Children can experience shame in many aspects of their learning journeys. One common area where students can experience shame is math. In this episode, Steve is joined by professors, Ann Monroe, Joel Amidon, & instructional coach, Candies Cook to discuss how to avoid shame and encourage productive struggle in math. Read “Shame, Shame, Go Away: Fostering Productive Struggle with Mathematics” here.
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Get in touch with Candies: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Parent Wellbeing and Student Learning During School Closures Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. With the extended closing of schools, we as parents have entered into a new territory regarding what we have known as “school learning.” With this and future podcasts, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner.
Steve: 00:34 Avoiding shame and encouraging productive struggle in math. Today, we’re joined by three educators who authored an article titled “Shame, Shame, Go Away: Fostering Productive Struggle with Mathematics.” Ann Monroe and Joel Amidon are professors at the university of Mississippi and Candies Cook, who is a math instructional coach currently enrolled in her doctoral program. Folks, thanks so much for joining me.
Ann: 01:02 Thanks, Steve.
Candies : 01:02 Thanks.
Joel : 01:02 Thank you.
Steve: 01:05 Ann, I’m wondering if you could kick us off by talking a little bit about the issue of shame as you saw it connecting to success in mathematics?
Ann: 01:19 Sure. So I have studied shame and particularly with an interest in how shame impacts children in the school setting and school induced shaming experiences as I call it, things that happen in school that create a sense of shame for students. We know that shame is a particularly destructive emotion. There has been study deep study of shame since the 1970s, we were kind of slow to start our study on shame for various reasons, but there’s just not a lot of information about what happens in school settings that can create this feeling of shame in students. So I was particularly interested in that and have done some work in that area. And one of the things that I stumbled across and working with some colleagues is this idea about people are very free to talk about as an adult, how they’re terrible at math and terrible at mathematics, but they would never be able to do that talking about their inability to read.
Ann: 02:18 So we know in some research that’s been done that shame is a shared emotion among adults that are illiterate. They can hide the fact that they cannot read for years and years and no one knows. So obviously with shame, a hallmark of shame is hiding. So, you know, the feeling of shame is something where you feel like something about yourself is wrong or that you’re not adequate as a person. And so the natural thing to want to do is to hide whatever you feel is, you know, not right about you or not something that you’re good at, that you’re ashamed of. You want to hide that. And so why is it true that adults who struggle in mathematics are free to say, “I hate math. I’m not a math person. I’m terrible at that.”
Steve: 03:07 I’ve heard teachers say that.
Ann: 03:07 And it’s almost like a badge of honor where they would never say that about the ability to read. And so that kind of started this process about, you know, what is that about math? And so
kind of investigating that and looking into how children experience mathematics in the classroom. And then I sort of got interested in looking at anxiety in math and reading. There’s a lot of literature about anxiety in mathematics, but not about shame, but there’s so many similarities between anxiety and how children experience anxiety in math and that really looks like shame.
Steve: 03:41 So is that statement that we make of “I’m not a math person, I can’t do math.” Is that in effect, a statement that avoids dealing with the shame connected? It’s like a defense mechanism?
Ann: 03:55 Yes. And so one of the pathways – what psychologists say is one of the pathways of shame, when someone feels shame, they go one of four directions called the compass of shame. And one of those directions is avoidance. Withdrawal is another, avoidance is another. And so when you feel a sense of shame, when children feel a sense of shame in school about their mathematics ability, they just avoid. They withdraw and they avoid. And as you get older, it becomes easier to avoid mathematics because you don’t have to take higher levels of math. You can get to a certain point and top out, and then you’re done. I’m no longer a math person, right? I’m out. I’m not one of those people that goes on and does higher level mathematics. And so avoidance absolutely is that sort of connective tissue that creates this sort of “checking out” if you will.
Steve: 04:44 So, starters for a parent would be if you consider yourself not a math person, it’s not a statement to be making in front of your in front of your kids.
