The Early Childhood Mathematics Collaborative: Communities of Discourse

By Copley, Juanita V. | Teaching Children Mathematics, October 2001 | Go to article overview

The Early Childhood Mathematics Collaborative: Communities of Discourse


Copley, Juanita V., Teaching Children Mathematics


At 6:45 in the morning on the first day of the Early Childhood Mathematics Collaborative, I arrive at Jessup Elementary School and am greeted by several early kindergartners: "Hey, Mrs. Copley, is everyone coming?" "Where have you been? Hey, our class can get twelve people standing in the counting circle." "I've lost a tooth since you were here!" A first-grade teacher walks in with me, explaining that she has wonderful work from her students: "Just wait till we meet and you see their word problems. The students' thinking and reasoning are so obvious!" As we begin to unload, two very nervous undergraduate students wander in and explain that they have arrived more than ninety minutes early "so we wouldn't be late!" They quickly explain that they have been up all night worrying about teaching mathematics to real children and that if possible, they would like to observe today and perhaps teach on another day. I smile and assure them that everything will be fine. Within two hours, more than 800 students, 40 prese rvice teachers, and 50 faculty members arrive. Another semester of the Early Childhood Mathematics Collaborative (ECMC) has begun.

The ECMC has been active for seven years at the University of Houston. A unique professional development model, the collaborative has several components: (1) a university faculty member adopts a public school and conducts specific, standards-based professional development sessions; (2) five preservice teachers per classroom present games or activities to children in prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first and second grades; and (3) while the preservice teachers cover the classes, classroom teachers are involved in study groups with the university professor.

Putnam and Borko (2000) recently synthesized research on teacher learning. They describe communities of discourse" as effective vehicles for teacher change and further education. In their terms, communities of discourse provide settings in which teachers of all levels can discuss research-based knowledge, reflect on teaching practices, and share student learning experiences. When discourse in the community involves teachers' ideas meshed with research-based knowledge, teacher learning can result. Together, as a community of discourse, members of the Jessup and university communities assess student responses, evaluate specific teaching strategies, and reflect on student learning.

The Jessup Community

Jessup Elementary School is located in a large urban school district in a middle-class neighborhood. Jessup has three prekindergarten classrooms and includes up to fifth grade. This year, twenty-two different languages are spoken by the children of Jessup. English as a Second Language and dual-language Spanish and English programs are implemented in almost half the classrooms. Jessup, which has been involved with ECMC for two and a half years, is known as an innovative, exciting school filled with children from diverse cultures. Equally important, its teachers are diverse in background and education. Spanish is the first language for many of the teachers, and the United States is their second country. About half the teachers have more than ten years' experience; the other half have two years or less of teaching experience.

University Professor and the University Community

For more than twenty years, I have been involved in professional development for preservice and in-service teachers. I have served as a mentor, a model teacher, a coach, a teacher motivator, a workshop presenter, a professor of education, and an evaluator. I have seen numerous problems with each of these professional development roles. Ideas presented at "one shot" speeches or activity workshops often cannot easily be implemented or integrated in the daily classroom routine. Teachers frequently complain about the lack of time available to implement new ideas, to mentor or coach others, or to reflect on their students' understanding of mathematical concepts.

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