Monthly Archives: August 2021

Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education: Chapter 2

Table of Contents for this Blog Series

I’m currently reading and blogging about Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education by Alex Shevrin Venet.

Chapter 2 Defining Equity

This chapter seeks to address two questions:

  1. How does inequity in school cause or worsen student trauma?
  2. Is school equitable for students who struggle with the impact of trauma in their lives? (Spoiler alert: It’s not)

This chapter will also expand on Principle 1 from the Principles of Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education (See table 1.1 on p. 13-14):

Principle 1 – Trauma-informed education is antiracist and against all forms of oppression.

I. What Is Equity?

“All students are capable of learning and should have access to an education that helps them grow and learn.” (p. 21) This is what we all want to believe, but biases, systems, and policies all demonstrate that this belief is not a reality for so many students. If this belief were true then we wouldn’t be able to predict students’ academic success based solely on where they live. (Here’s an article that talks about this idea more: Student Success Comes Down to Zip Code)


  • Educational Equity – “the process of ensuring that all students can access high-quality education, that they are fully included in their school communities, that they are able to engage in meaningful and challenging academic work, and that they can do all of this in an environment that values them as people” (p. 22) (Children are not cogs in the school machine. Rather, they’re human beings and their humanity should be front and center with regards to resources provided for them and decisions made about them.)
  • Equity (as defined by the National Equity Project) – “all children receiving ‘what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential'” (p. 22) (This needs to be sustainable change, not a one-off intervention or support. This is why we have to look at changing systems, not just actions of individuals.)
  • Equality – Treating everyone the same (Not everyone needs the same things to be successful and some need more than others. This seems to be a sticking point with many people who challenge equity with calls for “fairness.” They believe it’s unfair for one group to be given “more” than another, not recognizing that one group already has so much more than the other from the get go. Another fear is having to give up something in order to provide for others. At a recent school board meeting, a community member gave a rambling speech about the problem with equity efforts in our district and specifically shared her fear that talented students will lose access to AP classes as a result. As far as I know, there are no calls to reduce the number of AP classes offered.)

To bring about sustainable, meaningful change, we have to look at systems as interrelated – schools, healthcare, and the economy. I attended a State Board of Education panel discussion in Texas a couple of years ago where they talked about the idea of incorporating mental health services within school buildings because their data showed teenagers are one of the largest populations that needs these services. If the services are close at hand, they are more likely to be utilized and the negative impacts on student learning will be lessened.

A. Equity Literacy

We can’t just snap our fingers (or read one book!) and suddenly our teaching practices will become more equitable. It is a learning process that takes “time, new knowledge, and skills development.” (p. 23) Venet suggests viewing this process as an action-research project where we work in cycles of continuous improvement. We need “practice, coaching, role models, and time” (p. 24) but more importantly we have to get started. “Our students can’t wait for us to become experts before we act.” (p. 24) Embrace failing forward.

B. Equity and Holding Many Perspectives at Once

We have to practice looking beyond individuals and instead look through systemic and structural lenses. This involves asking a lot of questions. If you see an issue that appears inequitable, you need to interrogate it to understand why it’s happening and you have to ask those questions at multiple levels because chances are there is no simple answer, rather a multi-faceted one. Learning to see these many levels and perspectives helps us develop an equity lens. We start to understand there are many factors that contribute to each student’s success (or lack thereof) in school.

This section reminded me of the work my previous district undertook to tackle inequity issues in advanced math class enrollment in one of our high school feeder patterns. A variety of stakeholders in our district partnered with E3 Alliance to analyze data and interrogate the current system to identify the kinds of changes that needed to be made in order to increase enrollment particularly for Black students and other students of color. Here’s a short video that talks about the changes they made:

II. The Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Connection

“…traditional structures of school can be, at best, trauma-indifferent and, at worst, trauma-inducing.” (p. 27)

A. Inequity in Schools Can Cause and Worsen Trauma

It’s a limited view to assume that trauma only occurs outside of schools. It’s an uncomfortable truth that schools can cause trauma. These causes can include teachers, policies, and other students. While hearing this may make teachers feel uncomfortable, looking away and ignoring it doesn’t help anyone. We need “to reckon with practices and attitudes currently causing harm.” (p. 28) Here are three examples of how schools can cause trauma:

1. Bullying and Harassment

Bullying and harassment can have lasting negative consequences for students. While some might characterize this behavior as “kids being kids” it’s really not because not all kids are equally susceptible to bullying and harassment. Students who are more likely to be bullied or harassed are LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, and students of color. Bullying is about power.

Many anti-bullying campaigns focus on being kind or teaching students not to be bystanders, but these strategies don’t work because they’re not systemic. They’re relying on the actions of individuals. Instead, we need to work to create “equitable, affirming school environments. Our efforts toward equity can help decrease bullying as as a potential source of trauma.” (p. 29)

“School leaders and teachers, while not wholly responsible for the existence of racism and bias in society, are responsible for how racism and bias are interrupted and dismantled in our schools.” (p. 29) Inaction and silence perpetuate trauma and inequity.

2. Police and Zero-Tolerance Policies

Bringing police into schools is done out of a desire for safety, but safety for whom? If we use our equity lens and look at this from multiple levels we see that for Black students the police are not considered safe when so many Black people are shot and killed by police officers with an alarming frequency. Having police present in schools is a daily reminder of this collective trauma and can cause further harm.

“…mere interactions with officers can lead to lasting psychological stress.” (p. 31) I remember driving on Riverside Drive in Austin one evening during college and the sudden panic I felt when a police car turned on its lights behind me. I quickly pulled over, my heart racing and panic setting in. I frantically asked myself, “What did I do? I have no idea what I was doing wrong.” The police officer walked over to my car and said, “I know this isn’t really appropriate, but I had to know is your license plate inspired by Star Trek?” I’ll admit that I felt immediate relief knowing that I wasn’t in trouble for anything, but at the same time I was angry that I was made to feel so scared and anxious all to satisfy a cop’s curiosity. Some students feel similar feelings on a daily basis just being in their schools even if they don’t have to interact with the police.

Police officers in schools are often not trained appropriately to work in this setting. While most have training in school shooting prevention, “only 54% are trained in interacting with students with disabilities, and fewer than 40% have received training in understanding child trauma.” (p. 29) This can lead to traumatic interactions between students and police officers. Venet shares several examples of 6-8(!) year old Black girls who were arrested at their schools. Black girls are disproportionately judged to be a threat or safety issue by their teachers and involving police can cause real harm to these children.

Venet goes on to talk about how the presence of police officers in schools contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline. Teachers have to make judgments about when to involve the police, and small decisions can escalate typical behavior that school personnel should handle into criminalized behavior that involves the police and possible criminal penalties.

I’m reminded of an issue in my former district where three high school students received class C misdemeanor citations for stealing animal crackers out of the faculty lounge. You can read a local news story about the incident here. Did the police really need to be involved in this incident or could the staff have handled the discipline on their own with a punishment like detention? As adults, we have to consider the impact of our decisions about how we respond to student behavior.

You might even say there is a school-to-prison nexus because some schools appear to operate as prisons. The students have to wear uniforms, put up with random searches, get punished for not walking on the lines in the hallways or for not staying silent at lunch. “These conditions are not trauma-informed; they are trauma-inducing.” (p. 31) This reminds me of a story my colleague told me about her daughter when she was in 1st grade. She had to take her to the doctor because she was having severe stomach pain. The doctor couldn’t find anything physically wrong with her. Eventually they were able to figure out that her stomach was hurting from all the anxiety she was feeling at school because she was never allowed to talk. Her teacher required the students to constantly work in silence, and the whole school was suffering through silent lunches because the lunch monitors felt like it was too loud in the cafeteria. The only time the students could be themselves and express themselves during their 7 hour school day was during their 15 minutes of recess everyday. Bottling it in all day, day after day, and being afraid of getting in trouble was physically hurting her daughter.

3. Curriculum Violence and Racial Trauma

We’ve looked at how other students and even the police can be sources of trauma at school, but in this final example we turn the lens on ourselves and look at how teachers can be a source of trauma for students. One way is through the lessons we teach. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a Twitter thread about the latest simulation or experiential lesson that causes harm. Here’s a 2019 article from Learning for Justice that shares a specific example of this kind of curriculum violence:

Once again, a U.S. school is in the news for a classroom slavery lesson gone horribly wrong. According to one black student in a fifth-grade class at The Chapel School in Bronxville, New York, last week his teacher had all the black students go into the hallway so she could “put imaginary chains along our necks and wrists, and shackles on our ankles.”

