Math Identity

Sample student math identity surveys

Last week a group of teachers and I were planning and discussing what a rich math block could look like in our classrooms. A week prior the teachers had been asked to give their students a short math identity survey. The teachers were then asked not to look at the surveys until they came to our sesion. These surveys became a place of grounding and goal setting for our time. In the survey, one question was particularly interesting: “what does someone who is good at math do and say?” The answers ranged from, “know answers and say them quickly” to “can talk about the math that is going on in their head and help other people who don’t get it yet.” 

The student voice in the survey gave teachers a peek into the math identities of students and left us with a question….so, what now? 

Identity. Webster defines identity as “a noun; the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” Our students come to us with a math identity already formed or in the forming stages and we hold influence in shifting and shaping that identity. Helping them see and experience who they are, and who they can be, as mathematicians. Tracy Johnston Zager begins her book, Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You Had, with this topic of identity and breaking the cycle of negative math identities and how the language we use in with our students shapes their own identities. 

Secondly, John Hattie in his work with “Visible Learning” shows us the impact of teacher-student relationships (effect size of 0.72) and not labeling students (effect size of 0.61) can positively influence student academic achievement. This means, cultivating relationships with students in our classrooms where kids know they are capable of doing great math work in an environment where it is safe to struggle and fail. It means, as teachers we must work tirelessly to see that every student in our room and school are not labeled by a test score or a certain behavior. Working to end deficit language such as “low or high math kids” or, “not a math person” etc must be of highest priority. Finally, when I think of identity in school, specifically the math classroom, students must be able to see themselves in the curriculum and conversations. Is the math we teach and the problems we present representative of all students in our room? If not, what work needs to be done to ensure that each child has a positive math identity cultivated each day, this is inclusive of making sure they see themselves in the math we teach. What a wonderful opportunity we have as teachers to grow, support, and nourish positive math identities in our classrooms and schools. 

Notice and Wonder:

-What language do you use to describe the mathematicians in your room?

-Does the curriculum and conversations you are using provide a window and a mirror to your students?

-How do you see yourself as a mathematician? How would you like your student’s to see themselves in your classroom? 

Want to learn more about teacher effects and student achievement and identity? Check out:

Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You Had by Tracy Johnston Zager, Stenhouse Publishing, 2017. 

Visible Learning in Mathematics K-12 by John Hattie, Corwin Publishing, 2016.