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Strengths-Based Teaching and Learning in Mathematics

Strengths-Based Teaching and Learning in Mathematics
Five Teaching Turnarounds for Grades K-6

First Edition

Foreword by Francis (Skip) Fennell

March 2020 | 272 pages | Corwin

“This book is a game changer! Strengths-Based Teaching and Learning in Mathematics: 5 Teaching Turnarounds for Grades K- 6 goes beyond simply providing information by sharing a pathway for changing practice. . . Focusing on our students’ strengths should be routine and can be lost in the day-to-day teaching demands. A teacher using these approaches can change the trajectory of students’ lives forever. All teachers need this resource!    

Connie S. Schrock
Emporia State University
National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics President, 2017-2019

NEW COVID RESOURCES ADDED:  A Parent’s Toolkit to Strengths-Based Learning in Math is now available on the book’s companion website to support families engaged in math learning at home. This toolkit provides a variety of home-based activities and games for families to engage in together.

Your game plan for unlocking mathematics by focusing on students’ strengths.

We often evaluate student thinking and their work from a deficit point of view, particularly in mathematics, where many teachers have been taught that their role is to diagnose and eradicate students’ misconceptions. But what if instead of focusing on what students don’t know or haven’t mastered, we identify their mathematical strengths and build next instructional steps on students’ points of power?

Beth McCord Kobett and Karen S. Karp answer this question and others by highlighting five key teaching turnarounds for improving students’ mathematics learning: identify teaching strengths, discover and leverage students’ strengths, design instruction from a strengths-based perspective, help students identify their points of power, and promote strengths in the school community and at home. Each chapter provides opportunities to stop and consider current practice, reflect, and transfer practice while also sharing

·         Downloadable resources, activities, and tools

·         Examples of student work within Grades K–6

·         Real teachers’ notes and reflections for discussion

It’s time to turn around our approach to mathematics instruction, end deficit thinking, and nurture each student’s mathematical strengths by emphasizing what makes them each unique and powerful. 

Introduction – An Invitation to Turnaround
Why Strengths-Based Instruction?

Who is Strengths-Based Mathematics Teaching For?

What are Mathematics Strengths we See in Students?

Exploring Your Own Math Identity

Moving to a Strengths-Based Perspective

Practices that Build a Strengths Cycle

The Five Teaching Turnarounds

Chapter 1 - Identify Your Teaching Strengths
What Do You Believe About Your Students' Learning?

What Do Students Think You Believe?


Chapter 2 - Turnaround Mathematical Proficiencies, Processes, and Practices
Building Mathematical Proficiency Through a Strengths-Based Lens

Building Mathematical Practices and Dispositions Through a Strengths-Based Lens

Building Strengths in Problem Solving

Building Strengths in Communication

Building Strengths in Reasoning and Proof

Building Strengths in Connections

Building Strengths in Representations


Chapter 3 - Your Students’ Mathematics Content Strengths
Building Mathematical Content Knowledge Through a Strengths-Based Lens

Building and Recognizing Strengths in the Meaning of Number and Operations and Algebraic Thinking

Count to show how numbers represent quantity

Count to show how numbers represent quantity

Develop Strategies to Add, Subtract, Multiply, and Divide

Building and Recognizing Strengths in Understanding Number and Operations - Fractions

Building and Recognizing Strengths in Geometry

van Heile’s Geometric Conceptual Understanding Level 0: Visualization

van Heile’s Geometric Conceptual Understanding Level 1: Analysis


Chapter 4 – Turnaround Grouping Practices
Planning Effective Strength-Based Instruction

Fixed versus Flexible Grouping Practices

Long-Term Whole-Class Ability Grouping

Small-Group In-Class Ability Grouping

Flexible Grouping Strategies

Strength’s Based Flexible Grouping Practices

Mixed-Strength Whole-Group Instruction

Homogeneous-Strength Small Groups

Targeted Small Group Instruction Through a Strengths-Based Lens


Chapter 5 – Turnaround Tasks
High Cognitive Tasks

Turnaround a Task: Designing a Personalized, Strengths-Based Instructional Task

Individualized Personalization

Funds of Knowledge

Three Perspectives for Adapting a Task to Support Student's Strengths

Access and Equity

Mathematical Goals

Formative Assessment

Promoting Strengths Through Parallel Tasks

Exploratory Discourse About Tasks

Math Amendments: Revising the Task Solution


Chapter 6 - Turnaround Feedback
The Importance of Feedback in a Strengths-Based Classroom

Teacher-to-Student Feedback From a Strengths Perspective

Teacher to Student Feedback Loop

Elements of Teacher to Student Feedback

Student-to-Teacher Feedback from a Strengths Perspective

Prior to the Lesson

During the Lesson

Closing the Lesson

Student-to-Student Feedback from a Strengths Perspective

Classroom-Based Formative Assessment and Feedback



Show Me

Hinge Question

Exit Task


Chapter 7 - Turnaround Students’ Identities
Windows and Mirrors

Our Teacher Mirror

Translation Task

Don't Miss an Opportunity to Recognize a Student's Points of Power

Students' Productive Dispositions

Students Self Analyze their Strong Points


Chapter 8 - Turnaround Professional Learning Communities
Supporting Teachers' Strengths

The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Framework

Whole School Agreement


Chapter 9 - Turnaround Family Communication
Engaging Families in Strengths-Based Talk

Incorporating Family and Community Strengths

Working Together to Share Mathematical Ideas

Family Math Resources

Conferences with Family Members from a Strengths-Based Perspective


Epilogue - Turnaround Reflection

"Finally the book that good teachers have been waiting for: a book that focuses not on what students cannot do, but on what they can. This needed book offers teachers a positive, productive way to rethink teaching and learning in mathematics and would be ideal for a school- or districtwide book study."

Jeff Shih
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

"Anytime you purchase a resource book in mathematics, you hope that it does an inspirational delivery of its title. In Strengths-Based Teaching and Learning in Mathematics: Five Teaching Turnarounds for Grades K–6, the authors have gone above and beyond the book’s high expectations.
Kobett and Karp have masterfully tapped into the zeitgeist of contemporary math education and written a book that oozes with not just empathy, reflection, and candor but with clear and motivating practicality that will transform any math classroom into a place of community, hope, and unbridled strength."

Sunil Singh

For graduate students- This is a very empowering approach to teaching math.

Ms Christa Stalcup
School Of Education, Saint Xavier University
October 30, 2020

Beth McCord Kobett

Beth McCord Kobett, EdD, is Professor of Education and Associate Dean at Stevenson University, where she leads, teaches and supports early childhood, elementary, and middle preservice teachers in mathematics education. She is a former classroom teacher, elementary mathematics specialist, adjunct professor, and university supervisor. Beth also served as the Director of the First Year Seminar program at Stevenson University. She recently completed a three-year term as an elected Board Member for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and was the former president of the Association of Maryland Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMMTE).... More About Author

Karen S. Karp

Karen S. Karp is a professor in the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University. Previously, she was a professor of mathematics education in the Department of Early and Elementary Childhood Education at the University of Louisville, where she received the President’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the Distinguished Service Award for a Career of Service. She is a former member of the board of directors of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and a former president of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE). She is a member of the author panel for the What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide on... More About Author

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ISBN: 9781544374932