The students were then allegedly led back into the classroom, where their white classmates were encouraged to “bid” on them in a mock auction. 

Another Slavery Simulation: We Can and Must Do Better, Teaching Tolerance, 2019

The teacher shared that she never intended harm to her students, but the fact of the matter is that our intentions don’t matter, the impact of our actions does.

If you want to learn more about curriculum violence, here’s another great article from Learning for Justice called “Ending Curriculum Violence.”

Our Role in the Harm

We have to acknowledge that schools can be a source of trauma for our students, and that the harm is made worse because students often expect schools to be a place of safety. We also have to accept responsibility for our role, not just as individuals but also as a system, in causing trauma and harm to our students. It might make us feel shame or regret, and that’s okay, but we have to work through it. “Understanding the harm our students experience in our schools is essential for us to take action to make things better.” (p. 34)

B. School Isn’t Equitable for Trauma-Affected Students

“Schools can be indifferent to how trauma affects children, even outright retraumatizing and harmful.” (p. 34)

Trauma’s Impact on Learning

This section focuses on the way students who are impacted by trauma can sometimes have an easily triggered fight or flight response. This can impact learning because when the response is triggered the student may be unable to focus on complex tasks. It is important to note that this can result in poor school performance, but this does not mean that these students are poor learners. Rather, these students just need responses from teachers that are considerate of their specific needs in order to be successful learners. Unfortunately, it all comes down to how teachers and other adults interpret student behavior, particularly students experiencing trauma who are triggered.

Punitive Discipline, Seclusion, and Restraint

“Teachers can perpetuate inequity when we choose to see student behavior as defiant or unruly rather than a normal response to stress and trauma.” (p. 36)

This idea of how we interpret student behavior is really powerful and begs the question: What impacts the way teachers interpret student behavior differently? If we can better understand what is causing educators to view student behavior in certain ways, we can try to counter those interpretations to help steer these adults into providing more trauma-informed responses. Otherwise these teachers may respond in ways that are trauma-indifferent or trauma-inducing, particularly when responses such as physical restraint are used. We can end up creating cycles of trauma that causes further harm to our students.

This section ends with one suggestion for how we can respond to student behavior in a trauma-informed way: restorative justice. This is a “paradigm shift that focuses on building community and repairing harm between people, rather than compliance and obedience based on rules.” (p. 38)

Don’t Fall Into a Deficit Trap

“It can feel like a contradiction to hear ‘don’t ignore the impact of trauma’ and also ‘don’t define a child by trauma,’ but both things can be true at once.” (p. 39)

III. Creating Trauma-Informed Systems, Not Fixing Kids

This section reinforces the idea that we have to prevent trauma, not just respond to it. Often we put the burden on students, focusing on building their resilience to trauma. Unfortunately this doesn’t remove the traumatic experiences from their lives. “The thing is, the problem isn’t ever the children themselves: the problem is the adults who choose to harm children, or the conditions that adults create that cause harm to children.” (p. 40)

Focusing on resilience is an “equity detour” that distracts us. Yes, we need to help students impacted by unjust systems within and outside of schools, but we also need to work on dismantling those systems to prevent the trauma in the first place. We need resilient systems, not just resilient children.

Five in a Row: Addition and Subtraction

I’ve been blogging recently about doing math with my daughter and trying out different centers from the newly released Illustrative Mathematics K-5 curriculum. You can read about our experiences with the two centers we’ve already tried: Can You Build It? and Number Puzzles: Addition and Subtraction.

In this post, I’m going to share our experiences with a new center, Five in a Row: Addition and Subtraction. Similar to Number Puzzles, I like the flexibility of this center because it has multiple stages giving me lots of choice about what kinds of numbers we’re going to work with:

  • Stage 1: Add 1 or 2 (1st Grade)
  • Stage 2: Subtract 1 or 2 (1st Grade)
  • Stage 3: Add 7, 8, or 9 (1st Grade)
  • Stage 4: Add or Subtract 10 (1st Grade)
  • Stage 5: Add within 100 without Composing (1st Grade)
  • Stage 6: Add within 100 with Composing (1st and 2nd Grade)
  • Stage 7: Add within 1,000 without Composing (2nd Grade)
  • Stage 8: Add within 1,000 with Composing (2nd Grade)

I decided to start with Stage 6 because my daughter already reviewed adding within 100 without composing when we played the Number Puzzles center. Now I wanted to give her a chance to review adding within 100 with composing.

Here’s what the game board for Stage 6 looks like:

Five in a Row Gameboard. A grid of 25 sums students try to cover. There are 2 rows of numbers along the bottom of the page that are the addends used to create the possible sums.
Five in a Row: Addition and Subtraction, Stage 6

I’ll be honest I have some issues with this game immediately. There are 45 possible sums that can be created with all of these addends. There are 10 duplicate sums, which leaves 35 unique sums that can be created (3 of which are over 100). However, the game board only includes 25 of these possible sums. That means 10 of the possible sums are missing completely from the game board! Students could spend a lot of time adding numbers together only to get sums they can never cover.

I didn’t want to play with this game board, so I came up with two options for modifying it:

  1. Increase the size of the game board to include all 35 possible sums, or
  2. Decrease the number of addends so that the number of possible sums is 25, or as close to 25 as possible

I went with option 2. I decreased the number of addends from 10 to 8. I basically left off 26 and 48. This brings the number of possible sums down from 45 to 28. There are 2 duplicate sums, which leaves 26 unique sums that can be created. I opted to leave off 122 (65 + 57) because it’s not within 100 anyway.

Here’s my redesigned game board:

Modified Five in a Row game board

If you look closely, you’ll see another modification I made: the game is now Four in a Row, not Five in a Row. The game board feels too cramped to attempt five in a row, especially when you have an opponent actively trying to block you.

As the pictures below show, this game really got my daughter thinking!

The further we got into the game, the longer each turn took. On one hand this is great practice because it means she’s doing lots and lots of adding in her head. At the same time, it got pretty exhausting. I even found myself not wanting to be too strategic on some turns because I just didn’t care to try out all the different combinations available to me to see if I could work on making my row or block her from making her row.

Dan Finkel has some great advice about what makes a good math game which he shares in this 3-minute video:

Here are his three ideas:

  • Choice needs to be a part of the game
  • Math should be the engine of the game
  • Simple and quick to play

Choice is definitely part of this game. Students get to choose which of the two clips to move on their turn. They also get to choose to which number they move the clip. Students get to choose whether they’re going to try to place a counter such that it helps them make a row or blocks their opponent from completing a row.

Math is the engine of the game. Students aren’t just solving random addition problems. They have to look at the possible sums they might want to cover and then look at the addends to see how they can achieve their goal.

The game is simple to learn. However, where it falters is that it is not quick to play. This game took us a while, and we were only aiming for four in a row instead of five. We’ve played Stage 6 on two different days and we only played one round each day. Each round took so long, we were ready to move on after that one round.

The game does a lot right, but because of the length of time it can take to play, I don’t know that this is going to be a “go-to” game for lots of kids. Skill level probably affects playing speed quite a bit. Students who are quick and efficient at adding will have a much easier time than students who are inefficient or inaccurate. There’s also the issue of working memory. If students want to be strategic, they have to hold a lot of possible sums in their head as they plan their next move. One strategy you could try is to give students a white board so they can jot down each equation they’re considering to avoid overloading their working memories. This will also help prevent frustration that can make the game feel a lot less fun.

I asked my daughter the other day if she wanted to play Four in a Row again or go back to Number Puzzles. Considering she made comments like, “I don’t like this game,” while we were playing, I was totally surprised that she said she wanted to play Four in a Row again!

I decided to move on to Stage 7 which is about adding within 1,000 without composing. Similar to what I did with Stage 6, I redesigned the game board so that exactly 25 sums are possible.

Modified game board for Five in a Row Stage 7

This time there are two rows along the bottom. The way it works is that you always add one of the numbers from the top row with one of the numbers from the bottom row. On your turn, you’re still only allowed to move one of the clips, either the one on the top row or the one on the bottom row.

Since Stage 7 didn’t require composing, it was much less mentally exhausting to play, and my daughter seemed to enjoy it. She was particularly happy that she beat me. 🙂

I don’t want to dissuade anyone from trying out the Five in a Row center the way that it’s presented in the IM curriculum. However, if you’re interested in trying out the modified version I created, here’s a PDF of the modified game boards for Stages 6 and 7.

Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education: Chapter 1

Table of Contents for this Blog Series

As I mentioned in my previous post (Link), I’m starting to read Alex Shevrin Venet’s book Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education (Link) while also trying out new strategies to (hopefully!) get more out of my professional reading. These blog posts are not only designed to capture my learning from the book, but they’re also a chance to reflect on the process of trying out these reading strategies for the first time to find out what works for me as a reader.

I already did the work of preparing to read the book, which is a whole process of its own. I’ve only done that process once now, but I feel like it will be an important step in my reading going forward, even for fiction books.

To give an example, I read a fiction book this year called The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell (Link). I could tell about halfway through that I was not prepared to read this book. For the past few years I’ve been purposeful about which authors I read (namely ensuring they aren’t all white men) but that isn’t enough. I realized I cheated myself out of getting more out of this book because I didn’t know much about the author or the historical and geographic context of the book. I still might have disliked the book, who knows, but I can say with certainty I wasn’t prepared before I started reading it.

I did prepare to read Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education, and now I’m ready to dive in and read the book. The article I keep referencing (Link) suggests five tips to help you remember what you read:

  1. Take notes
  2. Stay focused
  3. Mark up the book
  4. Make mental links
  5. Quit books

This aligns with a lot of the advice I received on Twitter. As I read each chapter I’m going to mark up the book. Some of the suggestions in the article are:

Jot down connections and tangential thoughts, underline key passages, and make a habit of building a dialogue with the author(s).


I like the idea of turning the reading into a dialogue with the author and as well as making connections. I follow the author on Twitter, so if she wants to engage in *actual* dialogue, I’m all for that, too! 🙂

After I’m done reading I’ll take notes in this blog post. I found trying to take notes on the computer while I’m in the middle of reading was overwhelming for me. I kept picking up the book, putting it down, typing something, referencing the book again, typing some more, and then trying to go back to reading. It made for a very choppy experience. Once I allowed myself to completely read a section, do all my marking up in the book, and then come over to the blog post to jot down notes, I felt a lot better. The marking up I did in the book helped me review what I read and helped me quickly get to my key takeaways from the text.

I’m only going to read a chapter at a time to help me stay focused. Life is busy so that’s probably about all the time I can commit to anyway, especially if I want to take additional time to blog about my thinking about what I read.

Okay, so enough with getting ready, time to read chapter 1!

Chapter 1 Defining Trauma-Informed Education

Venet tells the story of her brother helping farmers certify their farms as organic. To her, organic was just a term used to tell whether or not pesticides were used on a crop, but she learned from her brother that it’s really about a systemic approach to farming that is intentional about “respecting and sustaining our natural environment.” (p. 3)

The same holds true for trauma-informed education. It’s a term those outside of education may only have surface-level understandings of, but in fact there is a “system of values and beliefs underneath.” (p. 4)

This idea of expertise, and how it impacts the kind of understanding we have about a topic, reminds me of the (sometimes frustrating) conversations I have with non-educators about teaching mathematics. They have their personal experiences as students of mathematics which is a surface-level understanding of teaching and learning. Unfortunately, they tend to assume those experiences mean they have as much understanding of the depth and complexity involved as someone who’s made it their career for 20+ years.

Narrow Definitions

Education is big on buzzwords. The terms rigor and social-emotional learning (SEL) immediately come to mind. This is dangerous because once something becomes a buzzword then everyone’s using it but we’re not necessarily talking about the same thing, and as the previous section illustrates, we also come to the conversation with differing levels of expertise and understanding.

Venet shares three definitions of trauma and then synthesizes what they all have in common which is that they focus on meeting the needs of students already impacted by trauma. In this way, trauma is something you respond to, but not something you prevent. She thinks this is a huge limitation of current definitions.

Our definitions, particularly in education, tend to frame trauma “as an individual experience, resulting from factors schools cannot control.” (p. 5) As a result, educators are left to respond to trauma and try their best to stop it from negatively impacting learning. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Adding Complexity

Venet makes it clear that there are no simple definitions and we must resist the use of trauma as a label. However, we do need some common language to describe trauma. She helps share this common language about trauma in the form of answers to the following questions:

  • What is trauma?
  • What types of events or conditions cause trauma?
  • Who experiences trauma?
  • How does trauma impact a child?

First of all it’s important to note that trauma and PTSD are not the same thing. Second, anyone can experience trauma; it can be an individual or collective experience. The pandemic comes to mind as a collective experience of trauma that we’re all facing right now. The important thing is what impact that trauma has. For some, it has minimal impact because of “protective factors that buffer the effects of trauma.” (p. 7) For others, it can impact them in a variety of ways such as “depression, anxiety, anger, aggression, hypervigilance, or physiological changes” (p. 7) There is not one uniform trauma response. These impacts may be invisible or may even be delayed until adulthood.

What I found really resonated with me is the idea of trauma as an ongoing environment. Trauma is not always a singular event in time, but rather it can be a situation or environment that persists. Not that I want to dive too deeply into my personal history with trauma, but this was pretty much what my counselor and I came to understand about my childhood experience with trauma. It wasn’t a singular event, but a persistent environment that I grew up in that lasted until I became an adult.

A Structural Lens

The goal of this chapter is to expand our definition of the term trauma. In this section, Venet urges us to adopt a structural view of trauma. When we focus on trauma as an individual issue, we may help the student cope with the ways they are being traumatized without addressing the causes of their trauma. In a way we may end up even blaming them for their own trauma which they did not cause.

Oppression, bias, discrimination, racism, islamaphobia, heterosexism, and transphobia are all causes of trauma. “Oppression causes trauma through the ways it is built into the everyday structures of school and society and how these structures have persisted through generations.” (p. 8)

To bring this into an educational context, how do schools perpetuate these sources of trauma? According to the author, schools have to reflect and decide whether they’re going to actively disrupt these sources of trauma or allow them to perpetuate. Inaction and silence are means of perpetuating trauma.

Her example of bullying at school really hit home with me considering my own experiences being bullied for years as a child. School had been a safe place for me from Kindergarten through the middle of 4th grade. For those years we lived on a military base and I went to school with other children whose parent(s) were in the military. Then we moved to a new state where I went to public school for the first time in a community that was much more affluent than where I lived before. I started getting bullied almost immediately. School became a very threatening place for me, especially because I received no support from teachers and staff. The system of schooling created an environment where I could be bullied and, through inaction, allowed it to perpetuate.

A New Definition

In this section the focus turns to the role of educators and how we can be “key agents in ending the trauma that happens within our schools and our education system.” (p. 9) In order to do this we need to shift our approach with regards to how we think about the role of trauma in our classrooms, our schools, and our communities. Sadly, “our current educational system is not set up with needs of trauma survivors in mind.” (p. 10) We have to challenge the status quo and challenge ourselves to have an embedded perspective where we strive to disassemble oppressive systems at the same time as we support those experiencing trauma. We have to get at the causes of trauma as much as we do the impacts of trauma.

Shifting Equity to the Center

After spending time defining trauma, it’s time to link it to equity. According to Venet, educational equity “is the work of ensuring that all students have access to a high-quality education and the resources they need to be successful in school.” (p. 10-11) The trouble is that the system of public education has never been and continues to not be equitable, particularly with regard to access to resources. She shares the example of school counselors. Students of color and poor students experiencing trauma are less likely to have access to school counselors, which is an equity issue. “School funding is not in the control of any students, yet students’ futures are affected by this inequitable allocation of resources.” (p. 11)

Inequity can cause or worsen trauma. We can’t un-link trauma and equity. “With the knowledge that inequities contribute to trauma, equity needs to be at the center of trauma-informed practices.” (p. 12) This means equity needs to be part of conversations across all aspects of the education system – instructional design, social-emotional learning, sports, and even the cafeteria. A guiding question as decisions are made in schools should be, “Does this practice, policy, or decision help or harm students from marginalized communities?”

“We show our values through what we choose to include.” (p. 12)

She ends this section with a table of six principles of equity-centered trauma-informed education. For each principle she shares a key understanding as well as actions that need to be taken to apply each principle:

  1. Antiracist, antioppression
  2. Asset based
  3. Systems oriented
  4. Human centered
  5. Universal and proactive
  6. Social justice focused

The Four Shifts We Need

In this section she briefly describes the four shifts that comprise the structure of the rest of the book.

