Math Teacher Lounge presented by Amplify + Desmos

S3 - 05. Developing an asset orientation with Lani Horn

May 26, 2022 Bethany Lockhart Johnson and Dan Meyer Season 3 Episode 5
Math Teacher Lounge presented by Amplify + Desmos
S3 - 05. Developing an asset orientation with Lani Horn
Show Notes Transcript

Math education professor Lani Horn shares with us what it means to have an asset orientation towards students, contrasting it with a deficit orientation, and helping Bethany and Dan understand the many ways students experience one or the other. Their conversation hit both high notes and low notes and included a challenge that Bethany and Dan both found extremely valuable for helping a teacher develop an asset orientation towards their students.

Dan Meyer:

Welcome back to Math Teacher Lounge, folks. My name is Dan Meyer.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

And I'm Bethany Lockhart Johnson.

Dan Meyer:

We're so excited to be here with you folks and with our guests today, tackling big questions about mathematics. I wanna ask Bethany first though: Bethany, it's been kind of a challenging couple of years for those of us in education, near education, just in life in general, of course. But I woke up this morning and the sun was out. The weather was perfect and crisp here in Oakland. And I found myself feeling optimistic, a sense of hopefulness. And I was wondering to myself, "What is Bethany feeling hopeful about in math education right now?" What's got you juiced up a little bit?

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

I gotta say, that optimism, Dan, look at that! I can actually feel the sunshine just pouring through the microphone. So I thank you for asking, what am I feeling optimistic about in math education? Hmm . OK, this is gonna sound a little bit cop-out-y, but I have been so completely jazzed about not only our podcast, but the conversations that I've been seeing circulating in other math podcasts that are out there around curricul around new books coming out. Like it just feels like despite overwhelm, despite exhaustion, that most teachers really do love learning. And so there's like that kernel. And so I just feel like there's books on my shelf I wanna read; there's podcasts i n the queue I wanna listen to; and summertime is the best, best time to do it.

Dan Meyer:

People still feel hungry out there for learning. They know the importance of the craft and its impact on students. And , yeah, people are tired, but also it is so cool to see people still jazzed about learning more about how to teach students more effectively. Me, I'm excited right now, I have a very specific excitement right now, which is that today we announced that Desmos, where I work, and Amplify, our sponsor , are no longer gonna be two separate things. That we are joining together. That I, and all these people who have done so much work over the last 10 years developing digital math technology, we're gonna go and work inside of Amplify as a division called Desmos Classroom. And we're so excited that...what we cracked, I think, at Desmos, is a way of thinking about how teachers and their tools—computers, for instance—interact with students in math. And I love what we did there. But we never really cracked the question of, "How do you support entire school systems in taking up these ideas and tools?" And Amplify has really done that. So I'm super-excited to partner up there. That's what I'm optimistic about and happy about.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

Congratulations. That's a huge transition, and I'm just so excited about the amazing work that both Amplify and Desmos do. But then, the idea of Desmos being in more classrooms? Those tools being available for more students? With the reach? I mean, I'm just excited! It's a big day, Dan.

Dan Meyer:

Thank you. Yes , exciting day. And I'm excited about also about our guest we're bringing on today. How's that for a segue? I'll be excited to hear what our guest is excited about in math education. I just wanna say that what our guest, Lonnie Horn, Professor Lonnie Horn, has exposed us to is this idea of an asset orientation and its importance. And I do think I'm not over-exaggerating or overstating to say that the idea of an asset orientation towards students and their thinking has been possibly the most transformative idea for me in the last five years of being an educator. And adopting it has led to my favorite lessons, my favorite teaching experiences, my favorite relationships with students. I say all that—you know, I don't wanna gas things up too much; is that too high of a bar here to have expectations? But it really has been tremendous. And Lonnie Horn gave a talk several years ago called "An Asset Orientation Is Everything," which really changed the game up for me. And Bethany watched it as well. So that's why I'm so excited to have on the person who gave that talk. And who's done so much research around what an asset orientation offers students and teachers. So we're bringing on today Lonnie Horn, who is a professor of mathematics education at Vanderbilt University, Peabody College , who centers her research on ways to make authentic mathematics, ambitious math teaching, accessible to students and teachers, particularly those who have been historically marginalized by our educational system. I think Lonnie has just a beating heart for students, yes, but also really respects the work of teaching in ways I think are so needed and sometimes uncommon in the world of math-education research. So Lonnie, thank you so much for coming on and joining us in the Lounge.

