Student readiness to begin work on a cognitively demanding mathematics task in a specific lesson.
Use this measure:
PMRR’s measures can be accessed by registering at the PMRR website: pmr2.org.
Note: PMRR’s “Recommended Conditions for Use of the Practical Measures of the Classroom Learning Environment” and annotated versions of the measures (accessed through the PMRR website) provide important guidelines on using the PMRR measures as part of instructional improvement work, and the research base informing these measures. Much of this overview is drawn from these resources.
Measurement instrument overview
This 1-minute (4 items) survey asks students to report on their readiness to begin work on a cognitively demanding task after the teacher has introduced the task in a specific lesson. The survey asks students about their understanding of the problem context, whether they can picture what is happening in the problem mathematically, whether there is unfamiliar language, their readiness to proceed, and their sense of curiosity or interest in solving the problem.
Connection to student learning
The initial introduction, or launch, of a mathematical task has critical implications for equity, shaping the extent which students are able to subsequently engage productively in the task and participate in small-group and whole-class discussion.i
The Launch of the Task survey items are designed to capture the aspects of launching a task that research indicates make a difference for student learning opportunities. These include the following:ii
- Whether students can visualize what is happening mathematically in the problem-solving scenario
- Whether students are familiar with the problem context
- Whether students are familiar with language in the task
- Whether students are ready to begin figuring out how to solve the task (not whether they already know how to solve the task)
PMRR’s annotated version of the Launch of the Task survey, accessed by registering through the PMRR website, contains more information on these aspects of launching a task and the research base behind them.
i Jackson, K., Garrison, A., Wilson, J., Gibbons, L., & Shahan, E. (2013). Exploring relationships between setting up complex tasks and opportunities to learn in concluding whole-class discussions in middle-grades mathematics instruction. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 44(4), 646–682.
Jackson, K., Shahan, E., Gibbons, L., & Cobb, P. (2012). Launching complex tasks. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 18(1), 24–29.
ii PMRR (2020). Launch of the Task survey: Annotated copy. Retrieved December 2020 from University of Washington: https://www.pmr2.org
What we know about how well this measure works for its intended use
The survey and its elements emerge from findings of a vast research effort in which PMRR researchers viewed and analyzed the video recordings of over 1,700 math teachers. One of the aims of this work was to understand what differentiated the instruction of teachers who appeared to be particularly effective in supporting African American students and students whose first language was not English (based on value-added models meant to understand a teacher’s contribution to student achievement scores). Four aspects of how these teachers introduced cognitively demanding math tasks emerged from this analysis, which informed the development of four of the items in the Launch of the Task survey. Cognitive interviews with students and formal qualitative analysis of these interviews helped the PMRR team further refine these survey items.
A full list of ongoing research regarding the use of the PMRR measures can be found on the PMRR website.
While the survey is quick to complete, it should be administered with a frequency that aligns with improvement goals and professional learning. For example, a teacher might administer the survey at the start of a coaching cycle, then focus on implementing a targeted change to instruction, and, finally, administer the survey again a week later at the conclusion of the coaching cycle.
Measurement routine details
In a lesson consisting of an introduction, individual or group problem-solving, and whole-class discussion, the Launch of the Task survey would be administered immediately following the introduction or task launch. PMRR emphasizes that the survey is “intended to be paired with a cognitively demanding task which has a problem-solving scenario (i.e., a student has to analyze the problem in order to figure out how to solve it).”iii
If students have internet access and access to an electronic device such as a Chromebook or iPad, they can complete the online version of the survey, allowing representations of student responses to be viewed right after the measure is completed. If students do not have easy access to a personal device, a paper/pencil version of the measure is available.
While some teachers may be able to quickly analyze results immediately after the task launch and before students start to solve the task, teachers typically analyze and reflect on the survey data after the lesson.
Following the lesson, a teacher–coach pair analyzes the data to consider how the launch of the task related to how students participated in subsequent parts of the lesson. This analysis and discussion informs the teacher’s improvement goals for subsequent lessons.
iii PMRR (2020). Launch of the Task survey: Annotated copy. Retrieved December 2020 from University of Washington: https://www.pmr2.org
Data analysis details
The four survey items are designed to be analyzed in conjunction. For example, student responses to item 3, “Are you ready to get started?”, can be more fully explored by looking at responses to items 1, 2, and 4 to investigate why students did or did not feel ready to get started. The annotated copy of the survey provides sample adjustments to instructional practice and conversation starters linked to each aspect that can support teachers and coaches as they explore the data.
To understand how a teacher’s focal instructional strategies might be shaping student learning experiences, survey data can be compared across time points or across class periods. Survey data can also be aggregated across classrooms to help coaches and school leadership better understand the type of instructional supports that teachers need.
The survey was designed to yield data aggregated at the classroom level rather than at the individual student level. PMRR recommends “as many students as possible complete the classroom measure at each administration. For comparability across administrations, we recommend that as many of the same students complete the classroom measure on each administration. For example, if there are 20 students in one section/period of your math class, we recommend that as many of those 20 students complete the classroom measure at each administration so that you can more confidently compare responses across different administrations.”iv
Data broken down demographically can yield helpful insights, provided that users take an asset-based perspective toward students and use the disaggregated data to focus on the impact of teacher practice and instructional strategies on student responses.
The Edsight platform, developed by the PMRR team, allows users to schedule measurement, take notes, collect and visualize data, and look at trends over time.
