Eric Westendorf
Eric Westendorf is the co-founder and CEO of LearnZillion.
Aug 9

The importance of the 5 practices (Part 1)


What are the 5 practices?

The five practices make up a framework that’s meant to help teachers orchestrate engaging and productive math discussions. By incorporating the practices during planning and discussion time, teachers can help their students grow their mathematical understanding during each class.

The first practice

The first of the five practices is anticipating. This is when a teacher actively envisions what students will do when they’re faced with a challenging task. How will they interpret the task? What strategies are they likely to usecorrect or incorrect? Anticipating is an act of imagination, an act of prediction on the part of the teacher.

Why is the first practice important?

When teachers effectively anticipate student responses, they give themselves a chance to plan. Instead of getting caught off guard, they see the responses as formative assessment opportunities; chances to connect the students’ approaches to the lesson’s learning target.

“By first anticipating the wide range of things that a student might do (and identifying which of those might be mathematically useful in achieving the lesson’s goals), a teacher is in a better position to recognize and understand what students actually do.” (Smith & Stein, 2011, 42)

How is the first practice supported in curricula?

Teachers are equipped to incorporate the first practice when a curriculum comes with a set of anticipated student responses.

The LearnZillion Illustrative Mathematics 6-8 Math curriculum was designed with the five practices in mind. Each lesson includes key visuals alongside teaching notes, and the teaching notes provide teachers with anticipated student responses. They list potential student answers and even help teachers anticipate common misconceptions.

Take, for instance, the anticipated misconceptions featured in this lesson plan.

With this built-in toolset, teachers are prepared for the student responses that may come up during discussions. Where are students likely to struggle? How might teachers think about responding to misconceptions? This is an invaluable frame of mind that helps teachers plan ahead, making it far more likely that they can meet students where they are.

“Developing questions only “in the moment” is very challenging for a teacher who is juggling the needs of a classroom full of learners who need different types and levels of assistance. When teachers feel overwhelmed by the needs and frustrations of their students, it is easy for them to revert to just telling students what to do when an alternative course of action does not immediately come to mind.” (Smith & Stein, 2011, 36)

In the next post, I'll go over the second practice: monitoring.

Want to equip your teachers with a curriculum that's been designed with the five practices in mind? Get in touch.


Eric Westendorf is the Co-Founder and CEO at LearnZillion.

Teaching Education Curriculum