Lani Horn:

Thanks for having me.

Dan Meyer:

We would love to know what you are excited about and optimistic about right now in the world of mathematics education. What's got you a little bit gassed up.

Lani Horn:

Up, gassed up? Hmm . Let me reframe it, 'cause I don't know if I'm gassed up, but I'm cautiously hopeful that maybe that in the wake of the interrupted learning that's been sort of widespread during the pandemic that maybe we'll get some traction around more strategies for teaching in heterogeneous classrooms. Which I think every classroom is to varying extents, a heterogeneous classroom. And I was talking with a colleague the other day about this idea of hmm, maybe modeling would be a really cool thing to focus teachers on. Doing some more mathematical modeling across the grade levels. Because it just seems like there's a lot of opportunities for kids to kind of catch up on ideas and understandings that they may not have fully grasped because of interrupted learning, interrupted schooling. But also with room to engage in a lot of ideas. So we were playing with that and I was like, gosh, that'd be pretty cool if people took that on more broadly. 'Cause I don't think that there's been enough conversations about meaningful differentiation in that kind of way, like at the level of curriculum. So I would love to see an upsurge in interest in that kind of stuff, 'cause that's a big place where I have a lot of passion, so I'm ready. I'm ready for people to ask questions about that. And actually it's really very, very, very closely related to the topic today of having an asset orientation towards students.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

First of all, I'm so excited to have you on Math Teacher Lounge, have you in the Lounge and get to talk to you, because when Dan sent me this talk, my first thing was, "Oh, I think I know what asset orientation is and looks like." Right? You know, you kind of hypothesize about what you think it's going to be. And then you started talking and I'm like, "Wait, wait, why am I just hearing this now?" So I thought I knew what it was, but really I felt like there was so much to unpack. And I would just love for you to share with our listeners, in case they are like, "Oh, asset orientation, I know what that is. I've got it. My students have got it." What is it? And why does it matter so much to our teachers?

Lani Horn:

The most obvious point is that asset is the opposite of Def deficit, right? And we know that deficit thinking is very harmful to students that, that there's a real teacher expectation bias that that kids pick up on that we communicate in directly to students and that impacts their , t heir learning and their ability to, to meet our academic expectations and, an d o ther expectations in classrooms. So an a sset orientation is looking for students strengths and trying to work from those strengths as a basis for your teaching.

Dan Meyer:

So that's a really fantastic starting spot there. And I , I think what's, what's initially surprising to me about the research you cited in your talk that is built around an asset orientation is how I think if you come, come at learning from a, I guess in research, they call like , like a cognitive frame where like learning, learning happens when teachers say the right things that make a transfer from the teacher's brain to the student's brain. A lot of what you're describing is very counterintuitive. I think like there's the asset orientation describes a teacher's kind of subtle disposition. It's not what, like what they're saying exactly. It's what they communicate in the subtext and the body language that all emanates from some perspective on students and the idea that, that filters down somehow and students pick up on that, like a smell in the air and that, that determines a lot of their learning, I think is one, is one part of your talk. And the research that I thought was really surprising, how close is that to like how this actually works? And like , can you add to that description or, or , or pivot it a little bit

Lani Horn:

Expansion of the sort of cognitive framing of teacher and student interaction. Part of what's really hard about developing and maintaining an asset orientation is that schools are organized in ways that rank and sort , c hildren. And so when we are just using the ev eryday l anguage of schooling, sometimes we're injecting these preconceived deficit notions of students into our talk and into how we're thinking about interpreting, looking at, s t u dents. So not only is this, , i n te rruption of sort of a co gnitive lens on teacher, stude nt inte raction, but it's, it's really looking at how the social environment is setting teacher, stude nt inte raction to, to take on certain kinds of framings.

