Culturally Responsive Teaching is Math Recovery Teaching

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Culturally Responsive Teaching is Math Recovery Teaching

I first learned about culturally responsive teaching when I read Zaretta Hammond’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain in the summer of 2019. There were two connections I made right away to Hammond’s work. This first was how fortunate I was to have had my student teaching experience with Jan Szymaszek, who back in 1994 exemplified and modeled for me the 4 components of Hammond’s Ready for Rigor Framework -awareness, learning partnerships, information processing and community building.  My first assignment from Jan was to find out at least 3 unique things about each student and a connection I can make with each student. This task set me up to begin to create positive learning partnerships. Additionally, I was thankful for my Math Recovery® training.  The pedagogical knowledge I gained was the base for strong math learning partnerships which build ‘intellective capacity’ as Hammond calls it. 

Hammond’s work builds on Gloria Ladson-Billings research around culturally relevant pedagogy, published in her book The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children in 1995. She studied successful teachers of African American students and found three aspects of culturally relevant pedagogy. These three aspects are teaching results in academic success, the development of students’ cultural competence as well as their critical consciousness. 

Let’s connect Hammond’s and Billings’ ideas to Math Recovery. 

Student Learning – this is the outcome we all strive for, why we become teachers. We want our students to learn at high levels and we want to make that happen. For this to happen, there are layers of understanding for teachers to develop. From a math perspective, we want teachers to have both math and pedagogical knowledge.  That said, teaching is impacted by cultural norms as well as the implicit and explicit biases we bring to our classrooms. This is where understanding culturally responsive teaching can support us to be even more effective with our math teaching. 

Cultural competence and critical consciousness connect to Hammond’s description of awareness.   


  • Understand the three levels of culture 
  • Recognize cultural archetypes of individualism and collectivism
  • Understand how the brains learns 
  • Acknowledge the socio-political context around race and language 
  • Know and own your cultural lens 
  • Recognize your brains triggers around race and culture 
  • Broaden your interpretation of culturally and linguistically diverse students’ learning behaviors 

(Figure 1.2 Ready for Rigor Framework, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain (Hammond, pg. 17) 

Which of these bullet points are you confident with? 

Which are in need of more reflection? 

It is very difficult to successfully build learning partnerships and strong community connections if a teacher is not culturally competent or critically conscious.  What do we mean by each of these terms? 

The NEA National Education Association states, “It is critical for those teachers to develop “cultural competence,” as NEA calls it, to reach every student, no matter who they are or where they’re from. This depends on educators doing at least four things: valuing diversity or letting go of the idea that their view of the world is the only one that is normal; being self-aware of their own culture and how it affects their perceptions; understanding how students also are cultural beings; and finally, using what they know to change their classrooms, schools, and districts.” 

Connected to this is critical consciousness which can be thought of as the ability to recognize and analyze systems of inequality and the commitment to act against these systems.  In order to help students develop this understanding, we must first do our own learning in this area. 

Imagine the stronger impact you can have by developing into a culturally responsive teacher.  In Math Recovery® we identify students’ strengths in math and build upon it. We also must see our students’ culture and background as a strength to build on. 

Connections to Math Recovery’s Guiding Principles for Instruction 

GP 2 – Initial and on-going assessment 

Teaching is informed by an initial comprehensive assessment and on-going assessment through teaching. The latter refers to the teacher’s informed understanding of the child’s current knowledge and problem-solving strategies, and continual revision of this understanding.  

As math teachers we understand how important initial and on-going assessment of math is to our practice. We can make this principle stronger by also learning about our students, likes, strengths outside of school and cultural norms. 

GP 5 – Engender more sophisticated strategies 

The teacher understands children’s numerical strategies and deliberately engenders the development of more sophisticated strategies.  

Our goal is for each and every student to learn at high levels. We are not content with the status quo. Hammond describes effective teachers as ‘warm demanders’. We have high expectations and set up learning situations for our students to move forward. 

GP 6 – Observing the child and fine-tuning teaching  

Teaching involves intensive, on-going observation by the teacher and continual micro-adjusting or fine-tuning of teaching on the basis of his or her observation. 

The student is at the center of our thinking and instruction. We observe, respond and continue to make connections. 

GP 9 – Child intrinsic satisfaction 

Children gain intrinsic satisfaction from their problem-solving, their realization that they are making progress, and from the verification methods they develop. 

And lastly, Guiding Principle 9.  When we are connecting with our students and providing opportunities and recognizing growth, our students thrive and self-esteem soars.  Appreciating our students and the various cultures they come from is essential. 

What other connections do you see with your math teaching and culturally responsive teaching?  What is your next step??

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