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Anchor Tasks: A better way of teaching math to young learners?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

By Hoover Herrera
Singapore Math® expert

I confess, I taught math for my first eight years of teaching in the same way I was taught math when I was a young student in elementary school. I’m pretty sure my math teachers taught me in the same way they were taught when they were students… and what’s wrong with that?!…a lot it appears…

I recently came across a comment online by an engineer named Simon Vasquez, Superior Industrial Engineer, University of Sevilla, Spain. By all accounts, this is a smart and accomplished “math guy”. He made three comments that struck me:

  1. He wasn’t impressed by any of his math teachers until he was in college. Why? He never had a math teacher “with common sense, who (could) write some lines to make you see maths as something human at the reach of anyone.”  Recently, because of the internet he has found some who fit the bill. Are you a math teacher or know of one who fits the bill?
  2. “I never ever enjoyed maths, because all the teachers I had were “math-Daltonics” which means that they know the stuff, but they do not feel it, they do not transmit the essence, the beauty of concepts. Are you a math teacher or know of one who transmits the essence of concepts?
  3. The reason students don’t like or struggle with math has nothing to do with the content but “Its people… a subject is completely ruined by a teacher, (or) completely enhanced by (an)other.” How many of your math teachers “enhanced” your math education?

The math hasn’t changed since we were all young students but the expectations have. Whether it be because of Common Core or the Economy, or both, the way we teach mathematics to young learners needs to be “something human at the reach of anyone”, not about how much teachers know but about transmitting the “beauty of concepts” and about teachers “enhancing” the learning experience. If so, we would certainly have fewer math-phobic adults walking around these fifty great states.

Perhaps you were taught by a brilliant math teacher who knew everything there is to know about elementary math by delivering a perfect model lesson. Perhaps they broke down a concept into ten easy to follow steps that you could replicate. I had many students that I awed with my skills having never transferred that ability to them. I became the grand magician on the stage with my model lessons and some even noted that in their yearbooks.

There is a better way to teach mathematics to youngsters today. We don’t have to be the sages on the stage. Students aren’t blank slates (even if they claim amnesia of prior knowledge). We need to leverage that possession of prior knowledge to add new knowledge and skills. No need for model lessons. Those take a lot of work but it only means that teachers are working very hard and students are hardly working. Students need to work just as hard, or even harder than teachers. Anchor Tasks provides a better way. This model makes math “at the reach of anyone” in the classroom. Anchor Tasks transmit the “essence” and “beauty of concepts”. Anchor Tasks is the better way to “enhance” not just teaching mathematics but also learning mathematics. Engaging students in the problem solving process is at the heart of an Anchor Task. It takes no less work to plan and prepare an Anchor Task but students will work just as hard or even harder than the teacher who planned it. A recent teacher who participated in one of our Anchor Task professional development workshops said “I used your suggestion of how to structure the initial lesson on multiplication, and the lesson went beautifully.”

Singapore textbooks are written with the main learning task being an Anchor Task. An Anchor task is the single task used over a prolonged period of instructional time. It embodies the idea of  “Teach Less, Learn More”, a philosophy of the Singapore education system.

Marshall Cavendish Education will be offering a FREE webinar this coming December 9th that will provide more information about Anchor Tasks. Our professional development experts Chris Coyne and Ellen Lauterbach will be presenting and sharing more details. I encourage you to register by clicking on the link below.


Make sure to head back to our Singapore Math® LinkedIn community and leave a comment. We’d love to hear back from you and get the conversation started.

Have you used Anchor Tasks? Share with us the math teacher who “impressed” you not with their math skills but with the way they made math reachable, taught you the beauty of concepts and enhanced your learning experience.