Dan Meyer:

This is what I mean about Lonnie having such a , a , you have such, such a generous frame towards teachers and the work of teaching. I wonder though, if you could help us , m ake concrete how an asset and deficit orientation might play out in a hypothetical classroom interaction.

Lani Horn:

Sure. Really commonplace example is a teacher has a group of students it's October, November. So there's already been a few assessments. And that gives the teacher an idea who the strong students are and who the struggling students are. And they're having a classroom conversation and somebody who hasn't performed well, a kid who hasn't performed well on those assessments, teacher poses, a question, a kid who hasn't performed well on the assessments , i s called on and they sort of hesitate in formulating their response. You know, and the teacher with that lens of this is a struggling student then ma y h as to make a decision. Do I persist? Do I support this kid? Do I h elp them formulate an a nswer? Do I try to draw ou t t heir thinking anyway? Or do I move on t o a kid who is a cademically performed better in my class? And I would say that a lot of teachers in that situation would very understandably sa y, OK, I get it. You're not a strong math student. You're not confident in my class. I'm gonna move on because I need to get through this lesson to somebody who I know is gonna provide me with a correct answer. And they, they do it also out of a , s ometimes a sense of care of not wanting to put that student on th e s pot. However, part of what is re sult, another unintended result of making that choice is instead of tr ying o ut that student's thinking, listen to their sort of maybe hesitant answer and trying to find the kernel in it that maybe could be supported and amplified that co uld t hen loses an opportunity to have their idea, be a part of the whole cl asses, mathematical conversation, completely common, completely understandable kind of interaction that I se e a ll the time. Ye p. That feels so

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

Huge. And that I can actually picture that happening. Of

Lani Horn:

Course we've all seen it. We've all done it.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

We've all seen it and done it. Right . Mm-hmm <affirmative> and I, I think it's so key that you mention often it's from a place of care of , I want that student to look, I called on you. You're a part of the conversation. You're a part of our community, but with it, I brought all of that other information that I think I have about that kiddo. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and how I think they're struggling or navigating the question mm-hmm <affirmative> and here I'll help by, you know, but what I immediately thought of is how much, you know, the, the other students also pick up on that. Right. Of, so of course, I , I remember this time, this student in my class , , had a student who had, you know, who had struggled on some of the, t he work we were doing and she came up and she shared her work. And then another student kind of like, it was like a strange, like almost like little pat on the back, like, look at that. You did it. And like really like set it in a tone of that was so like, you're five, where did that come from? Right. How had I set up that student to be , , what I , I really had to step back and say, what role have I played in making this student seem like, you know, she wasn't capable of what she had just solved, you know, it was t he, it was such an, , l earning moment for me. Sure. be c ause I, I do think it, I don't think teachers do it maliciously, you know, or even consciously.

Lani Horn:

Absolutely.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

And it was so huge.

Lani Horn:

Thanks for sharing that Bethany, while

Dan Meyer:

Even in your description, Lani, you mentioned how the , the need to keep the class moving to fit again, a policy that teachers didn't impose that we have 45 minutes and way too many standards to cover in that many days. I wanna ask you about growth mindset. It feels like, e v e ry last teacher on earth has finally got the memo about growth mindset. We all know it's, it's the good mindset and that the bad one is fixed mindset. And we have the posters, the posters had bee n distributed. <laugh> a nationwide mobilization.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

I automatically pictured the posters

Lani Horn:

<laugh> of course,

Dan Meyer:

And got the posters at the people. So we're good. And now here comes asset orientation, which also sounds has some of the similar kinds of happy feelings about good vibes about teaching in students and learning. , so I w as just wondering i f you could help us k ind o f differentiate those two kinds of concepts.

