Well-prepared beginning teachers of mathematics realize that the social, historical, and institutional contexts of mathematics affect teaching and learning and know about and are committed to their critical roles as advocates for each and every student.
Effective teachers connect with students and their families. They build on students’ ways of knowing and learning and attend to students’ cultures, races and ethnicities, languages, genders, socioeconomic statuses, abilities, and personal interests. In the following section, we elaborate on the knowledge about social contexts of mathematics teaching and learning specific to the teachers for upper elementary grades.
Well-prepared beginning teachers of mathematics at the upper elementary level understand their roles as ethical advocates for elementary-grades students to have access to and advance in mathematics that cultivates positive mathematics identities and connects to students' mathematical thinking and lived experiences; these teachers build partnerships with families and communities and work to eliminate institutional and curricular barriers to learning. [Elaboration of C.4.1]
As ethical advocates for students, teachers in upper elementary grades play crucial roles in cultivating and sustaining positive learning environments that promote productive dispositions, including positive mathematics identities of students. This advocacy role includes eliciting and building on students' multiple mathematical knowledge bases (Turner et al., 2012) to expand students' thinking about new mathematical domains such as rational numbers (e.g., fractions) formally introduced in the content standards while simultaneously connecting those mathematical concepts to out-of-school experiences in families and communities that leverage these mathematical concepts. Tasks in a lesson may be focused on investigating fraction concepts used in building a community garden; analyzing public-park designs for fun, access, and safety considerations; fair sharing of resources like food and screen time; modifying a recipe for larger servings; or using tools such as a tape measure for home repairs.
Well-prepared beginning teachers in upper elementary grades understand that, with increased conceptual knowledge and procedural fluency, students have opportunities to critically analyze strengths and limitations of algorithms and representations, some of which may come from parents and grandparents schooled in different parts of the world. Well-prepared beginning teachers of upper elementary grades build on this cultural knowledge, seeking assistance from family and community members to clarify unfamiliar algorithms and possible linguistic translations when needed to build robust understandings of the algorithms and the connections to other symbolic notations and underlying concepts.
As an ethical advocate for students in upper elementary grades, well-prepared beginning teachers understand that developing positive relationships and trust with families about mathematics takes time and multiple opportunities. This means effectively communicating a positive mathematical vision for their child and creating opportunities to dialogue with parents and families about mathematics learned inside and outside the classroom. Funds of knowledge surveys and family outreach activities including home visits, faith-based center collaborations, community math workshops, and community math walks provide rich contexts to generate tasks that excite students and customize the mathematics curriculum (Aguirre et al., 2012; Civil & Bernier, 2006).
An ethical advocate for students in upper elementary grades clearly and respectfully communicates with families about their children's learning progress. In upper elementary grades, state testing and other assessment indicators are often formally used to describe students’ learning progress and drive placement decisions for intervention purposes. Well-prepared beginners can provide families with holistic pictures of their children’s learning progress, using combinations of student work and assessment data to help develop action plans to identify strengths and areas of growth to promote mathematical learning.
The use of standardized-test scores starting in the third grade greatly shapes instruction and the ways mathematics learning is assessed and communicated to multiple stakeholders. Often computational fluency is emphasized over conceptual understanding with the introduction of timed procedural-fluency tests. In addition, mathematical argumentation and complex problem solving are underemphasized, given the multiple-choice and short-response items often reflected in standardized tests. Unfortunately, this hyper-focus on testing has exacerbated deficit language about students with the use of terms such as low, below basic, bubble, and gifted to refer to student learning. Schools are also not immune to being labeled with general terms such as failing. As an ethical advocate for students in upper elementary grades, well-prepared beginning teachers are aware of this political landscape, reject the use of deficit language to describe students, and employ specific strategies in the classroom, in grade-level meetings, and during work in professional learning communities. This approach provides a comprehensive and holistic account of students' mathematical progress individually and school-wide.