Research indicates that there are groups of students who continue to experience systemic barriers to learning mathematics. Systemic barriers can result in inequitable outcomes, such as chronic underachievement and low confidence in mathematics. Achieving equitable outcomes in mathematics for all students requires educators to pay attention to these barriers and to how they can overlap and intersect, compounding their effect. Educators ensure that students have access to enrichment support, as necessary, and they capitalize on the rich cultural knowledge, experience, and competencies that all students bring to mathematics learning. When educators develop pedagogical practices that are differentiated, culturally relevant, and responsive, and hold high and appropriate expectations of students, they maximize the opportunity for all students to learn, and they create the conditions necessary to ensure that students have a positive identity as a mathematics learner and can succeed in mathematics and in all other subjects.
It is essential to develop practices that learn from and build on students’ cultural competencies and linguistic resources, recognizing that students bring a wealth of mathematical knowledge, information, experiences, and skills into the classroom, often in languages different from the language of instruction. Educators create the conditions for authentic mathematics experiences by connecting mathematics learning to students’ communities and lives; by respecting and harnessing students’ prior knowledge, experiences, strengths, and interests; and by acknowledging and actively reducing and eliminating the systemic barriers that some students face. Mathematics learning that is student-centered allows students to find relevance and meaning in what they are learning, to make real-life connections to the curriculum.
Mathematics classrooms also provide an opportunity for cross-curricular learning and for teaching about human rights. To create safe, inclusive, and engaging learning environments, educators must be committed to equity and inclusion for all students and to upholding and promoting human rights. Every student, regardless of their background, identity, or personal circumstances, has the right to have mathematics opportunities that allow them to succeed, personally and academically. In any mathematics classroom, it is crucial to acknowledge students’ multiple social identities and how students intersect with the Educators have an obligation to develop and nurture learning environments that are reflective of and responsive to students’ strengths, needs, cultures, and diverse lived experiences, and to set appropriate and high expectations for all.
Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy in Mathematics
Rich, high-quality instruction and tasks are the foundation of culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy (CRRP) in mathematics. In CRRP classrooms, teachers learn about their own identities and pay attention to how those identities affect their teaching, their ideas, and their biases. Teachers also learn about students’ identities, identifications, and/or affiliations and build on students’ ideas, questions, and interests to support the development of an engaging mathematics classroom community.
In mathematics spaces using CRRP, students are engaged in shaping much of the learning so that students have mathematical agency and feel invested in the outcomes. Students develop agency that motivates them to take ownership of their learning of, and progress in, mathematics. Teaching about diverse mathematical figures in history and from different global contexts enables students not only to see themselves reflected in mathematical learning – a key factor in developing students’ sense of self – but also to learn about others, and the multiple ways mathematics exists in all aspects of the world around them.
Culturally reflective and responsive teachers know that there is more than one way to develop a solution. Students are exposed to multiple ways of knowing and are encouraged to explore multiple ways of finding answers. For example, an Indigenous pedagogical approach emphasizes holistic, experiential learning; teacher modelling; and the use of collaborative and engaging activities. Teachers differentiate instruction and assessment opportunities to encourage different ways of learning, to allow all students to learn from and with each other, and to promote an awareness of and respect for the diverse and multiple ways of knowing that make up our classrooms, schools, and the world. When making connections between mathematics and real-life applications, teachers may work in partnership with Indigenous communities to co-teach. Teachers may respectfully incorporate Indigenous culturally specific examples as a way to meaningfully infuse Indigenous knowledge into the mathematics program. In this way, culturally specific examples can be used without cultural appropriation.
More information on equity and inclusive education can be found in the "Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusive Education" subsection of "Considerations for Program Planning".