Lani Horn:

I think that an asset orientation is something you're never done cultivating. I think it's an ongoing stance that you have to constantly reset and reexamine. And it is recognizing the links to the social categories that students inhabit , t he identities that they bring with th em, the bodies that they live in, you know, the different abilities, a n d disabilities. And it's actually a place where I think when you really engage this work in a meaningful way, I think it has the potential to make you kind of a better human being, because you have to constantly say, gosh, why did I do that? H ? What is it that my E ex p ectation was, why am I having such a hard time with this particular student finding something that they're smart at? Something that they're really good at? 'cause that's the question. That's the asset orientation question is you, you l ook at your students and you say, what is it that they are smart about? What, how are they smart? Right. I understand that school values this. I understand that my assessments value this, but what are they smart at? And how could I bring that into the meaningful work of my classroom? Which is like a very hard question sometimes.

Dan Meyer:

Yeah. Oh, so many thoughts here. Like one, I just feel like it's such a value for teachers, for anyone to have a , an a big clear unanswerable in your lifetime question to motivate your work in teaching. If , if you don't have that, then the job is too small, basically. So I love that. It's a question that offers ways to dig in every single day. Every interaction is an opportunity and it will never be answered. That's , wonderful. I love how I just, I feel like there's some, sometimes we have conversations with, , l ounge gu ests, Bethany, w h e re it really like it gets out of t he realm of the school. And like it starts to creep on into the personal life. It starts to creep on into the spiritual life. It's like, and I, I find, I find with this sort of idea, the value of a human being, like I feel, I feel when I have an a ss et orientation towards my key relationship, my, in m y life, my best friends, my spouse, like all these things, th a t t hat' s an indication to me of a, a r e ally big and va lua ble idea. And the question of the difference between growth at mindset and asset orientation. I wonder if it's, if it , if it's relevant here that, that a growth mindset is a concept that was studied and originated by an education psychologist, Carol Dweck , and you are someone who operates with a, a social cultural frame that kind of considers more than the student's mind in the , in the unit of a student, but like what is going on and what are , what are Bethany's students perceiving in like that moment you described Bethany that was you and a student, but everyone kind of feels what's going on. I wonder if that's a useful , , differentiator here. D o you h ave any thoughts about

Lani Horn:

That? Yes. I do think that the anthropological perspective that I take, where I really look at the cultural sources of these perspectives and these expectations and narratives, I would say about who can learn math , a re really, really important. And they're, they're part of what sometimes becomes invisible in the classroom. Th o t hose are a really, really important part of the ongoing work of developing an asset orientation. And of course, I come to it, f r o m my own personal experience, I was a un d ergraduate math major. And you know, sometimes by the time I got to my senior seminars, I was the only woman in the room. And, you know, I felt that I felt the stigma of low expectations. I felt the, mi s s e d opportunities to dig deeper because people were trying to protect me from being wrong and embarrassing myself. and so on. So it's, it's personal. And of course we see this applying to other social categories as well. We know that the bias is not just against women in math, but people of color , a a gainst people with different kinds of abilities and so on. So I think that that's why it's sort of this ongoing personal work. And I, I think too, that we will inevitably in the course of committing ourselves to this find students who challenge us, especially in our society right now, the way things are so fractured. You know, what, if you have a student in your classroom who holds political views that you find really od ious, how do you find a way to engage that student in a way that respects what they do have to offer to your class while also making sure that the class is a safe place for everybody? I mean, those are like really, really complex dynamics to manage. And, you know, I can talk a lot about that too.

