I just want you to read this.
In a one-minute 28-second period that was filmed in her classroom, Loewenberg Ball counted 20 separate micro moments when she had to decide how to react. She calls them “discretionary spaces,” and in a lecture at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting in April 2018, Loewenberg Ball put a scientist’s microscope on discretionary space #19 to give us all a lesson in how racism and sexism unintentionally creep into the classroom.
“Teaching can have very powerful amazing effects,” said Loewenberg Ball. “It can also do incredible damage. Even in a moment.”
Loewenberg Ball points out that Toni’s question — why 1/7? — is the key question to ask because it gets to the heart of the lesson, learning how to count the intervals on a number line between whole numbers and not every tick mark on the line. But it can take a veteran math educator who is familiar with students’ common misunderstandings to interpret Toni’s mathematical question. “Toni’s actually listening very closely to a classmate’s presentation,” said Loewenberg Ball. “There is no other question that would have been a better question to ask at that moment.”
The actual classroom played out like a fairy tale. Loewenberg Ball publicly acknowledged the importance of Toni’s question. Aniyah explained her faulty reasoning a second time and it prompted a group discussion that clarified the interval confusion for most students. Toni was one of two students who went back up to the board to model how to locate a fraction on the number line and explain it. On the students’ exit tickets at the end of class, 25 out of 30 were able to answer correctly and explain their reasoning.
Aniyah reflected in her notebook: “I did well on my goal today because my goal was to share my ideas with the class and I did. I went up to the board and shared my idea with the class on fractions.”
This is the sort of work that educators need to be doing. We talk a big game about how to work on our implicit biases, but how does it really play out in practice? We go to a class on our own views, but when it comes to a split-second decision, many of which we make in every class, what message are we truly sending?
This is the work we educators need to do. And it will be annoying and unpleasant but it will be the only way for marginalized students to have the same opportunities as others.