  1. Shift from a reactive stance to a proactive stance. This aligns with what she already said earlier about how we have to work on preventing trauma, not just responding to it.
  2. Shift from a savior mentality toward unconditional positive regard. Our job is not to fix kids, but to be one of many caring adults in a child’s life. This reminds me of the protective factors she talked about earlier, and the role a caring community plays in mitigating the effects of trauma.
  3. Shift from viewing this work as the work of individual teachers, but rather the work of school systems, “from policies to practice.” (p. 15)
  4. Shift from how trauma affects the students in our class to how our students can help bring about change in the world around them.

Changing Practice, Pedagogy, and Policy

Throughout the book, Venet will be weaving in suggestions for transformations that need to happen across different aspects of schooling:

  • Practice – Expanding mindsets. Developing a lens so that we don’t just know better, but so that we do better.
  • Pedagogy – Changing not just what we teach, but also how we teach it
  • Policy – Creating change that outlives any individual teacher or member of the school staff

These three strands work together. For success, you can’t work on one and ignore the others. There’s interdependence. I appreciate how all three aspects are brought back at the end of each chapter as action steps. She’s very clear these will not be checklists, rather a menu to choose from. What you choose isn’t as important as making a choice and getting started. “The important thing is to begin.” (p. 17)

Start Where You Are

It can feel overwhelming, and in some ways it is, but the important thing is to acknowledge it and still take steps to create what change you can. If we throw up our hands and do nothing, then our silence and inaction are perpetuating the trauma and inequity in our schools. If we begin to do something then our actions match our values, and who knows what ripple effects our actions will have.

The action steps for this chapter are all about starting where you are:

  • Developing Your Lens (Practice)
    • Make connections with community agencies whose work involves trauma care, such as youth shelters, community mental health organizations, anti-sexual-violence organizations, or foster agencies. “Schools can provide stronger support for students when we create connections within our community.” This aligns with Shift 3 – this work isn’t the burden of individual teachers, rather something we should be doing collectively. Who knows where those initial connections will lead?
    • Keep up-to-date on developments related to trauma-informed care. It is not a static field and understandings are evolving over time. You might join a Facebook group, attend a webinar, and/or follow experts on Twitter.
  • Transform Your Classroom (Pedagogy)
    • Connect with resources within your school such as counselors or health teachers to address issues like bullying prevention, substance abuse prevention, and relationship violence prevention. Find ways to weave these topics into your curriculum. For example, I love how educator Jenna Laib’s website Slow Reveal Graphs (Link). The site shares an instructional routine that promotes sense making about data while simultaneously raising awareness of social justice issues.
  • Shift the Systems (Policy)
    • Practice using a “respond and prevent” lens. Look at policies that are already in place. Which ones respond to trauma and which ones help prevent trauma? What do you notice and wonder as you do this work?

Final Thoughts

Chapter 1 did a great job of making it clear that a term like trauma is not simple and concise. There are a lot of factors involved in defining what it is, how is it caused, who is affected, and how they are affected. I appreciate the specific focus on the importance of not just responding to trauma, but also taking steps to prevent it. I also appreciate linking trauma and equity together in such a way that you really shouldn’t talk about one without the other: inequity perpetuates trauma.

With regards to my next steps, I’m in an interesting position. My family just moved to Rochester, New York. My daughter will be starting 4th grade in our local school district in just a week and a half. Unlike in Texas where I worked in the same district she went to school in, now I’m just a parent in the district. I don’t know all the ins and outs like I used to in my previous district. My access to the system is different, but I am looking forward to seeing what I can do in my role as a parent. I’ve already made it a commitment to attend school board meetings regularly so I can stay informed about policies within the district. At the last board meeting a few weeks ago, the district released it’s strategic plan which will guide its work for the next five years. I’d like to review that with the “respond and prevent” lens to see if/how trauma and equity are centered in the district’s plan. I will also probably read through the parent/student handbook for my daughter’s new school with the same lens. I did volunteer to be a parent member of the campus planning team at my daughter’s school. I haven’t heard back yet whether I’ve been chosen to serve on it, but if I am chosen I’ll be able to contribute to the work of strategic planning at the campus for the next two years. Fingers crossed!

Number Puzzles: Addition and Subtraction

After playing the Illustrative Math center Can You Build It? (Link) for a few days with my daughter, I decided to switch gears and introduce the Number Puzzles: Addition and Subtraction center (Link). I intentionally chose this center for two reasons:

  1. I like Open Middle problems (Link), and that’s what the puzzles in this center remind me of.
  2. I wanted to revisit two-digit addition before re-introducing three-digit addition.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Number Puzzles center, here’s what it looks like:

A screenshot of Puzzle 1 from the Number Puzzles center. There are four addition equations. Each equation starts with the number 75. Digits, represented by blank boxes, are missing from one addend in each equation.
Number Puzzles: Addition and Subtraction, Stage 3, Puzzle 1

Each stage includes several puzzles. In the example puzzle above, students have to make the equations true by filling in the blanks using the digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. They can only use each digit one time each. I like how all four equations show different ways of decomposing the number 75. I also like how each equation has the sum on the left side of the equal sign to combat the pervasive idea that the equal sign means “and the answer is…”

This center is really flexible because it has stages that span 1st grade through 4th grade math standards.

  • Stage 1: Within 10 (1st Grade)
  • Stage 2: Within 20 (1st and 2nd Grade)
  • Stage 3: Within 100 without Composing (1st Grade)
  • Stage 4: Within 100 with Composing (1st and 2nd Grade)
  • Stage 5: Within 1,000 (3rd Grade)
  • Stage 6: Beyond 1,000 (4th Grade)

For our first stage, I opted for Stage 3. I try to have my daughter practice mental math as often as possible, so I opted to start without composing so that she would feel initial success before moving on to two-digit addition with composing.

My daughter thought these were so fun! She was a little overwhelmed by the page at first so I asked her what she noticed. She said, “There are boxes. All of them have 75.” To encourage trial and error, I made her digit cards that she could move around on top of the empty boxes.

Girl thinking as she solves a Number Puzzle

After she found the missing addend in the first equation, I asked, “How did you know it was 4?”

She replied, “Because of the equal sign, this side has to equal 75 like this side. 71…72, 73, 74, 75. It’s 4.”

I love how she talked about the meaning of the equal sign without me having to ask about it at all!

I’ll admit she was a little thrown off at first by the double boxes together in the last two equations, so I did share with her that two boxes together make a two-digit number. Then she was good to go.

Here’s a picture showing her strategy for figuring out the missing addend in the last equation.

Girl with completed Number Puzzle page in front of her. Next to her is a white board showing a drawing of 75 using tens and ones. 4 tens and 3 ones are crossed out.

First, she drew a representation of 75 using base ten blocks. Then she said, “I have to take away 43.” She crossed off 43 and then counted the remaining blocks in the picture. In the future I might encourage her to try a mental strategy such as counting on from 43, but this let me know where she is comfortable working right now.

Stage 3 includes five puzzles. The first three use the digits 0-5, like you see in the example above. Puzzles 4 and 5 up the challenge a bit by adding more equations and requiring you to use all of the digits 0-9 one time each.

Girl thinking as she solves a Number Puzzle that includes even more equation

All in all, this is a pretty fun center for students to do in pairs or independently. As a teacher, I would be sure to circulate and chat with students to see how they’re grappling with the puzzles and look for places where I can nudge their thinking about addition, subtraction, and/or place value. I would also lead a few whole class conversations around strategies so students could learn from one another. While the activity is fun and gets kids thinking about addition and place value, talking and reflecting on the puzzles is going to help students get even more out of them.

My only gripe is that there are too few puzzles per stage. Usually with centers, you want students to be able to come back to them multiple times. Unfortunately some kids may finish all five puzzles the first day and they may not be interested in doing the same puzzles more than once. Thankfully, making new puzzles isn’t too much of a challenge. Here are some pointers:

  • Enlist others to help! If you work on a team of teachers, task each person with making 1-2 puzzles. The more you can share the work, the better.
  • You’ll need to think of a starting number that will be the same for each equation in the puzzle. (You could decompose a different number in each equation, but there’s power in the repeated reasoning of decomposing the same number in different ways.)
  • Consider the constraints of the stage you’re creating a puzzle for. For example, if you make another puzzle for Stage 3, you have to make sure you’re working within 100 and that none of your equations involve composing a ten.
  • Create a mix of equations. For example, have some include a two-digit addend plus a one-digit addend, while others include a two-digit addend plus a two-digit addend. You could even include three addends!
  • Think about which digits will be left blank. Be sure there’s some variety. Make sure the blanks aren’t all in the ones place in every equation, for example.
  • Try out your puzzle before putting it in front of students! Make sure that every digit gets used once. While playing with my daughter using the materials linked on the Kendall Hunt IM curriculum site, I found that Stage 3, Puzzle 2 has an error. The digit 0 is used twice and the digit 1 isn’t used at all. To fix the error, change the 88 in the second equation to 87 and all is good.
Screenshot of a Number Puzzle showing that there is an error in the puzzle

So far all we’ve tried is Stage 3, but I look forward to letting my daughter play with Number Puzzles again!

Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education – Part 1: Preparing to Read

Table of Contents for this Blog Series

I recently asked on Twitter for advice about how other people engage with professional reading. I got a lot of great advice! To add to my good fortune, a few days later I came across this helpful article (Link) called “How to Remember What You Read” which included even more great advice. So, to put what I’m learning into practice, I’m going to apply it while I read my next book, Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education (Link) by Alex Shevrin Venet.

Today I’m going to prepare to read the book which is something I’ll admit I’ve never done before. From the article I read: “A lot of success in reading boils down to preparation. What you do before you read matters more than you think.” I’m curious to see how I feel about that statement after I’m done preparing to read this book.

The article shares five strategies for this step in the reading process:

  1. Be choosier
  2. Get some context
  3. Know your why
  4. Intelligently skim
  5. Match your book to your environment

I’m going to focus on numbers 2-4 in this post.

Get some context

I actually feel like I’ve already got some context on this book:

  • I’ve followed the author on Twitter (Link) for a while now, which is why this book was on my radar in the first place.
  • Equity has been a theme in my work as a district curriculum coordinator supporting 34 elementary schools serving roughly 20,000 students. And I wasn’t alone! The entire curriculum department made equity a focus of our learning and planning together during the last few years I was in the role.
  • I don’t have a ton of experience with trauma-informed education, but I did learn about trauma-informed care when I was preparing to become a foster parent. I’ll be curious to see what’s the same/different as trauma-informed care applies to education.

Know your why

Why am I reading this book? Now that I’ve moved to New York, I’m hoping to get a position where I work with students and teachers more directly. I learned a lot being a district leader, but I want a job in a school building right now. I’ve already applied to be a substitute teacher while I work on getting my Texas teacher certificate transferred to New York. I’m also interesting in being a classroom teacher again since I haven’t had my own classroom since 2009. Because I want to work more closely with students, I want to ensure I have a solid skill set for building community, engaging with students, providing them the support they need, and being very considerate of their backgrounds and experiences. Out of all the books I could have chosen, I was drawn to this one because I really valued what I learned about trauma-informed care as I was becoming a foster parent. I immediately realized this was knowledge that would have helped me be a better, more compassionate teacher.

Intelligently skim

The article shared ideas for how to do this. I also like the way Dr. Andy Mitchell described his version of it on Twitter:

For my intelligent skim, I’m going to read and reflect on the back of the book, the table of contents, the introduction, and the conclusion.

Back of the Book

Just in case you’re interested in knowing what this book is about, I’ll copy the blurb from the back of the book and then reflect on it.

In this comprehensive guide, Alex Shevrin Venet urges educators to adopt trauma-informed practices as part of a systemic effort to advance social justice rather than as a set of peripheral moves intended to help selected students who are perceived to be in need of rescue. Using a framework of six principles, Venet offers practical action steps that teachers and school leaders can take from any starting point, making shifts in practice, pedagogy, and policy to address underlying inequities that can cause or heighten trauma. Teachers are able to do more than they realize from within their own classrooms to shift equity to the center, and to help prevent the trauma that originates inside schools. This book shows them how.

Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education

I’m definitely interested in the idea of making systemic change. At a district leadership event a couple of years ago, one of the speakers told the story of baking a cake without sugar and trying to make up for it by sprinkling sugar on top. The cake is still going to taste bad! He said we need to view equity the same way. If equity is not baked into our systems of education, but rather sprinkled on, it’s not going to make the system better. The term “equity sprinkles” became a popular phrase in our district after that: Are you intentionally baking equity into your decisions or are you just adding equity sprinkles?

Table of contents

  • Bringing Equity to the Center
    • Chapter 1: Defining Trauma-Informed Education
    • Chapter 2: Defining Equity

I like how the first two chapters are about definitions – what is trauma-informed education and what is equity? Even though I have thoughts about the meanings of those two terms, I look forward to reading the author’s definitions to help us get on the same page before going further.

The book is organized around four shifts in practice:

  • Shift 1: Adopt a Universal Approach
    • Chapter 3: Trauma is More Than a Number
    • Chapter 4: Trauma is a Lens, Not a Label
    • Chapter 5: Four Proactive Priorities for Decision Making
  • Shift 2: Rethink Your Role as an Educator
    • Chapter 6: Build Relationships Rooted in Equity
    • Chapter 7: Cultivate Unconditional Positive Regard
    • Chapter 8: Make Connections, Respect Boundaries

This is intriguing. I’m curious how I’ll view my role differently after reading this section. I might need to reflect on what I think my current role is as an educator before I read this section. At the moment I would say my role is to support my students in knowing more and being able to do more than they could before working with me. I want to help them develop positive identities around learning and doing a wide variety of things. I want to help them feel like they are part of a community where everyone belongs and supports one another. I want to create a space where they feel safe and cared for.

  • Shift 3: Move from Mindset to Systems Change
    • Chapter 9: Support Teacher Wellness
    • Chapter 10: Foster Professional Growth
    • Chapter 11: Work Toward Policy Change

I’m looking forward to this section! Many of the issues we have with racism and white supremacy in our country are rooted in systems that have been in place for a long time. I look forward to learning what advice she has for how educators can help to change these systems.

  • Shift 4: Change the World from Inside Your Classroom
    • Chapter 12: Examine the Curriculum, Disrupt Harmful Narratives
    • Chapter 13: Get to Work: Activism and Action as Healing

As a former curriculum coordinator, I understand how important it is to examine the curriculum. In mathematics, some of the harmful narratives have to do with who does math? I found it interesting in Texas that there are state science standards that require teachers to teach about scientists:

  • 1st Grade Science TEKS – Describe what scientists do
  • 2nd Grade Science TEKS – Identify what a scientist is and explore what different scientists do
  • 3rd-5th Grade Science TEKS – Connect grade-level appropriate science concepts with the history of science, science careers, and contributions of scientists

But there are no comparable math standards, at least not at the elementary level. It’s almost like the people involved in mathematics are erased. Rather than being a living, breathing subject that people study and use in careers today*, it’s just a collection of knowledge and skills everyone has to learn.

* There’s one math standard that lightly touches on this: “Apply mathematics to problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace,” but it’s about applying mathematics rather than learning about the history of math, math careers, and contributions of mathematicians.


  • Page xiii – Appearances can be deceiving. – We can’t know how our students are doing just by looking at them. We don’t know what’s happening at home or elsewhere in school or how they’re feeling.
  • Page xiv – Childhood trauma does not guarantee a life of failure and struggle. – But it does impact who children become as adults.
  • Trauma matters
    • Page xiv – Prevailing view in the past “Kids are resilient. They’ll get over it.” – Kids are resilient, but “They’ll get over it” isn’t the right attitude.
    • Page xiv – About half of all children in the US will experience at least one potentially traumatic event before age 18. Because so many students are possibly exposed to trauma, I wonder if this is why we want to make trauma-informed education a central part of our work because we never know when it’s happening or to whom, but we can agree it’s not some rare event that only inflicts a special few.
    • Page xiv – Child trauma is hard to measure because of where it happens (behind closed doors) and inability/unwillingness to talk about it. It also doesn’t only happen at home.

[Internal monologue: I’m not liking this approach to skimming. It doesn’t feel like skimming at all. I feel like I’m stopping constantly and writing down way too much. I’m going to try reading each section and then summarize it for myself and see if that feels better. I also need to find a balance between marking in the book and recording in my blog post. I don’t necessarily need to transcribe everything into my blog post so long as I can refer to the book later.]

