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Burke shows student-centered approach to mathematics

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The 2019 Iowa Teacher of the Year Christopher Burke answers questions posed by mathematics consultant April Pforts about how he approaches the implementation of the mathematics standards in his teaching. Burke is an eighth grade teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School in Dubuque. He also is a teacher leader and serves as the content lead in mathematics for his school. Through this role he also assists in the design of professional learning for middle school mathematics teachers in the district.

April: Describe what you do to increase access and equity of high-level mathematics learning and standards in your classroom?

Chris: Equity has been a big push in our district; our superintendent has made a point of ensuring that every school has a goal based around equity. We have been about to address these goals through ongoing professional learning. One approach I try to adopt is to make no assumptions about the students who comes through my classroom. I always start the year with a survey asking students about their preferred learning style, background, confidence level, interests, who they are as an individual, and how they respond when faced with a challenge. As I become more familiar with each student and their needs I am able to then blend in formative assessment practices which ensures that I keep student support appropriate. Each problem that is presented in class is meant to contain multiple access points so that each student, regardless of background, is able to relate to the problem. Low-floor, high-ceiling structured tasks help meet the needs of all learners. I consistently aim to ask myself, given my students' backgrounds and needs, does a given task invite them in or push them away?

April: What resources do you recommend for teachers who want to strengthen their standards implementation and why?

Chris: I’d say make it a collaborative effort. If I approach this individually, I am only able to view this process through one lens. If I unpack the standards with my peers, I am able to sharpen my view. In Dubuque we benefit through the Teacher Leadership and Compensation system. I serve as a content leader for my building, and with a content leader at each of the three middle schools we are able to work together as we build a repository of resources. In our district we are afforded 85 minutes of school-based professional leaning every Friday morning (students arrive one hour later than normal). This opportunity to collaborate is beyond value as teams of teachers are able to unpack their standards and gain a better understanding of their next steps. Through a comprehensive analysis of learning progressions, using grade-level curriculum maps, for instance, we are able to more effectively and efficiently place our time and energy. Thanks goes out to our district leadership for allowing us the opportunity to collaborate on a consistent basis as we aim to push deeper and move beyond our own, singular lens.

April: Describe how the Eight Effective Teaching Practices from Principles to Action are reflected in your instruction.

Chris: That book is right here on my shelf. It’s one of a few keepers that I keep handy. A couple of years ago we did an all-day virtual meeting with Steve Leinwand (hosted by the Department), one of the book’s authors. It was a great day and we made the most of it. Every year the Eight Practices are posted on my wall as a reminder of what best practice looks like. Some practices speak loudly to me. For example, goal setting – how do we invest our students in this process? In my classroom we take time to identify our learning targets and once a week or so to help connect students to their level of mastery throughout a unit. We link the learning targets to the standards so every student can track their progress. Does every student buy into this? No, not necessarily. However, when you hear a student say, “Mr. Burke, I’m not quite clear on Target #5. Can I come in?” you know you've connected a student to their learning. Instead of mindset that is “I want to get all As” or “I want to get a B,” we’re changing it to “I want to master this skill/concept,” “I want to be a student who thinks abstractly” or even smaller things, like “I want to be a leader in my group,” “I want to be more confident,” “I want to volunteer more.” Here is where goal setting can have a greater impact.

For more information on Chris Burke, contact Isbelia Arzola at or 515-326-5962. For more information on mathematics standards, contact April Pforts at or 515-314-6243.

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on June 17, 2021 at 3:36am.