Faculty Spotlight Series: Danielle Ngo on the Most Effective Math Instructional Strategy

Nicole Vitale

Danielle Ngo is a third-grade teacher and Lower School Math Coordinator. She has been a teacher for ten years, she and works primarily with students who have language-based learning disabilities. She currently resides in New York with her husband and their four cats. 

The Windward School is a learning community that recognizes the profession of teaching is a craft that takes an incredible amount of study, practice, and reflection to perfect. Thus, it is part of the School's mission to develop a faculty that is expert in teaching children with language-based learning disabilities. In our Faculty Friday series, we will be highlighting Windward faculty members and their expertise on a variety of educational topics. 

 

What is the single most effective instructional strategy you have used to teach Math?  

Growing up, so many of us were taught that there is one right answer to every math problem, and that there is one efficient way to arrive at that conclusion. The impetus to return to this framework when teaching math is a tempting one, and one I’ve found myself having to fight actively against during my own classroom instruction. In my experience, the most effective way to counter this impulse is to mindfully increase the discourse present during my math lessons. Encouraging discourse benefits our students in several ways, all of which solidify crucial math concepts and sharpen higher order thinking and reasoning skills. 

Distributes math authority in the classroom: Allowing discourse between students – not just between the students and their teacher – establishes a classroom environment in which all contributions are respected and valued. Not only does this type of environment encourage students to advocate for themselves, to ask clarifying questions and to assess their understanding of material, it also incentivizes students to actively engage in lessons by giving them agency and ownership over their knowledge. Learning becomes a collaborative effort, one in which each student can and should participate.

Promotes a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts: While the rote memorization of a process allows many students to pass their tests, this superficial grasp of math skills does not build a solid foundation for more complex concepts. Through the requisite explanation and justification of their thought processes, discourse pushes students to move beyond an understanding of math as a set of procedural tasks. Rather, rich classroom discussion gives students the freedom to explore the “why’s and how’s” of math – to engage with the concepts at hand, think critically about them, and connect new topics to previous knowledge. These connections allow students to develop a meaningful understanding of mathematical concepts, and to use prior knowledge to solve unfamiliar problems.

"Rich classroom discussion gives students the freedom to explore the “why’s and how’s” of math – to engage with the concepts at hand, think critically about them, and connect new topics to previous knowledge."

Develops mathematical language skills: Students internalize vocabulary words – both their definitions and correct usage – through repeated exposures to the words in meaningful contexts. Appropriately facilitated classroom discourse provides the perfect opportunity for students to practice using new vocabulary terms, as well as to restate definitions in their own words. Additionally, since many math concepts build on prior knowledge, classroom discussions allow students to revisit vocabulary words, use them in multiple, varied contexts, and thus keep the terms current.