In February 2022, Learning Forward Ontario hosted the panel discussion “Let’s Talk about De-Streamed Math.” At this point, teachers, schools and school districts were at the midpoint of their first year of officially implementing de-streamed mathematics in Grade 9 classrooms in Ontario (although a number of boards were “unofficially” de-streaming Grade 9 mathematics prior to this). The panel, Paul D’Hondt (Huron Perth CDSB), Jamie Majeski (St. Clair CDSB), Melissa Pacht (York Region DSB) and Jason To (Toronto DSB), offered insights from both classroom teacher and central role perspectives on where educators were in the journey to re-shape what mathematics teaching and learning looks like in Grade 9 classrooms in Ontario. It was a chance to hear what these educators had learned so far, and where they see their next steps taking them on the path to implementing change.
Shifting Practice (and Thinking), Small Scale and Big Scale
A number of the panelists indicated the shifts in practice, particularly for classroom teachers, related to implementing de-streaming in Grade 9 mathematics. Melissa Pacht shared that, as a classroom teacher, she initially felt a bit uncertain about de-streaming Grade 9 mathematics. However, it became a chance for her and her colleagues in her department, as they were anticipating what de-streaming might look, to re-examine the way they might have taught mathematics in the past. For Melissa, this meant not only re-shaping her instruction and her assignments, it also caused her to rethink how she structured her mathematics course. For example, she thought about ways she could “spiral” concepts and strands within her mathematics course so that students were getting multiple opportunities to experience, practice and demonstrate their knowledge and skills. Melissa and other panelists talked about how part of the work meant using new instructional strategies, but it also meant re-thinking what was important in mathematics and what possibilities were available to get students there.
It’s All about ‘Why’
If real change was to occur, de-streaming Grade 9 mathematics wasn’t going to be about having new groupings of students in the classroom. One of the things that helped Jamie Majeski is know the reasons ‘why.’ Jamie recalled how this was essential to the professional learning that happened in his department prior to and during implementation of the de-streamed curriculum. As he put it, “We placed the learner at the center of our work – knowing the learners we have was key to our learning.” Knowing that teachers want students to be confident and competent in mathematics helped inform the kind of work teachers engaged in to adapt instruction and assessment strategies to meet the needs of learners.
As Jason To pointed out in his central role supporting teachers in classrooms, this meant helping teachers re-examine how they can use universal design for learning (UDL) and differentiated instruction (DI).
Further to this, Jason stressed how de-streaming is about equity, and that streaming, particularly in mathematics, placed some students at a disadvantage. De-streaming, on the other hand, removes systematic barriers that allow, rather than prevent, students’ access to achievement in a more just system that combats systems of oppression.
Similarly to Jason, Paul D’Hondt also supports teachers in his central role in his board. Paul recognized the importance of on-going support for teachers as they were (and are) implementing changes needed to de-stream their mathematics classrooms. Paul’s work included helping teachers adapt new strategies and approaches, but he was also mindful of the support needed in order to help teachers continue to move forward. Implementing change is a gradual process, and without the continual support, teachers may revert back to earlier practices. This meant that Paul needed to know where teachers are, and what they might need next in terms of professional learning and support.
In terms of professional learning, Paul and other panelists indicated that de-streaming offered a chance to gain new perspective and new entry points to work together.
As with any process of change, the panelists recognized that this was a journey, and that there is still more work to do. However, it is equally important to recognize where educators are in this journey, and to celebrate the successes that have come their way on the journey. These successes are for students and for teachers.
"We have to remember that when we de-stream, we are changing the trajectories for people.”