Saturday, July 30, 2011

Reasoning and Sense Making in PLC's!

Wow! What a great day today! This week I had the opportunity to engage with many of my professional colleagues and 700 dedicated high school mathematics teachers at NCTM's 1st Annual Summer High School Institute on reasoning and sense making in the classroom.

On this day the focus of my message was on the research that supports PLC's as THE path for professional development of teachers and teacher teams. You can access a PDF of my powerpoint slides when you click here.

With her permission, Mary Zorich (attending the conference and from Florida) has allowed me to share this comment at the end of my session: Reasoning and Sense making with Teachers:

I was thinking before (before she walked into the session) PLC's are one more thing the district wants us to do, and we (the teachers) just don't have time to do it... now I am thinking it is the only thing we need to do with our time... 

The CCSS in mathematics has revived the focus on teaching for student understanding.  This NCTM sponsored Institute closely examined the need for high cognitive demand tasks as part of effective lesson design in the delivery of mathematics content to students. Interestingly enough though, many of the conference presenters referenced the reasoning and sense making arguments that have been made by NCTM since the release of the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards in 1989, the Teaching Performance Standards in 1991 and the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics  (PSSM, 2000)! There has been a crystal clear research affirmed vision for Reasoning and Sense Making in the classroom for well over 20 years.

So, you might ask, how is it possible that a 20 year focus on a vision of mathematics instruction that includes student sense making and reasoning-  an on-going expectation for the learning of high school mathematics  - has a startling absence in the lesson design and practice of our nation's high school teachers? Twenty  years later, how can this be possible?

                                                         The "Because I can" Syndrome ...

Many classroom teachers fail to teach mathematics for sense making and reasoning merely because no one requires them to do so. They can essentially choose not to do so... for them this great idea (and one that will be a required aspect of CCSS by the way) is negotiable. They get away with it because they can. No one; not their peers, their leaders or themselves holds them accountable to this research affirmed practice for student learning.  And the question becomes, if this vision for student learning is so critical, then when did it become a negotiable adult activity in your high school? More importantly when will it become a non-negotiable activity for your PLC teachers and teacher teams?

Readers of this blog, know that part of my answer to this dilemma is the development and the engagement of high performing collaborative course based teacher learning teams that embrace the modeling of reasoning and sense making together- as a team - on a weekly Unit by Unit basis. At the end of the session today, 75 of the participants were able to receive a free copy of the Five Disciplines of PLC Leaders book. To do so, they had to turn in a commitment card in which they made a 2011-2012 commitment to get "tight" about this aspect of instruction, but to be "loose" and empowering with the teacher team about how it might get done. Here is what some of them said:

Require weekly conversations in our PLC teacher teams around what reasoning and sense making will look like for every Chapter of the course. 

Create one member from each team that will be responsible for the critical thinking lessons and designs for the course. Make sure I help the department members take collective action! 

The willingness to listen and work on new ideas for teaching content strands. Never Quit Trying to improve our instruction - no matter how good we think we are.

At least one task-oriented activity or lesson per Unit of instruction next year in Algebra- maybe at the start of the Lesson. Get out of my office and observe and support each teacher on the team! 

As you begin the school year, what are the teacher and administrator commitments you are willing to say are  non-negotiable? And how will you help the adults in your sphere of influence to not fall victim to the "Because I can" syndrome? 

I promise to blog later this week, about 8 things you can do to help make any "non-negotiable" vision expectation - like Reasoning and Sense Making in the classroom - become reality. 

One final note: I referenced two critical book sources for immediate reading during the message today: 

Visible Learning by John Hattie (Research meta summary) and Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam (Awesome resource!) 

Happy Reading! 


  1. I posted my review on your presentation on my blog. I would love any feedback or corrections if I misunderstood something.
    Thank you for your time. It really helped me focus on the value and importance of my PLC.

  2. I just realized I did not put the url of the post. It can be found here: