Recess Blog

Classroom Instant Replay

By Rob Schroeder
February 2, 2016

Photo of Kathryn Chval

If researchers really want to uncover how learning occurs in the classroom, they need to step into children’s shoes.

Unfortunately, years of research have proven that children’s feet, and shoes, are really small for adults to contend with.

So Kathryn Chval took the next best option:  strapping cameras to the heads of Latino children in math classrooms.  Her National Science Foundation grant project is uncovering through video how English language learners (ELLs) can best be positioned for success in math classrooms.

Chval, BA Elementary Education ’87, MST Elementary Mathematics ’91 and PhD Curriculum and Instruction ’01, is the Acting Dean at the University of Missouri at Columbia College of Education.  In the seventh and final year of researching language learners in math classrooms, Chval’s research is demonstrating the critical role teachers play in positioning Latino ELLs to develop academic, communicative and social competencies in mathematics.

“In Chicago, classrooms I was in were nearly 100 percent Latino, but here [in Missouri] they are a true minority,” Chval said. “Each child needs academic confidence, social confidence and communicative confidence, and we have to focus on developing all three of these.”

Using these videos of lessons from students’ perspectives, Chval worked with teachers on an intervention study with four components:  supporting the development of math skills, supporting language development, enhancing math curricula and positioning ELLs in individual, group and whole class settings for success.

Chval says she found in general education settings, without an ESL teacher or dedicated math teacher, teachers often assumed an ELL student’s struggles with math stemmed from language issues as opposed to math misconceptions.  The study drove home the point that teachers need to address both math and language issues concurrently.

Latino teen working on a graphing problem

Similarly, the ways teachers position students subtlety influences their learning opportunities.  For example, Chval says a student with advanced skills might not want to be positioned as “gifted” because of the notoriety that results in peer interactions.

“So if a teacher says, ‘Who wants to be Jose’s helper?’ and you are Jose, how would you feel about that?” Chval said. “If you are Jose, the assumption is that in front of everybody, you are seen as the child that needs help and can’t do [math].”

Chval wants to reverse that messaging, positioning ELL students as resources with strengths in mathematical thinking.

As Acting Dean, Chval continues to mitigate the meaning of race for students at the Missouri College of Education.  Over the past 18 months, the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson and subsequent protests spurred ongoing efforts to create a space for dialogue with Black students at the college, with whom Chval meets with monthly.  Chval says the campus protests in the fall of 2015 that erupted over student perceptions of the University of Missouri’s response to allegations of racial bias on campus illustrated further needs in building safe and equitable spaces.

To address these needs, Chval is leading efforts to recruit faculty of color, recruit and retain students of color, expand four-year scholarship offerings and put into practice a diversity plan completed in December 2015.  She is also launching an “I offer Mizzou” initiative, in which boards throughout the College offer spaces for students to fill in the blank on personal contributions to improving the environment of the college and university.

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