Ann: 04:55 Absolutely. And children are very, you know – shame starts in the home. It’s one of the nine and eight, you know, Silvan Tomkins talks about it being one of the nine and eight emotions. And our emotions are the filters at which we think about everything, the cognitive filters. And so we know that shame is felt at a very young age as early as age two. And so, home is the first place for shame is felt. And so it’s very important that parents understand the types of things that can create this negative sense of shame and we want to avoid that. Shame is particularly destructive when it’s repeatedly felt.
Steve: 05:34 Joel, you had something to add there?
Joel : 05:36 Well, I was just going to say, because well also, you know, to say “I’m not a math person,” it’s a lie. I mean, if you’re breathing, you’re inherently mathematical. There’s – the thing is,
and we talked about in the article, like this division between math and school mathematics. Like, we see what school mathematics is, but math is all around us and all the different things and you could follow someone around and be like, “hey, there’s some math, there’s math,” you know, you planned your route to get to work and drop off the recycling and all these sorts of things like, you did some math, you did some discrete math there. And so all these different divisions and it just brings to mind to me, when I hear Ann recycling about the ideas of shame and then people pushing away from this idea of being a doer of mathematics, there’s a great book called “Radical Equations” by Bob Moses, where he talks about mathematics or the doing of algebra.
Joel: 06:24 He connects it with algebra because he did the algebra project, but mathematics or algebra is like a gateway to citizenship, even. So like to participate, to fully participate in society, you need to get through this gate and he talks about the inequities of why that gate exists and stuff but his thing is about pushing as many people through it. But having Ann being able to articulate this idea of shame and was able to say like, well, we see this idea of why people don’t identify as doers of mathematics, but what’s behind that. And then Ann provided some of the language in order to get that idea out there, which it was kind of nice and kind of led to this article.
Steve: 07:01 Joel, could you talk a little bit about the importance of productive struggle students in mathematics?
Joel : 07:09 Yea. So we all taught mathematics, all those that wrote the article. And we have to say that Dean Rock, our Dean of the school of education is not on this call, but we he’s very much part of this piece. So thinking about the common core, it talks about the first practice of the standard for mathematical practices – make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. So perseverance actually going through struggle. And then for a teacher in NCTM puts out this document called principles to actions where they say the role of the teacher is to foster productive struggle. And so it’s those two things together. The student is supposed to be able to do this persevere and make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. Teachers are supposed to foster productive struggle. And so it’s basically saying that struggle is a part of doing mathematics. And then we look at what Candies did.
Joel : 07:56 And when we first started doing this article in our classroom, is she put out problems in her in her teaching. Like she actually put problems, which is not exercises, not things where we, we know exactly the pathway, you know, like, “hey, do 50 problems, the odds and the even answers are in the back, you know, sort of thing of the book.” Actual problems where kids are like, “I don’t know actually how to do this. I have some ideas.” And that’s the kind of things that we saw in in Candies work as a teacher and now she kind of facilitates it as a math coach. In those sorts of things where there’s going to be struggle, there’s going to be this idea that I don’t actually know the actual path I’m going to take. I have some ideas and there’s going to be some false starts, but that’s what we want, right? That’s what we want our kids to be able to do. And how do we do that by reducing the shame involved in saying like that’s actually doing math, that struggle is doing mathematics.
Steve: 08:51 So Candies, can you help us out here? Take the work that you’re doing with other teachers and the work that you would do with students, but can you align it for a parent? How does a parent support their child being a doer of mathematics or support their child having that perseverance in mathematics?
Candies : 09:16 I would say that parents can just make mathematics the everyday games. For example, when you’re cooking with your child, just pointing out the mathematics in that way. When they’re playing just, games with their children, just pointing out math and make it fun. And it’s not always just about like Dr. Amidon said, sitting down doing problems. It’s actually thinking about the math that we do every day in our homes, even from watching TV or making a schedule or whatever it is. Just pointing out the math within your home that you’re doing every day and make it fun. Math is not all about sitting down and doing some problems in the back of the book. Cooking, playing games, that type of thing. And also, if you see, I would say to a parent, if you see your child is struggling, like just stop. You know, stop, take a deep breath and give them time to take these frequent breaks throughout the day whenever you’re working with them.