Take 2: I continued reading this section and focused on jotting in my book rather than coming back to the blog post to capture my ideas. Here’s what I took away as I skimmed the rest of this section:

  • Not every student is hurt long-term by trauma, most likely because they have systems of care including family, community, and access to resources.
  • Other students do have trauma which the author describes as “enduring negative psychological, physical, and spiritual harm.’
  • A person can’t just “push through trauma.” Rather there are several factors involved in healing from trauma:
    • A feeling of safety, emotional and psychological
    • Building relationships with trusted people
    • A feeling of unconditional acceptance
    • Therapy can be helpful but is not enough on its own, we also need a community that cares about us
  • Trauma can happen in and out of school – Schools can be places of trauma for some students.
  • The author shared her personal experience working at an alternative school that redesigned things from the ground up. They had a mission “grounded in unconditional care” for their students that guided all of their decision making. However, outside of this context, she realized there are many of the same old attitudes and beliefs out there that result in trauma not being identified or addressed, often because teachers don’t feel equipped to do anything about it.
  • What the author has learned over time:
    • School can be a site of growth and support for students surviving the most challenging circumstances
    • School can be structured in intentional ways to promote this growth
    • Together, educators can advocate for systems change that addresses and prevents trauma

[Internal monologue: This went much smoother. I was able to focus on reading and then when I was done it was really easy to capture the key points in the blog post. Let’s stick with that!]

  • Trauma-Informed Education: A Healing Force or a Buzzword?
    • There’s a lot more awareness of trauma and trauma-informed practices in our culture today, but we run the risk of it becoming a buzzword without meaning, or worse, causing harm for students because it results in a deficit model where the “trauma kids” are treated differently than the other kids in the school. Also, there’s a lot of trauma caused by the inequalities in our systems, and if we don’t link trauma-informed care with equity and social justice, then we may do more harm than good.
    • One problem the author notes is that there are individual teachers and programs that have been studied, but not enough work has been done to identify what’s working at a whole-school or -district level. These approaches seem to work for some but not others. We need to understand why so that these practices aren’t abandoned because we just assume they don’t work or aren’t worth the time.
  • Book Overview
    • Goal of the book: My hope for you as the reader is that you will finish this book with a more complex understanding of trauma-informed education and a drive to bring your own trauma-informed work to the next level, with equity at the center.
    • This book is not “Trauma 101.” The author is assuming you have some understanding of trauma and trauma-informed care before reading since her focus is instead on the work of connecting these practices to equity work. She also makes it clear that she’s coming at this from the lens of an educator, not a clinician, though she recommends partnering with school and community mental health experts in this work.
    • The book is a mix of education research, philosophy, and rubber-meets-the-road strategies. She makes it clear that some ideas she hopes you can take away and apply immediately while others will take time and effort, but hopefully you’ll be inspired to start the work by the time you’re done reading.
    • The focus is on the adults in a school building, not the students. What work do we need to do as adults to create an equity-centered trauma-informed environment for our students?
    • Chapter 1: Expanded definition of trauma-informed practices
    • Chapter 2: Two big ideas (1) inequity causes trauma and (2) School isn’t equitable for trauma-affected students
    • Chapter 3: Diving deeper into the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) framework
    • Chapter 4: Making sure universal interventions are helpful not harmful
    • Chapter 5: Four priorities for infusing an understanding of trauma into our decision making
    • Chapters 6-8: Unconditional positive regard – Making sure we don’t position ourselves as saviors
    • Chapters 9-11: Focus on school leadership and policies
    • Chapters 12-13: Focus on classroom pedagogy


It’s funny. When I read research articles, I almost always skip down to the discussion and conclusion sections to hear what the researchers found out and what they recommend. I’ve never done this with a nonfiction book before though. Now that I’ve read the table of contents and introduction, I’m kind of interested to read her concluding thoughts before diving into the chapters in between.

To be trauma informed is to be committed to the end of the conditions that cause trauma. Venet’s concluding chapter is a rallying cry to get started on the work. No single one of us is going to solve all the problems our students face or fix all the systems that create and perpetuate trauma, but that shouldn’t stop us from beginning the work and doing our part to help move toward the kind of world our students deserve.

She’s clear that she has no easy answer for the reader, and definitely no checklists! Rather, she provides a list of questions to get the reader wondering, planning, and dreaming about what is possible.

An important point in the last chapter is standing in solidarity with our students. Letting them know, “I am with you and I will fight for you.” Some specific areas where we can make a stand are demanding the removal of police from our schools, fully funding counselors and mental health support, and ending token economy behavior systems such as PBIS. She acknowledges there’s risk in standing up for our students and demanding change, and we have to reflect on how much risk we’re willing to shoulder for our students and then whatever amount that is we have to be willing to take it on.

Ready to Read!

That was an experience. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time before preparing to read a book. It definitely felt different. I’ll be the first to admit it’s time consuming, but at the same time I feel way more engaged with the book than if I’d just cracked it open and started in on chapter 1. I feel like I’ve seen the big picture and now I can dive in and look more closely at the details with a greater appreciation for what they mean.

I’m not sure I would do this for every book I read, but another piece of advice from the article I read is that we really should be much choosier, not just about which books we read but about which books we finish.

“Life is much too short to finish a bad book. You need to be ruthless and heartless. Don’t let sunk costs guilt you into wasting your time.”

So far I’m excited by Venet’s book and I look forward to diving into the remaining chapters. As she says in the concluding chapter, this is urgent work, and I am definitely ready to learn and get started.

Just the Facts

In my previous post (Link), I shared how I’ve recently starting doing math with my daughter to help her get warmed up for the start of 4th grade. In that post I talked about how I’m using the centers from the Illustrative Mathematics K-5 curriculum (Link) to revisit and practice working with multiplication and arrays.

In the six and half years I worked as a district math curriculum coordinator, a common concern I heard from 4th and 5th grade teachers is that their students don’t come in knowing their multiplication facts. I can attest that my daughter learned a lot about multiplication and division in 3rd grade, but I’ll be honest, she hasn’t done a whole lot of multiplying or dividing this summer (not to mention fluency is something that tends to develop over a period of years, not months). It comes as absolutely no surprise to me that she’s rusty, particularly with knowing her multiplication facts. I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that a lot of kids are rusty at the start of a new school year. We need to give them grace, which means not saying things like, “Didn’t your teacher teach this last year?” We also need to intentionally build in opportunities to practice and dust off the mental cobwebs.

Today I’d like to share how my daughter and I have been practicing multiplication facts. What I like about what we’re doing is that (1) it only takes a few minutes a day, (2) it reinforces flexible use of strategies, and (3) it gives her a second chance everyday. I got this idea from a free math intervention called Pirate Math Equation Quest (Link), developed by Dr. Katherine Berry and Dr. Sarah Powell from the Meadows Center (Link) at The University of Texas at Austin. Their intervention includes a component called Math Fact Flaschards that goes like this:

  • Student completes two trials of Math Fact Flashcards, each for 1 minute
  • Teacher and student count cards after each timing
  • Teacher monitors and provides feedback as needed
  • After 2 trials, student graphs the higher score

Rather than use traditional flashcards, I created flashcards that show two facts per card, the initial fact and its turnaround. For example, the card with 2 × 5 also shows 5 × 2. I got this idea from the 4th grade Investigations 2nd edition curriculum. It reinforces the idea that every time you know the answer for one fact, you really know the answer for two (with the exception of square numbers).

Four multiplication flash cards.

Before we start a trial, I always remind her that she is going to “just know” some of the facts because she’s so familiar with them, but for the ones she doesn’t “just know” she can use one of the multiplication strategies she’s learned. The following poster is hanging on the wall next to where she’s sitting so she can turn and reference it as needed.

Table listing the multiplication thinking strategies

These are the thinking strategies developed by Origo Education (Link). If you’re not familiar with them, check out this YouTube playlist that includes one-minute videos explaining each strategy. (Link) If you want to see how a child uses one of the strategies, here’s a link to a short video of my daughter talking through the Build Down strategy she used to solve 9 × 7. (Link)

Please note, you can’t just throw strategies at your students. They have to be intentionally introduced and practiced, but it is well worth the time! Students who lack a robust toolbox of strategies have to rely solely on memorization (which is a big ask!) or inefficient strategies like skip counting. If you’re interested in learning more about how to teach these strategies, Origo has a great series called The Book of Facts that shares activities and games for teaching a set of fact strategies for each of the four operations. (Link)

During each trial, I present the flashcards one at a time. I put all of the ones she answers correctly in a pile and any she answers incorrectly in another pile. After the minute is over, she counts the number correct, and then we discuss the ones she answered incorrectly. Sometimes her incorrect answers are because of a simple mistake, and I reinforce that it’s fine because she has been able to recognize the error herself. However, sometimes it’s more than a simple error. I was able to pick up very quickly that she’s also rusty with doubling 2-digit numbers that involve bridging a ten. For example, to solve 4 × 7, she can easily double 7 to get 14 and double 14 to get 28. However, to solve 4 × 8, she can easily double 8 to get 16 but she gets stuck doubling 16. Her answer might be 26 or 36.

Based on this observation, I’ve added in practice with doubling 2-digit numbers. This practice is untimed for now, though I might eventually add these cards into the deck of multiplication flashcards.

Set of flashcards that say things like "Double 25" and "Double 18"

At the end of the two trials, we graph her higher score for the day. I really love this because if she blows the first trial for whatever reason, she knows she’s going to get a second chance to get a higher score. It really takes the pressure off.

We’ve only been doing it for a week, so there’s not a lot of data to look at, but I’ve already used her graph to talk about how we all have good days and better days. I also reinforce that while some days are lower, her rate of incorrect responses is consistently low. She only ever misses 0, 1, or rarely 2 cards during a trial. She’s also been really good about stopping and thinking of an appropriate strategy whenever she gets stuck, and she is doing a great job of executing her chosen strategy accurately.

Bar graph showing the number of multiplication flash cards answered correctly each day. Bars range in height from 14 to 21.

For full transparency, her deck of flashcards includes all of the facts including the “easy” ones like 0s and 1s facts, and I’m okay with that. They’re still facts and she needs to know them. The important thing is that I continue to monitor to uncover any issues where I can support her, like with doubling 2-digit numbers. Eventually I might ween the deck down to the ones that need more intensive practice.

I like that this practice doesn’t take a lot of time, only about 3-5 minutes. If you’d like to try this out in your classroom, you might consider doing it in small groups, which is an idea shared in the Pirate Math Equation Quest intervention I mentioned earlier. During the one-minute trial, the teacher goes around the group round robin style, showing one flashcard to each student. All of the flashcards are placed in one pile and the total correct is the group’s score. The goal as a group is to try to get more and more correct each time. I like that this allows for a bit of a tradeoff. The teacher doesn’t have to feel pressured to run this activity individually with every student, but at the same time, she can learn something about each student as she conducts these trials in small groups. I’m doing this with my daughter everyday, but a teacher might be able to make small groups such that she ends up seeing every student every 3-4 days.

As I was reading over the small group directions, I realized they recommend letting the student continue trying until they get the answer correct. If the student answers incorrectly, the teacher intervenes with a suggestion such as a strategy a student might use. I think I might try that with my daughter rather than setting aside incorrect answers. Helping in the moment seems much more powerful than helping at the end. It also does a better job of validating the power of identifying and correcting mistakes. I like forward to seeing how it goes next week!

Can You Build It?

This week I’m starting to do a little math with my daughter everyday to dust off the cobwebs before 4th grade starts in September. One of the resources I’m using is the centers from the Illustrative Mathematics K-5 curriculum (Link to Kendall Hunt’s version of IM K-5 Math).

We kicked things off on Monday with a center called Can You Build It? (Link) One thing I like about the IM centers is that they often contain multiple stages within the same center, so you can choose just the right starting point within a given concept. Since my goal was to revisit arrays and the meaning of multiplication, we started with Stage 1. In the original IM version, one person builds an array secretly and then describes it to their partner and the partner tries to recreate it.

I changed this stage into a cooperative game that turned out to be really fun for my daughter. Here’s how it works:

  1. Draw a target area card. (I created a deck of cards that have the numbers 10 – 27 on them. This means there are 18 possible target areas, which feels like a good range. The numbers are also small enough that you won’t spend all your time counting out the tiles you need before making your array.)
  2. Each player secretly makes an array with that target area.
  3. Share your arrays. If you made the same array, you collectively earn 1 point. If you each made a different array, you collectively earn 2 points. (To clarify, a 2 by 6 array is the same as a 6 by 2 array.)
  4. Earn 5 points in as few rounds as possible.

If you don’t have square tiles handy, you could use a free app like Number Frames from the Math Learning Center (Link) which can be used in a browser or downloaded onto a tablet.

Screenshot of Number Frames app. The workspace of the app shows 3 arrays: a 1 by 12, a 2 by 6, and a 3 by 4.

Or if you still want something hands-on, you could always use some crackers!


After a couple of days playing Stage 1 and revisiting how to build and describe arrays, we moved on to Stage 2. There are a couple of key differences here:

  1. Instead of secretly making only one array, the goal now is to make as many different arrays as possible with the target area.
  2. The game is competitive now. The player who makes more arrays earns 2 points and the other player earns 0. If both players make the same number of arrays, they both earn 1 point. The winner is the first to 5 points. (The original IM center used a slightly different scoring scheme. I opted for something similar to the game we played for Stage 1.)

My daughter immediately started bumping into ideas related to prime numbers. Here are some highlights from our conversation as we played for the first time:

1/ Daddy: Today our game is slightly different. This time when we draw a target area, our goal is to make as many different arrays as possible. If we get the same number of arrays, we each earn 1 point. If one of us makes more than the other, that person earns 2 points.

2/ Daddy: (draws card) Our first target area is 20.
(both make arrays in secret)
Daddy: I made a 2 by 10 and a 4 by 5. How about you?
Me: I made those, and I made a 1 by 20.
Daddy: Oh! I forgot that one!
Me: You have to remember you can *always* make a 1 by array!

3/ Daddy: (draws card) Okay, this time our target area is 13.
(both make arrays in secret)
Me: Ugh! I can only make one.
Daddy: Me, too. What did you make?
Me: 1 by 13.
Daddy: Hmm, I wonder why we could only make one array.
Me: Maybe because it’s an odd number.

4/ Daddy: (draws card) Now our target area is 11.
(both make arrays in secret)
Me: No! You can only make one again.
Daddy: Huh, is this an odd number, too?
Me: Yeah.
Daddy: That’s interesting.

5/ Daddy: (draws card) Ok, our target area is 10.
Me: I’m just going to write down the 1 by array. I don’t even need to make it.
(both make arrays in secret)
Daddy: What did you make?
Me: A 1 by 10 and a 2 by 5.
Daddy: Same here. Is 10 odd?
Me: No, it’s even.
Daddy: Hmm…

6/ Daddy: You made two really interesting observations today. Do you remember what they were?
Me: …if a number is odd you can probably only make one array?
Daddy: What else?
Me: …and you can always make a 1 by array for every number!

Originally tweeted by Splash (@SplashSpeaks) on August 18, 2021.

I love how this game has a simple premise – make arrays – but it creates opportunities for students to notice deeper ideas about numbers and multiplication. If you woudl like to try this game out with your own child or students, here’s a link to the center. (Link)

If you work in a grade level that introduces prime and composite numbers, I also recommend checking out 4th Grade Unit 1 of the IM curriculum for well-designed, ready-to-go lessons. (Link)

[UPDATE] Alyson Eaglen shared a great idea on Twitter. She said that instead of using cards with pre-printed target areas, she suggests rolling three 9-sided die and the sum is the target area. What a great way to bring in some bonus addition practice! If you don’t have 9-sided dice, you could always use five 6-sided dice or whatever combination of dice yields the range of target areas you’re interested in for the game. If you don’t have physical dice handy, Polypad’s free virtual manipulatives (Link) include a variety of dice under the Probability and Statistics menu.

What I’m Reading – TeachingWorks High-Leverage Teaching Practices

Recently on Twitter I asked for advice about how other people engage with professional reading.

I got a lot of great advice. (Thank you to everyone who contributed!) A recurring theme was how much more people get out of their reading when they interact with others. One way I’d like to try to spur some interaction while I read is to use my blog as a place to share my thoughts on my professional reading. At worst, no one will respond, but I’ll still have done some reflecting on my own so that’s not so bad. At best, folks will comment and I’ll get to engage more with the ideas from whatever I happen to be reading.

I’m not quite ready to dive into a professional book at the moment, but I did want to spur myself to get started, so today I reread over the material at TeachingWorks (Link) on high-leverage teaching practices to refresh my memory. I jotted down notes while I read that I’m putting in this post. If you read through them and they spark any thoughts, feel free to share in the comments! I’m particularly interested in the topic of high-leverage teaching practices. I’d love to hear what others think about them or hear what other resources on this topic that you think I should read!

