teacher circulates around the room and sees a student using cubes to solve the problem. The student counts out a set of eight cubes then counts out more cubes until there is a total of 15 cubes. The teacher asks the student what she got for an answer. The student says 15. In this instance, the teacher responds by telling the student to check to see if she answered the question in the word problem. The teacher re-reads the word problem, and the student says Alex gave Jessica seven balloons. The feedback the teacher provided the student was specific and immediate.

Effective administrators provide teachers with the freedom to make instructional choices based on learning goals and the needs of students in real time. The important aspect of this is that student learning remains in the foreground, and expectations for teacher behaviors are guided by these needs and best practices.

The message here is becoming a mantra; teachers need to feel empowered to be flexible in their use of instructional structures that are guided by the learning goal and the students they teach. A critical role of administrators is to use your spheres of influence to guide teachers to support students’ mathematical sense-making by critically analyzing instructional structures.

Check back soon for the next installment of the Six Spheres of Influence to learn about how intervention needs to be provided equitably.

Join me and my fellow ICLE thought leaders at the 26th Annual Model Schools Conference, June 24–27 in Orlando. Each year, over 5,000 participants are inspired by innovative strategies for strengthening their teaching and leadership practices, and take away an action plan for positive change.