Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

The past two years have been unimaginably difficult for teachers. Teaching, already a high-demand and oftentimes stressful profession, has been upended by the COVID pandemic. First, it was learning to reach and teach students online, using platforms and tools that were new for many educators. And now, with many students back to face-to-face learning, teachers are dealing with the learning gaps resulting from two years without consistent high-quality instruction. And yet, teachers persevere. Why? Because as demanding as the profession is, it is equally rewarding. Outside of parents, no one has the ability to impact a child’s life the way a teacher does. That said, teacher burnout is a real thing. Meeting these challenges head-on requires laser focus. We have to work smarter, not harder. Luckily, for teachers of mathematics, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has provided a roadmap for quality mathematics instruction by way of the 8 Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.

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Content and Process Standards

In 2000, NCTM published its Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, K-12. In it, they outlined six principles that guide our work in mathematics instruction and the standards, both content and process, that define the skills and understandings that our students should develop from K-12. State standards, such as the TEKS in Texas and the Common Core State Standards, are based on NCTM’s Standards. The graphic below depicts how the process standards interact with the content standards. The process standards are not taught in isolation but are interwoven throughout our instruction of the content standards.

Think about what this means for instruction. It means that while students are learning place value, for example, they should be making connections, solving problems, communicating about their learning, and using representations. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a worksheet to me.

Effective Teaching Practices

To support teachers in implementing the Principles and Standards, NCTM published Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All in 2014. In this book, the authors laid out a framework for achieving the vision presented in NCTM’s Principles and Standards.

“An excellent mathematics program requires effective teaching that engages students in meaningful learning through individual and collaborative experiences that promote their ability to make sense of mathematical ideas and reason mathematically.”

At the core of the framework are eight mathematical teaching practices designed to help teachers focus on the most effective instructional practices for reaching all learners. In other words, how to teach smarter, not harder. The graphic below illustrates the eight practices. When you look at the wording of the practices, you probably see elements of the process standards woven throughout. That’s because the first step to elevating mathematics instruction is to purposefully incorporate the process standards into our everyday instruction.

effective math teaching practices

Shifting Teaching Practices

The last thing you probably want to do right now is to take on a new project, but I also know that you want to be a more effective teacher and utilize your instructional time to greater benefit. So here’s what I propose. Reflect on your current instructional practices as they relate to NCTM’s Effective Teaching Practices. To help with that, I’ve prepared a rubric you can use for self-assessment. Look for the link at the end of this post. Then, choose one practice to improve on. Maybe, for example, you choose facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. Make that your focus for personal professional development. If you work with a math coach, let your coach know that that is an area you are working on. Once you feel that you have shifted that particular practice, choose another one. Sound doable? What you’ll find is that as you become more effective with your instructional practices, you will see positive results with your students. Because you’re improving your first-line instruction, your students will require less remediation. Which means they’ll be more prepared for the lessons you’re teaching. Improving first-line instruction is the only way to get off the remediation hamster wheel.

effective teaching practices

Download your free copy of the Effective Mathematics Teaching practices here.



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