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TNTP Re-imagine Teaching

Joshua Martinez

4th Grade Generalist, KIPP Raíces Academy East Los Angeles, CA

What do you notice about the fraction 1/3?  How did you decide it was less than 1/2?  Tell me another way that you could prove that 1/2 is greater than 1/3 of the same whole.

For the students in Joshua Martinez’s fourth-grade classroom at KIPP Raíces Academy in East Los Angeles, California, school means thinking deeply about math concepts and literature every day, fielding questions from their teacher, from their fellow nine-year-olds—even from the entire class as they stand up and explain their work to the whole group at the end of a challenging lesson.

“Mr. Martinez’s classroom is defined by the palpable energy of academic rigor and purpose coupled with calm, joy, and respect,” said Nazareth Riquelme, Dean and fourth-grade level manager at KIPP Raíces Academy. “This does not happen by chance, but because Mr. Martinez works hard to build relationships with students and create a culture of mutual respect.”

Building those relationships begins at home. This neighborhood in East Los Angeles has a proud history of activism and social consciousness. “When I go on home visits at the start of each year, I make it a point to get to know the particular stories of my families,” says Martinez. “What you find are families with different traditions and values, but each one cares deeply about the quality of education their child is receiving.”

At KIPP Raíces Academy, parents know that their students are expected to do more than arrive at a simple math solution or answer a superficial question about a story—they’re expected to think deeply and explain their reasoning. Along the way, they learn more than one path to the right answer—and which one works best for them. Mr. Martinez’s fourth graders are growing on average two years per school year in math and one and a half years in reading, with 82 percent scoring advanced and proficient in math and 92 percent scoring advanced and proficient in English on their latest Smarter Balanced assessments, compared to the LAUSD averages of 31 percent and 36 percent, respectively. Their commitment to learning continues long after the last school bell. Based on annual Accelerated Reader Data, his students read an average of 1 million words per year—tripling the 300,000 word per year average of a typical fourth grader.

“My classroom is alive!” says Mr. Martinez. “Students are talking, engaging in discussion, and answering challenging questions.”

Just as impressively, at only nine and ten years old, these students are already learning the power of mindfulness. In Mr. Martinez’s classroom, students don’t have to stay in their seats—as long as they show they are thinking. His mantra is “Do what you need to learn best.” Students have the freedom to move around and stand during lessons with the expectation that they know best how to monitor their attention. Each morning begins with a brief lesson about how the brain functions—and how to refocus ourselves in the midst of the stresses of the day.

“Educating kids in low-income communities does not have to feel disciplinarian and rigid,” says Mr. Martinez. “We are not aiming to be one of the best schools that serves low-income communities. We want to be one of the best school options for children period.”