Joel : 10:15 And also too – so like I have lots of interactions with other parents too, and I’m a parent. I have three kids as well. And so you know, in this time of global pandemic where a lot of parents are sitting side by side with their child at home doing the mathematics and the parent thinks I need to know the answer. I need to know how to get it. I need to show them that path. And by showing them that exact path, like here’s how we did it back in my day, by doing that, you might be robbing the whole experience of doing mathematics. Versus, hey, let’s figure this out together where they’re asking questions. Ask more questions than tell them what to do. I think that might be – I don’t know if Candies – do you agree with that? Like that might be the best thing to do is asking questions, figuring it out together.
Candies : 11:00 I do. I do agree with that. And I also think that it’s the journey that is not necessarily getting to that right answer. You know, that’s not the point of it. It’s like your journey toward that right answer and where you may think of getting toward you know an answer to go one direction. I may be able to explain it in another and just knowing that there are multiple ways to a solution. You know, it’s not that we all have to take this same route and go that route, but there’s different ways. I even used to tell my students, we have our local grocery stores here are Kroger and Walmart. And I say, “well, you may take a different path to get to Walmart or Kroger than I do. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t gonna, you know, get to the same destination.” But taking your own path and being able to explain, you know, the mathematics behind it. I think that’s very important versus here’s the right answer and here’s how we need to get to it.
Ann: 11:52 One of interesting things to add about this idea about parents being involved in the mathematics and struggling with the child, what we know about shame is that when you feel like you’re in
the same boat as everyone else, the shame has diminished. So I think its important, if the parent shows that, hey I’m gonna work this with you. It’s okay if we’re struggling to get this. It’s still an adventure, like Candies said, it’s still a journey. And if you become part of that with the child, the shame is diminished because when you’re all in the same boat, it’s less about something being wrong with you, it’s more just, this is how it is. So I think thats important for parents to keep in mind.
Candies : 12:28 When you’re saying that I’m Dr. Monroe, it reminds me of in my classroom, I often – even though I know the answer, I mean, of course I know the answer, but I would tell my students when they ask questions, I would say, “I don’t know. What do you think?” So just having that idea of hey, tell me more about what you’re thinking.
Steve: 12:54 I’ve seen some of that best modeling when I’ve watched math, science teachers at a very upper level class, and they pose a problem to the students that they really don’t know where to begin or how to start it. And it’s terrific modeling, as they’re thinking out loud about what they do and maybe go down a wrong path and the student discovers that it’s the wrong path before the the teacher does. But I love your thought about the parent of modeling, the acceptance of struggle and the appropriateness of struggle and know that there’s a good outcome and a quick and fast and easy doesn’t doesn’t need to be the path.
Joel : 13:35 Yeah. And probably the thing, and this goes along with Ann is like, if you’re sitting there side by side, if you’re asking those questions, if you’re saying, “hey, we’re struggling with it.” Like, if you had previous shame with mathematics, and if I’m a parent, don’t bring your shame to the game, right?
Steve: 13:47 I love it.
Joel : 13:47 Leave it away. You know, you gotta like maybe fake it a little bit, but enjoy the idea that, just have your child discovering what it means to add, subtract count. You know, there’s some
beautiful things that are happening there.
Steve: 14:02 I love it. That that’s going to be a new phrase that I gottq highlight. Don’t bring your shame to the game. Well guys, thank you so much for for joining us on this podcast for parents. We’ll put the link to your article, into the lead in to the podcast so that folks who who want to can go back and pull up the whole article. We’ll also stick your email addresses in there, and people can drop a question straight off to you. Thank you so much for joining us.
Joel : 14:34 Thank you.
Ann: 14:34 Thanks Steve.
Steve [Outro]: 14:36 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.