Pre-Introduction to the Rights of the Learner

Today, I am going to briefly write about the Rights of the Learner (RotL) and how it relates to teaching and learning mathematics, specifically with respect to divergent formative assessments. But first, you might need to know a little more about how I came to learn about the RotL from a special teacher named Ms. Olga Torres and how her thinking has shaped my own thinking about preparing new teachers, which has potentially shaped the thinking of future teachers in Tucson and San Antonio.

Prior to entering my graduate studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson, I was a middle and high school math teacher…. and I thought I was pretty good at it too. My students were always engaged in various activities and were creating products that represented their mathematical thinking. I tried to make math fun and connected to their lives. But I wasn’t perfect to say the least. Confession time: In the first few years of my practice, I wasn’t the best teacher. I valued speed and accuracy over the richness of a solution. I would have students memorize formulas and apply them without questioning how or why they worked. I could easily just show them and we moved on to the next topic of discussion. Eventually, I realized that there was more to teaching than what was in the book that stated the correct answers or solution method. Arizona helped me see that.

When I learned how to teach elementary math methods at Arizona, I learned more about what I didn’t know (…yet) than what I thought I already knew. I assumed elementary math was easy because I was a high school math teacher who had a math degree. Yet when I was asked how to explain an algorithm or the concept of fractions versus ratios, I struggled. I could spout off the memorized definition or set of steps, but I couldn’t articulate WHY or in what cases the algorithm might not have worked. Learning to teach elementary math methods also taught me to respect what my students bring to the classroom: cultural, linguistic, mathematical, historical, and community knowledge. These were knowledge bases I had taken for granted given my culture-free position on teaching and learning math. From my time with my mentors at Arizona and from Olga Torres’s initial Rights of the Learner that she used with her bilingual elementary children in Tucson, I learned a great deal.  I learned that math is messy. Math can be used against some people as a tool of oppression and suppression. But math can be used to fight injustice. Math is more than a collection of problems. Math is a utensil. A weapon. A spotlight. For too long, math classrooms have been a place of privilege. Power. Supremacy. Don’t believe me? If you were ever in advanced math class, you had power, privilege and access to resources compared to others who are not with you. #Privilege #FriereSays #DontDenyIt #ClimateChangeIsRealTooYall Why not use math and math classrooms to be places where we fight injustice?  Where we make sense of our world? Where we critique and speak back to power and privilege? Where we seek to find and promote the brilliance of ALL kids in our schools, not just those who are the loudest, fastest, or most popular?

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Craig. Too many questions. Give me answers. Well if you came to this blog for answers, you might get suggestions, but not a simple “answer” or how-to Wiki guide. You want that? Go to Home Depot and take a class about building a beautiful bird house. Wanna think about how to reimagine math classrooms that are humanizing and fight to dismantle inequities, one move or task at a time? Continue to the next post. But don’t forget to always give credit where credit is due. #OlgaTorres #StayInspiredByHerWork

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One thought on “Pre-Introduction to the Rights of the Learner

  1. Pingback: “But I don’t get it”: The Right to Be Confused | Embracing Life With Major Revisions

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