A Comparison of Mathematics Textbooks from Turkey, Singapore, and the United States of America*

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study was to compare 6th grade Turkish, Singapore, and American mathematics textbooks in terms of certain features of textbook design. Textbooks were compared based on their visual design, text density, internal organization, weights of curriculum strands, topics covered, and content presentation. The results revealed varied assumptions for student learning and choices of design. Singapore books reflected simple features of text density and enriched use of visual elements, fewer number of topics, and an easier inner organization to follow. American books were mainly designed as reference books. Turkish books reflected a measured middle way between the two and reflected a design that valued active student learning. However, Turkish books could use ideas to improve visual design and presentation of certain topics.

Key Words

Mathematics Textbooks, International Comparative Studies, Content Analysis, Mathematics Education.

The mathematical performance of Turkish students in the international comparative studies such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS-R) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have alarmed stakeholders that there are serious problems in mathematics education of students in Turkey (Alacaci & Erbas, 2010). Mainly as a part of an initiative for joining the European Union (EU), there have been several reform efforts in Turkey in the pursuit of adaptation of the EU standards and norms in social and political fields, including education. One of those reform initiatives is the update of the primary education curriculum and textbooks in elementary (1st grade to 8th grade) and in secondary (9th grade to 12th grade) level. As of 2008-2009 academic year, the gradual implementation process was completed and all students in all grades started to use the new curricula and textbooks. It is widely accepted that textbooks assume three important roles in education: (i) to serve as a guide to decide which topics to be taught, (ii) help teachers to organize topics and materials in an order, (iii) provide teachers with ideas and activities for teaching students (Altun, Arslan, & Yazgan, 2004; Delice, 2005; MEB EARGED, 2003; Robitaille & Travers, 1992; Woodward & Elliott, 1990). Even though mathematics textbooks play a big role in teaching and learning mathematics throughout the world; there is a clear dearth of research on the actual use of textbooks in mathematics education (Li, Zhang, & Ma, 2009). Two reasons that are linked to each other are the difficulty in collecting data on textbook use and the lack of a theoretical framework in doing so (Rezat, 2006). Furthermore, for students, one of the primary factors that play into classroom learning is the opportunity to learn. Textbooks are important indicators of students' opportunity to learn as they reflect the intended curriculum for schools. The purpose of this study is to compare Turkish, Singapore, and American 6th grade mathematics textbooks based on certain features of textbook design. In particular, textbooks were compared with regards to elements of visual design, text density, internal organization, relative weights of curriculum strands, number of topics covered, and styles of content presentation.

Theoretical Framework

The conceptual and theoretical framework in this study comprised of activity theory suggested by Vygotsky (Rezat, 2006) and reader oriented textbook theory suggested by Weinberg and Wiesner (2011).

Activity Theory and Textbook Use: One theoretical perspective that is helpful in understanding the role of textbooks in mathematics classroom comes from an interpretation of activity theory (Rezat, 2006). According to this theory, humans conduct activities in a culturally mediated context by using an embedded artifact to reach an object. Activity theory attempts to explain the role of textbooks in teaching and learning of mathematics from a sociocultural perspective by using "subject-mediating artifact-object" triad. …