Classroom Strategies, Research and Reflections
Part 3 of Social, Emotional, and Academic Development in Math Classrooms

Integrating SEAD in Math Strengthens Student Voice and Identity

4 SEAD themes that can help

Let’s face it: it’s hard to be a scholar right now. Today’s students face challenges that previous generations of learners never had to think about, which can be a lot for anyone. Social-emotional learning is another aspect of support that our students need now more than ever. As a teacher, learning and incorporating something new into our practice can seem daunting. After all, social-emotional learning is not something that many teachers across the nation have had any pre-service training in. With all of the demands of day-to-day classroom life, as well as the pressure to teach our many content standards, many teachers are left wondering how they can support my students’ social-emotional needs while still delivering grade-level content. Integration of social, emotional, and academic development (SEAD) into the academic core is one way we can support our students’ social and emotional needs while still continuing to center their academic needs. 

During the 2020-2021 school year, I planned and implemented a lesson to a 4th-grade math class using Stride 3: A Pathway to Equitable Instruction: Creating Conditions to Thrive (pages 13-14). After reflecting on the process of planning and delivering the lesson, I determined that having certain classroom culture expectations in place in your classroom is effective when trying to integrate social-emotional aspects into core instruction. In this blog post, I will elaborate on the four SEAD themes and share themes and reflections that emerged for me as I continue to integrate social-emotional learning into core instruction.

Identity

Celebrate diversity
It is important that students see themselves as mathematicians. Fostering a classroom that celebrates diversity will help students to develop a strong math identity. How do you celebrate the diversity found in your classroom? Do students see their culture represented in the way you set up your classroom? Have students learned about mathematicians from different cultures, genders, and ethnic groups? Does your classroom library feature books with authors and characters from diverse backgrounds? By fostering a classroom culture that celebrates diversity, students see their culture represented in mathematics, strengthening their mathematical identity.   

Squash math stereotypes
What are some stereotypes that come to mind when you think about the learning of mathematics? Over the course of their lives, students internalize messages that can impact their math identity. For instance, they may come to believe that some people are “math people” and others aren’t, or that boys are better at math than girls. Stereotypes can have a negative impact on our students as they continue to develop their math identity. As the teacher, what can you do to actively counter these potentially destructive stereotypes? Do your implicit biases surface in the classroom? Do your expectations for your students go against math stereotypes? Do your students know the expectations you hold for them? 

Agency

Facilitate student learning
Agency is all about students taking control of their own learning. In what ways is the teacher facilitating this traditional transfer of power from the teacher to the student? Do you truly have high expectations for all of your students? Are your students aware of your expectations? You are there to guide them on their journey as a mathematician; you are not there to think for them. The students should be the ones doing the majority of the heavy lifting during mathematics—whether it is in a pair, small-group, or whole-class setting, student voice should be the primary voice of the class. Are you allowing students opportunities to engage in collaborative work with different solution pathways that rely on reasoning and problem-solving? Do you provide opportunities for students to grapple with mathematics in the real world around them? In what ways can you pull students’ experiences and culture into the classroom?

Belonging

Develop a community of learners
Our goal should be to set up a classroom community where each and every student in the class feels that they belong. Are your students’ voices being raised up in class and celebrated? Are your students generating ideas and discussion points related to the day’s work in class? How do you honor the contributions that students make to the classroom community? How do you celebrate the assets and gifts students bring? It’s important to focus on what positive contributions students make to classroom culture rather than what students may be lacking. Classroom routines such as number talks that celebrate all student voices can help students to feel a strong sense of belonging in their classroom community. 

Discourse
Raise up student voices
I’ve mentioned this already in this blog, but your students should be doing the majority of the talking during instruction, not you! As teachers, we need to foster a classroom community where students feel comfortable talking to one another. Students should have access to scholarly language and use it precisely when discussing mathematical thinking. This will not happen overnight. Discussion protocols and sentence starters are tools that you can utilize in your classroom so that students engage in discourse with one another. 

Integrating social-emotional learning into our core curriculum is not an easy task. In many cases it requires a shift in the way you plan for and deliver lessons; the resources linked above can help throughout the process and during planning. When I plan this way, I see firsthand student success with the content and with student efficacy. I truly believe that each and every one of our students deserves to feel like they belong to a classroom community where their culture is represented and their voice is heard and celebrated.

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About the Author: Nathan Johnson is a K–4 Instructional Coach for Wyoming Public Schools in Wyoming, Michigan. He was previously a classroom teacher in elementary and middle school as well as a math specialist in a K–6 building in Phoenix, Arizona, for the Washington Elementary School District and Deer Valley Unified School District. Nathan believes that all students deserve access to grade-level education and that one of a teacher’s primary roles is to design instruction in a way that positively impacts all students. Nathan lives in Wyoming with his wife and sons (ages 8 and 10).