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Word Problems? No Problem! A Conversation with Dr. Sarah Powell

Link Lines Newsletter

Word Problems? No Problem! A Conversation with Dr. Sarah Powell

Click to read this issue for Educator’s

By Cami Williams, M.Ed.and LaShauna Britt, M.Ed.

Read the Administrator’s Corner below

Supervising High-Quality Math Instruction

By Cathy Buyrn, M.Ed.

Administrators are responsible for supervising instruction in all content areas, but many lack experience with math instruction. Therefore, it is not uncommon to rely on experienced math teachers as instructional leaders. While the instructional leadership of successful math teachers can be a critical part of building consistent and effective instructional practices, administrators need to make sure they are up-to-date themselves on evidence-based math instructional practices in classrooms.

For example, experienced math teachers may rely on instructional habits that might get short-term results at the expense of long-term mathematical reasoning skills (e.g., key words, rote memorization, operation-based problem solving) (Powell, 2020). For that reason, administrators need to know which instructional practices have been proven to build longer-term successes with students who struggle with math, including students with disabilities. More importantly, administrators need to know which instructional habits need to be eliminated from math classrooms.

Initially, teachers may be reluctant to abandon practices that have worked for many students over the years. Indeed, teachers may be attached to practices that worked for them when they were students. If administrators want to improve math outcomes for more students, they will need to help teachers change their instructional habits and become effective math teachers for all students, including those who struggle with math. It is important to stop accepting poor math performance and using language like “not a math person” when referring to ourselves or our students.

A number of math strategies have proven successful when employed consistently and effectively. One of those proven strategies is schema-based instruction (see Link Lines lesson Schema-Based Instruction). Administrators can familiarize themselves with additional evidence-based instructional practices for math by reviewing the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) new resource guide (Berry & Powell, 2020) at the link below.

Evidence-Based Specially Designed Instruction in Mathematics:  Resource Guide

Once familiar with the VDOE guidance, administrators should plan professional learning for teachers designed to help them replace ineffective instructional habits with evidence-based practices that will reach more learners. The IRIS Center Module at the link below is a comprehensive training tool that administrators can use with their teachers to start important conversations about high-quality math instruction.

High Quality Mathematics Instruction:  What Teachers Should Know

Supervising high-quality math instruction can be a challenge for administrators if they lack experience or confidence with such a technical content area, but they need to help teachers make sense of the evidence behind a needed shift in guidance and practice. When proven practices are in place during core instruction for all students, we will improve outcomes for more learners.


Berry, K. & Powell, S. (2020). Evidence-based specially designed instruction in mathematics:  Resource guide. Virginia Department of Education.

Powell, S. (2020, December 15). Word problems? No problem!:  A conversation with Dr. Sarah Powell [Video podcast]. In Link Lines. William & Mary Training & Technical Assistance Center.

The IRIS Center. (2017). High-quality mathematics instruction: What teachers should know. Author.

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