What is Complex Instruction?
Complex Instruction is a particular approach to small groupwork that promotes equitable interactions and learning. Although the strategies promoted by Complex Instruction work well in all classrooms, this approach is particularly effective in diverse classroom settings – classrooms where students bring multiple abilities and a range of community/cultural resources.
This page gives an introduction to Complex Instruction & provides materials for exploring Complex Instruction on your own, in a mathematics methods course, or as part of a study group.
Many teachers utilize elements of collaborative learning in their classrooms, but the following criteria distinguish Complex Instruction from other classes that may use group work more generally:
- Groupworthy, multiple ability tasks
- Modification of traditional authority structure
- Instructional strategies for treating status issues
These materials are drawn from a 6-8 week unit on Complex Instruction I developed for my secondary mathematics methods course.
This page highlights several groupworthy tasks created by prospective teachers in my secondary mathematics methods courses. The page includes links for downloading these tasks for use in your own classrooms. The page also includes links to other websites where teachers can find groupworthy tasks.
This page provides an overview of a 6-8 week unit on Complex Instruction for mathematics methods courses. The overview describes weekly topics and activities and includes an assignment description for guiding prospective teachers to adapt a mathematics task to be groupworthy.
Resources for Using Complex Instruction in Math
- Smarter Together by Helen Featherstone, Sandra Crespo, Lisa Jilk, Joy Oslund, Amy Parks, and Marcy Wood (2011) – written for elementary school teachers for using groupwork in math, but provides extended examples and details that would be helpful for all teachers (e.g., appendix that provides tips for adapting tasks)
- Strength in Numbers by Ilana Horn (2012) – written specifically for secondary mathematics teachers who want to incorporate more equitable groupwork in their math classes
- Designing Groupwork by Elizabeth Cohen (1994) – the original book on complex instruction written for teachers; not math specific but provides details not found in the other math-specific resources. A more recent edition is also available: (2014)
- cimath.org – A community of teachers and scholars who have come together to promote the use of complex instruction in mathematics classrooms.
- https://www.youcubed.org/ – A site produced by Jo Boaler and others at Stanford University. Provides tasks and other resources for math teaching at various levels.
- http://nrich.maths.org/ – A site that provides more information about Complex Instruction and groupworthy tasks across the mathematics curriculum.
- Complex Instruction Consortium – Task library includes groupworthy tasks for algebra, algebra 2, geometry, precalculus, and calculus.
- Complex Instruction Skillbuilders – Materials for tasks designed to develop students’ skills for collaboration. Many of these participation structures can also be adapted for math-specific tasks.
- “Heterogenius” Classrooms by Maika Watanabe (2012) – written for mathematics and science teachers. Includes a DVD with examples of complex instruction strategies in real classrooms.
- ELLs and Group work: It can be done well by William Zahner (2012) – Provides some tips for using group work in a multi-lingual mathematics classroom. Also provides a sample groupworthy task.
- A New Twist on Collaborative Learning by Stephanie Butman (2014) – Provides guidance on how to use a groupworthy participation structure – “Let the chalk do the talk” and a sample task