Speaker 4:

What a job, what a job. Yeah.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

I'm so I was really struck too , because I feel like Dan said, we've gotten the posters and not to undermine the power of growth mindset. I think it has impacted , , many, many students a nd communities, but i t, it sometimes stops there. The conversation stops there. Well, I , you know, w e, we have a chant. We do e very d ay, we have the poster on the wall. My students have a growth mindset, and I think what I r eally appreciated in your talk, and, a nd as I've learned about your work is the invitation to teachers, , t o be vulnerable and to, to really look at, I, I do feel like even sharing that story, yo u, you put a certain amount of vulnerability of like, have I failed in some way, but I care about my students. I'm committed to cultivating a safe space. So I guess something I'm I'm really curious about is what do you think needs to be PO S n eeds to happen or needs to be possible for teachers to further cultivate an asset orientation? Because even the ability to pause and to be reflective, sometimes it d oesn't seem possible. So I think it's beyond just the teacher, but in the school, the district, what are some things you feel?

Lani Horn:

Are you letting me be the queen of designing schools? Cause that's a job that always wanted <laugh> OK . So if I were the queen of designing schools, teachers would have fewer student contexts , right? So say more . w hen I taught high school, I had so me t i me t h ough. I think the most I got was 180 student contacts a day. Wow. So when you're looking at 180 kids a day, that is just sort of a capacity issue, how am I supposed to really look meaningful at each of those individual people and find what's valuable and strong and smart about each of them? I t hink that in the us t ea chers have more instructional time than any other developed country. We need more planning time because that's an opportunity to consult with colleagues sometimes when we encounter students where we do have that personal struggle of, gosh, I am r ea lly having a hard time connecting with you and seeing your strengths. Wouldn't it be great to be able to go to their last year's teacher or their English teacher or some other teacher and say, can you tell me about your experiences with this student because I'm really wanting to connect and I'm, I'm having trouble. And wouldn't that be wonderful if we had resources to do that? t he other thing I would do is I would get rid of a lot of the meaningless accountability, which I have found has only amplified sort of the sorting. And, i t sort of put it t ec hnocratic veneer over kids ' def icit, thinking about them , th eir own selves. kids get a printout saying that they'r e below basic and you say, Hey, that was a really good idea. And they don't believe you 'cause they have this printout that puts them in a d ifferent category. So there's no way they could be good at math. s o I think we've really done a lot of harm in, in the annual testing of kids in that way. es p ecially with the individual reporting, an d o ften the metrics we're using to do that are not designed to be disaggregated to the individual level. So w e're, we h ave a lot of measurement problems. I thin k , you know, I'm kind of goin g b ack to your question before Dan, about what's the difference between growth mindset and an asset o rientation? I think that sometimes I don't think this is the way Carol Dweck in tende d it, but I think sometimes, and I I' ve s e en her rebut the way it's been used in schools, but I think sometimes the way that growth mindset has been used in schools kind of brings it back to an individual problem. We don't have unequal funding in our school system. We don't have systemic racism. We don't have childhood poverty and malnourishment, right. It's just about having the right mindset. And we know that all of those other things have a huge impact on, on who engages in school and who's able to get access to , t o schooling and, and, an d t he formal learning that goes on there. And so there's a little bit of an er aser t hat happens in the way that growth mindset has, ha s, b e e n taken up and putting the onus again, back on students and teachers as opposed to going, wow, we're in the sys tem where the cards are stacked a certain way. And I have to somehow navigate that as a teacher and figure out how to hold you up in a system that is trying to push you down, which is a really different kind of job than to put a poster on my wall and do a ch a nt in the morning.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

And I'm wondering if you were looking at how you would hope that asset orientation gets brought into the classroom. It it's not another poster, right? It's what would, what do you think would , r eally help make some meaningful change around the way we think about that and teachers and systems take that on?

