Jul 03

Welcome to Complex Instruction Mathematics

This website is a collaborative effort of several folks, all interested in Complex Instruction and how it can address some of our concerns about learning mathematics. We, like many others, are troubled about the lack of equity in mathematics education. And we have found that the philosophy and instructional strategies of Complex Instruction have made impressive differences in the mathematical understanding of all of our students and in particular those students who are currently underperforming in math. We also recognize that Complex Instruction (CI) is not an easy approach to teaching and so we have launched this website in an effort to become smarter together about succeeding at this important work.

I am a former elementary school teacher and a current mathematics teacher educator, so I have opportunities to teach students at all levels. In my own teaching, I have found that CI teaching moves are at times magic bullets, quickly engaging formerly uninvolved students. For example, I spent one summer teaching eighth grade math. One of my students, I’ll call him Alonzo, was frequently off-task and disruptive – breaking pencils and throwing them across the room among other unhelpful behaviors. Along came a day in which Alonzo was working on the math problem and had the best solution of anyone in the class. It took some coaxing to get him to present and he suffered some taunting from his peers, but soon everyone, including Alonzo, realized the important mathematical ideas in Alonzo’s answer. After this public recognition of Alonzo’s mathematical skills, Alonzo was a different math student. He was much less disruptive and even remained in his seat during breaks, voluntarily working on math problems. While I don’t know what the long term outcomes were for Alonzo, I was pleased that he had become a productive, contributing member of our summer learning community. And I attribute this shift in his academic focus to my use of CI strategies. In particular, I had an assumption that each of my students had mathematical strengths that may not have been recognized. This assumption meant that I was constantly seeking instances of mathematically productive activity and then publicly recognizing and labeling that activity. By helping individual students AND the whole class recognize each others mathematical skills, students more readily worked on math tasks. This CI activity, called assigning competence, was somewhat straightforward and had enormous impact.

While CI seemed fairly easy to implement in my summer class, I have frequently found that I’m saying and doing things in my teaching that are not at all consistent with the philosophy of CI. I’ll find myself frustrated with a student and I’ll focus on how quickly he is picking up (or not picking up) ideas. I’ll talk about elementary students as high or low performing. In each of these moments, I’m drawing from typical ways of talking about students that focus on how quickly they can do mathematics – rather than focusing on student’s mathematical strengths and areas of growth and considering how a task might draw upon strengths and encourage growth in other areas. Thinking about students through the lens of CI means reframing what I notice and how I respond. And this is not easy work, especially when so many aspects of school ask teachers to consider how students quickly respond to somewhat narrow mathematical tasks.

What we would like to do with this webpage is provide a forum for ideas and support for folks who are exploring ideas related to CI. We welcome your input, ideas, tasks, and questions! Just drop us a line at cimath@cimath.org.



1 comment

  1. Helen Featherstone

    Using CI strategies, my students – prospective elementary teachers – have experienced more success in their efforts to reach ALL of the children in their classes than they ever experienced using other strategies. It has been a joy to listen to their stories.

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