The Work of Teaching (Link)

“Great teachers aren’t born. They’re taught.”

“Having a skillful teacher has been a matter of chance and students of color and low-income have unequal access to good teaching.”

Identifying and teaching high-leverage practices – “an action or task central to teaching” – is one way to support new and early career teachers.

Core Ideas (Link)

  1. “The goal of classroom teaching is to help students learn worthwhile knowledge and skills and develop the ability to use what they learn for their own purposes.” – I’m curious how “worthwhile” is defined. Worthwhile to whom? Deemed worthwhile by whom? I do like the idea of using “what they learn for their own purposes.” Schooling isn’t about what anyone else thinks a student should ultimately do, but about the knowledge and skills a student learns and their agency to make choices about how they use them.
  2. “All students deserve the opportunity to learn at high levels.” – I just listened to an episode (Link) of the podcast “Teaching While White” where Tim Wise talks about the history of schooling in this country and he shares a quote by Thomas Jefferson where he says 6 years or so of schooling should be provided to all (white people) in order to elevate those with talent from the “rubbish.” Clearly the goals of public education in this county from its inception have not been to ensure that all students learn at high levels, but rather to find a small population who we deem capable of learning at high levels and letting them rise to the top.
  3. “Learning is an active sense-making process.” – This is the nature of human brains. Even if we could provide every student the same inputs, our brains are making sense of them against the background of our own unique experiences which is why the outputs can be so vastly different for each person. Regardless of what those outputs are, it is the sense that each person’s brain has been able to make of what they’re experiencing. It’s no wonder that you can have such a broad range of skills and abilities within a single classroom. It also demonstrates the challenges teachers face in identifying and responding to what their students have learned.
  4. “Teaching is interactive with and constructed together with students.” – If you’ve ever tried to teach the same lesson to different groups, this will make sense. What stands out to one group vs. another may impact the conversation you have and where you focus your time and what the ultimate learning is for a given group. One group may need a different way of interacting than another group in order to be successful. Even if you teach just one class (like an elementary teacher), you’ll notice year to year differences between groups of students. Those variations and your interactions are the basis of constructing knowledge together. There might be similarities about what’s learned between groups, but there will inherently be differences.
  5. “The contexts of classroom teaching matter, and teachers must manage and use them well.” – This reminds me of the porous boundary between the classroom and the surrounding environments Dr. Deborah Ball talks about in her AERA 2018 Presidential Address (Link). According to Dr. Ball, these environments aren’t just physical, they also include historical racism, the legacy of slavery, colonialism, whiteness, housing policies, segregation, school structure, teaching as an occupation, the enormous health and wealth disparities in our country, and curriculum. It’s a big “multivariate soup” within which teaching and learning take place. “Environments permeate the classroom and have no bounds themselves.”

Origin & Evolution (Link)

“The goal has been to identify a small set of instructional practices that are crucial for beginning and early career teachers to be able to do well, and a small number of topics and ideas that they should understand and know how to teach.” – From the elementary lens, this is a powerful idea because elementary teachers are required to “do it all.” They are expected to teach every subject well, and while there are unique challenges to teaching each content area, how might it benefit teachers (particularly new and early career teachers) to focus on a core set of skills that can be applied across content areas? It feels like a much better use of their time, especially when you consider all the professional development opportunities teachers can be bombarded with that are often siloed by content. Each of these PD opportunities may be amazing, but if they aren’t helping teachers develop big picture understandings about teaching and learning, the impact may be smaller than we’d hope. I’d much rather focus professional learning on these core skills and then look at how they can be applied in different content areas.

“…striving to isolate those aspects of the work of teaching that matter most for the quality of students’ educational opportunities.” – From reading this page it sounds like their group has done a lot of work to involve a variety of stakeholders in order to create and refine their list. I wonder how others who weren’t part of this work can create buy-in with teachers that these practices “matter most for the quality of students’ educational opportunities.”

“We also seek to identify the highest-leverage content knowledge needed for teaching. High-leverage content is particular topics, practices, and texts that are both foundational to the K-12 curriculum in this country and important for beginning teachers to be able to teach.” – This would be useful to connect with standards at a given grade level to help teachers understand where and how to focus their time and attention with their students.

High-Leverage Practices (Link)

“These practices are used constantly and are critical to helping students learn important content. The high-leverage practices are also central to supporting students’ social and emotional development.” – I like how this acknowledges that we’re teaching people, not just content, and so the skills of teaching need to include skills related to building relationships and working with people.

Here’s the list of high-leverage practices

  1. Leading a group discussion
  2. Explaining and modeling content, practices, and strategies
  3. Eliciting and interpreting student thinking
  4. Diagnosing particular common patterns of student thinking and development in a subject-matter domain
  5. Implementing norms and routines for classroom discourse and work
  6. Coordinating and adjusting instruction during a lesson
  7. Specifying and reinforcing productive student behavior
  8. Implementing organizational routines
  9. Setting up and managing small group work
  10. Building respectful relationships with students
  11. Talking about a student with parents or other caregivers
  12. Learning about students’ cultural, religious, family, intellectual, and personal experiences and resources for use in instruction
  13. Setting long- and short-term learning goals for students
  14. Designing single lessons and sequences of lessons
  15. Checking student understanding during and at the conclusion of lessons
  16. Selecting and designing formal assessments of student learning
  17. Interpreting the results of student work, including routine assignments, quizzes, tests, projects, and standardized assessments
  18. Providing oral and written feedback to students
  19. Analyzing instruction for the purpose of improving it

It’s overwhelming when you look at it all at once, especially when you consider there’s quite a bit of depth to each of these statements, but I like the idea that if these are the things that matter most, then this list provides solid avenues teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators can pursue to help improve the quality of students’ educational opportunities.

High-Leverage Content (Link)

“Although many teaching capabilities are used across subject areas, some are subject-specific.” – This is where I’d like to see subject-area PD focus. The high-leverage practices keep us focused, but we can learn the nuances of how to use them successfully in each subject area without feeling like we’re always learning something brand new or disconnected from previous learning.

TeachingWorks hasn’t provided a list of high-leverage content yet. It says they began the work of identifying high-leverage content in 2011. I’m curious where they are 10 years on.

Practice-Based Teacher Education (Link)

I guess everything gets a list on this site. This page shares 10 critical features of practice-based teacher education – “professional training that is deliberate about making sure that novice teachers can use specific practices of teaching” in an effort to create “a more just society, achieved through classroom instruction that disrupts racism and attends to all students as individuals and as members of multiples communities.”

Here is their list of critical features of practice-based education

  1. Shared vision
  2. High-leverage practices
  3. Models of skillful teaching
  4. Opportunity to practice
  5. Ambitious learning goals for children
  6. Deliberate attention to Black and brown children
  7. Content knowledge for teaching
  8. Ethical obligations
  9. Performance assessments
  10. Coherence, sustainability, and continuous improvement

Part of why they share this list is because there’s not one model program or way to teach teachers. Rather, we need to create programs for particular contexts and students, but these critical features can help shape that work.

One thing they talk about in this section is how they decompose the high-leverage practices and provide opportunities for teachers to learn and practice individual parts of each practice. This makes sense given how dense the high-leverage practices are.

If you want to see some of these critical features in practice, I recommend watching the entirety of Dr. Deborah Ball’s talk that I mentioned earlier. In particular she demonstrates deliberate attention to two Black children in her class and the power we have as teachers to build up or tear down these students with decisions we have to make in-the-moment.

Fast forward to 46:31 for the start of Dr. Ball’s talk

Final Thoughts

I’ve been drawn to this idea of high-leverage practices for several years now. Having worked as a curriculum coordinator in a school district with 34 elementary schools with over 1,000 elementary teachers, I constantly bumped into the limits of teachers’ time. Teachers are pulled in many directions from administrators, instructional coaches, the curriculum department, state requirements, not to mention teachers’ own interests about what they’d like to learn. I feel like we can work smarter, not harder, by centering our professional learning efforts around a set of common practices like those shared by TeachingWorks. It would create common language and would reassure teachers that any professional learning they are doing is tied into the bigger picture of what it means to provide quality instruction to all students. Unfortunately I wasn’t a very good salesman because I never found any traction with the idea in my district, which is fine, but it doesn’t mean I’m letting it go. I don’t know how or when I might be able to work with these ideas further, but I know that I’d like to.