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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

Additional resources:

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

"Too many of us perseverate on “fixing” our students and ourselves. Focusing instead on the strengths students bring to the classroom and redirecting the effective practices we already employ, Kobett and Karp turn this thinking on its head. By leveraging their tools and protocols we can confront and unpack our beliefs, transform our instruction, and create the positive and supportive learning environments our students deserve. This is an indispensable resource for educators committed to ensuring that each and every student experiences joy, wonder, and success in mathematics!"

Matt Larson
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

"Rarely does one find a text that provides both the aspirational vision and inspirational mission to transform both the striving mathematics educator and the student mathematician. Educators will be moved to embrace, then promote change through their work with Drs. Kobett and Karp’s innovative strengths-based approach to teaching and learning mathematics. Kobett and Karp invite all math stakeholders to discover their own strengths from which to build a stronger foundation in the teaching and learning of mathematics."

Richard Cox, Jr.
Bullitt County Public Schools, Kentucky

"I love this book! More and more people are talking about the need to build on student strengths instead of focusing on their deficits, but doing this can seem unrealistic to a teacher. The authors not only elaborate what it means to build on student strengths, they offer concrete strategies for how to do it. Starting with the necessary step of looking at one’s own teaching strengths, they offer practical guidelines and examples that lay out a path teachers can use to turn around their teaching and their students’ learning."

Cathy Seeley
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

"This book is a must-read for every stakeholder in the education system! The authors challenge us to acknowledge the damaging impact of deficit-based beliefs and provide concrete ways to leverage strengths in ourselves and in our students to create mathematics classrooms where students flourish."

Delise Andrews
Lincoln Public Schools, NE

"This book provides teachers with a wealth of resources for uncovering and nurturing students mathematical strengths. By focusing on recognizing and building on students’ strengths rather than identifying their deficiencies, the authors have mapped out a pathway for creating instructional experiences that support the learning and identity development of each and every student. This is a must-have for all elementary teachers!"

Margaret (Peg) Smith

"This book provides a clear, rich, strong rebuttal to “my kids can’t.” Kobett and Karp help us focus on our students’ unique perspectives, talents, and strengths as well as our students’ capabilities with mathematics practices and content. More important, they help us take stock of who we are. They help us identify aspects of our practice that are strong and those that are ready for a turnaround. They teach us about these turnarounds and describe how we can realize them effectively. This is a must-have for transforming “they can’t” into “they can.”"

John SanGiovanni
Howard County Public School System, MD

"Where do beliefs and pedagogy meet? In a world in which we are often asked to find flaws and weaknesses, this book is a breath of fresh air and reminds us that the best way to teach  is to build from our strengths. Filled with research-based ideas, practical strategies, and tools, this book provides a comprehensive approach to creating asset-based learning environments by identifying and leveraging the strengths of students, teachers, schools, and caretakers."

Cathery Yeh
Chapman University, Orange, CA

"This well-written book is a game changer! Strengths-Based Teaching and Learning in Mathematics: Five Teaching Turnarounds for Grades K–6 goes beyond simply providing information by sharing a pathway for changing practice. The authors start with reflective activities allowing teachers to examine their beliefs and explore their teaching strengths. Using the Teaching Turnarounds will transform classrooms. 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, KS

"Drs. Kobett and Karp offer teachers a positive and practical way of using Appreciative Inquiry to put spotlight on teachers’ instructional practices to celebrate their strength and support teachers to dream, design and deliver innovative ways to bring more equitable teaching practices to the forefront. By reimagining instruction focused on strengths-based teaching that leverage and put spotlight on students’ abilities to use representations and reasoning, the authors unpack rich tasks by delving into the development of learning progressions in important mathematics as well as situate mathematics within contexts that students can relate to while bridging mathematics closer to students’ lived experiences."

Jennifer Suh
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

"Strengths-Based Teaching and Learning in Mathematics: Five Teaching Turnarounds for Grades K–6 forces the reader to become extremely reflective about their own individual identity in mathematics and implementation of effective teaching practices/strategies. How many students have we lost or have allowed to feel defeated in learning mathematics because we didn’t teach by harnessing the power of their strengths? This book intersperses time for this type of reflection as one identifies your own strengths, your individual math identity, as well as the inclusion of the numerous “spotlights on practices” to support successful implementation in the classroom. As one considers how to help students develop a growth mindset in mathematics, this book must become an essential resource. There are concrete examples to illustrate how this becomes visible in the classroom—all with the goal of helping students develop their identity, authority, and agency in mathematics. We lose too many students in mathematics; too many students hear that they have gaps, are deficit, or are stigmatized by having to endure endless intervention programs in mathematics. Instead this book uses subtleties, helps you focus on yourself as a teacher of mathematics, and provides explicit examples to harnesses the strengths of all students in mathematics. This will do a lot to change negative student self-images. I love this book!"

Denise Walston
Council of the Great City Schools, Washington, DC

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