Lani Horn:

So I think that the important thing is helping teachers develop a vocabulary for recognizing students' mathematical strengths in particular , r ecognizing a strength is not, wow, you did really neat work or you have really nice handwriting. Those are not authentically mathematical strengths, right? So I try to think about, , fo r color theorem, how cool, what a great way to be systematic, you know, that being systematic, developing a good representation, asking a good question, asking the next, what if all of these are profoundly mathematical ways of thinking and there's, there's more, I'm just giving you a few examples that are not always recognized in classrooms that are built around quick and accurate calculation, right? When that is the mos t va lued form of smartness kids who can do all these other great things like, wow, that that is such a clear way of explaining the connection between that graph and that equation. I love it. That's really, really, it helps me see what's happening every time that variable increases. You know, I love when kids do that, that's not quick and accurate calculation, right? One of the most heartbreaking things I've seen sometimes is teachers doing a really good job of pumping kids up and helping them feel mathematical and seeing their mathematical strengths in the everyday lessons. But then they get a standard assessment and are told they're a C student, how do you support the messaging you're doing in your teaching and in your interactions so that it aligns with assessment. And this is where the, the sorting mechanism of school kind of inhibits some of the ways that we really should be valuing kids in a way that would support their ongoing learning and , and their own particular flourishing.

Dan Meyer:

I love how you describe this whole process as a, a career long trajectory, how one does not ever finish creating an asset orientation in oneself. I wo uld, I'm wondering if there is s ome way for teachers who are listening to start to ex p t o experience some, to enter into that kind of feedback loop, that, that experience of wh at a n asset orientation offers them and their students. Do you have some way for us to start digging in here a challenge if you will.

Lani Horn:

Yeah, sure. This is a process I learned from , t eachers I've worked with, so I did not make this up. It's called a roster check. It's where you take a roster of one of your classes. an d you go through student by student and see if you can specifically name a way that that student is mathematically smart and just, it's a private exercise if you want it to be right. And just sort of go through. And then for the students who you rea lly struggle to name how they're smart, step back and see if there's some kind of a pattern. And when I've done this in PD a s an exercise, I've had teachers have some real light bulb moments where they go, oh my gosh, I really don't know the quiet girls in my classroom, or I really don't know the mul mul tilingual learners in my classroom. So they can sort of start to see a bias in who they're interacting with. And who's been able to engage in ways that uncover, you know, that that uncovered what their unconscious bias might be. And sometimes it's not unconscious bias sometimes it's, it's not like necessarily a category like that. It's just the kids who are more outspoken, the kids who are high achieving it, doesn't have to necessarily be linked to an obvious social category. However, I do think that then what you can do with that list of kids whose , who you don't have a name for their strengths are, is you can kind of take a couple of them a week and make that your project to really observe them a little more intentionally and a little more closely, try mixing things up, have a chat with them , say, Hey, so what do you like to do? Like what , what are the things that you like to do in the world? What are your hobbies? s o maybe you can start to get some insight that way. yo u can talk to other teachers. Most kids have something that they're passionate about, something that animates them and wakes them up in the morning and knowing that and finding ways to meaningful tie that to their mathematical learning can be extremely powerful.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

Lonnie . I love that idea, taking that time to reflect and allow yourself to be vulnerable. As you take a look at your biases and how that's impacting your classroom space. I have learned so much from our conversation. I know we're just scratching the surface of the work that you do. So if folks want to learn more, want to continue engaging in these ideas, where can they find you, or where can they find more about your work?

Lani Horn:

I'm pretty active on Twitter. My handle is at Elana underscore horn . I L a N a underscore H O R N no E on that. And I've written a couple of books for teachers. One is called motivated. Another is called strength in numbers. People can check those out.

Bethany Lockhart Johnson:

I love it for our listeners. We are thrilled to share this conversation with you, and we wanna hear how you take up this challenge. What do you uncover? What do you notice? What are you learning about an asset orientation? And you can share that by finding us on Twitter at MTL show, or you can also continue the conversation with us in our Facebook group, math teacher lounge. We're so excited to keep learning with you. And thanks for listening.

Lani Horn:

Hi , thanks for having me.

Speaker 5:

Hi folks. Thank you.