Additional issues to consider around survey data analysis and aggregation can be found in PMRR’s Recommended Conditions for Use document.
iv PMRR (2020). Recommended conditions for use of the practical measures of the classroom learning environment. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1esTawjoP96RpJSKq-zkeBinKl2axgKhYxi-JCXWEleo/edit#
Conditions that support use
- Using the survey within the context of regular coaching or a professional learning community is essential for teachers to make sense of their data and connect the data to targeted instructional changes.
- Coaches also need expertise (and often support) to understand how to work with teachers to make sense of survey data, and to support teachers in identifying and implementing instructional changes. For example, in PMRR’s partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools, coaches received extensive professional development in several areas: identifying productive goals for individual teachers’ improvement of their instruction; negotiating those improvement goals with teachers; co-planning lessons with teachers; deciding whether to model instruction, co-teach, or observe the teacher’s instruction; and debriefing with the teacher after the lesson they planned together has been enacted.
- To best make sense of student responses, survey data should be analyzed alongside other information, such as student work, coach observations, and teacher reflections.
- Positioning the survey as a way to elicit student feedback and voice can help users understand the survey as a tool for exploring practice rather than as an accountability or evaluation tool.
- When discussing survey results, users should bring an asset-based perspective about students and a willingness to reflect on their own practices to data discussions in order to avoid data being used to reinforce harmful stereotypes. A context of ongoing professional learning can allow a coach or school leader to shape survey data conversations and prevent data from reinforcing problematic ways of characterizing students.
- Effectively launching a rigorous task requires deep mathematical knowledge for teaching. Teachers must understand and communicate what information students need to interpret the task and engage in problem-solving without telling students how to solve the problem. Using the Launch of the Task measure without supporting teachers to understand and negotiate this fine line will not support improvement. For this reason, use of the survey within the context of high-quality coaching or professional learning is critical.
- Some schools or districts, especially those without a preexisting culture of data sharing, may have privacy concerns around sharing and discussing data.
Other tools and resources to support use
PMRR’s Recommended Conditions for Use of the Practical Measures of the Classroom Learning Environment. The Recommended Conditions for Use document provides guidance regarding how PMRR’s classroom practical measures should and should not be used in service of instructional improvement. PMRR generated these “conditions of use” based on systematic inquiry into the use of the measures in their partner districts. Included in the document are recommended conditions for using the measures, recommendations for data analysis, and frequently asked questions about preparing to administer the measures, administering the measures, and analyzing the resulting data after administration.
PMRR’s annotated versions of the survey, accessed through the PMRR website, connect items with the research base on student engagement and math learning and include sample conversation starters and improvement goals linked to each item.
Metro Nashville Public Schools and PMRR are engaged in a research–practice partnership to support instructional improvement in middle grades math. When the PMRR–Metro Nashville partnership began, the district’s primary goal was to support students’ development of conceptual understanding of key mathematical ideas by improving the quality of whole-class discussions. However, Metro mathematics specialists soon realized that most teachers “proceduralized” tasks when they introduced them by suggesting the steps for solving a task rather than supporting students in understanding what a task was asking mathematically. This proceduralization of tasks during the launch limited the number of different ways in which students solved tasks, often to just one method, thereby making it almost impossible for teachers to lead productive whole-class discussions.
Introducing or launching tasks in a way that supports students to understand what the task is asking mathematically is also important from the point of view of equity, as it is inequitable if some students but not others can begin working on tasks. The partnership therefore realized that coaches would need to support teachers in learning to launch tasks effectively by setting up the appropriate context for the problem, attending to language in the problem statement that might be unfamiliar to some students, and clarifying mathematical relationships that students would need to understand to know what the task was asking mathematically.
The use of the Launch of the Task survey was, like the other PMRR classroom measures, deeply embedded in “coaching cycles.” These cycles were designed to provide teachers with the support they needed to both interpret the Launch of the Task survey data and identify and implement targeted instructional improvements. Nicholas Kochmanski, a member of the PMRR team, identified key elements of impactful teacher–coach coaching cycles using surveys, including the Launch of the Task survey, in the Metro Nashville Public Schools partnership. He found that effective coaching cycles began with the teacher–coach pair agreeing on a productive goal for the teacher’s learning — a goal that was feasible given the teacher’s current knowledge and practices and that, if attained, would result in immediate improvements in students’ learning. When a teacher–coach pair decided to focus on launching tasks more effectively, they would administer the launch survey at the end of the lesson enactment phase of the coaching cycle and then examine the resulting data together during the debriefing phase of the cycle. Kochmanski found that it was essential that coaches pressed their partner teachers to explain why the students had answered survey items in the way they did by focusing on specific aspects of instruction during the lesson. From here, the teacher and coach could then discuss what could be done differently, thereby identifying potential instructional changes that might enable all the students to begin working on tasks effectively. In the next coaching cycle, the teacher–coach pair would administer the measure again and assess whether the change was an improvement.
When used in this way, the Launch of the Task survey enabled coaches to have more productive debriefing conversations with teachers, serving as an intervention in and of itself.
Kara Jackson, PMRR Co-PI and associate professor at the University of Washington College of Education
Paul Cobb, PMRR Co-PI and research professor at Vanderbilt University
PMRR (2020). Recommended conditions for use of the practical measures of the classroom learning environment. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1esTawjoP96RpJSKq-zkeBinKl2axgKhYxi-JCXWEleo/edit#
PMRR (2020). Launch of the Task survey: Annotated copy. Retrieved December 2020 from University of Washington: https://www.pmr2.org