Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Effective Mathematics Instruction the Importance of Curriculum

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Effective Mathematics Instruction the Importance of Curriculum

Article excerpt

Abstract

A two-year study was conducted in two fourth grade classrooms to evaluate the effectiveness of two mathematics curricula. During the first year, Teacher A used a Direct Instruction program, Connecting Math Concepts (CMC), and Teacher B used a traditional math basal textbook published by Scott, Foresman. During the first year, the CIVIC group scored significantly higher on the computation subtest of the National Achievement Test and on curriculum-based tests constructed from the CMC and basal programs as well as on a multiplication facts test. The next year Teacher B also used the CMC program, and achievement in Teacher B's classroom was significantly greater than the previous year, on the curriculum-based tests and the multiplication facts test. This suggests that the curriculum was the critical variable responsible for higher student achievement. Implications for textbook adoption and selection are discussed.

What is the best route to improved mathematics outcomes? In response to criticisms of math texts, some have suggested that textbooks be set aside in favor of more life-like, problem-solving mathematics instruction. Despite attempts to deemphasize the role of textbooks through projects and interdisciplinary thematic instruction, textbooks still "dominate instruction in elementary and secondary schools" (Farr, Tulley, & Powell, 1987, p. 59). Even though good teachers provide instructional opportunities that go beyond the textbook, 75% to 90% of classroom instruction is organized around textbooks (Tyson & Woodward, 1989; Woodward & Elliott, 1990). With this fact in mind, it seems wise to explore the possibilities of improving textbooks rather than abandoning them (Grossen & Carnine, 1996). Osborn, Jones, and Stein (1985) argued that "improving textbook programs used in American schools is an essential step toward improving American schooling" (p. 10).

Improved textbooks, if available, would need to be selected by state or local textbook adoption committees However, current textbook adoption processes are not research based. According to Tyson-Bernstein (1988), selections are more likely to be guided by political and economic factors than by qualities that are known to benefit students. Moreover, adoption committees are often poorly trained for the task of analyzing textbooks. Evaluation of textbooks is not as objective as regulations and policy statements suggest and it is based primarily on professional judgment rather than any objective rating system (Five & Cook, 1994) Pedagogy and educational research are seldom mentioned as factors that influence decisions (Courtland et al., 1983; Powell, 1985).

Even if adoption committee members were better trained, they would find that (a) field-test data and program evaluation data are infrequently reported and (b) textbooks are very similar. Texbook similarity has occurred because 22 states, most notably California and Texas, have statewide adoption procedures that require centralized textbook adoption. Because adoption by large states is critical for profits, publishers tailor their textbooks to meet the requirements of these states. The result is that the textbooks published by different companies are "very careful to be comprehensive in their coverage of topics, but they are seemingly indifferent to the conceptual coherence of the content and the pedagogical effectiveness of activities that are recommended therein" (Carmine, 1991, p 263).

In the current study, two curricula were compared in preparation for an adoption decision in a small school district. The two curricula that were experimentally compared are Invitation to Mathematics (1988) published by Scott Foresman and Connecting Math Concepts. (Engelmann, Engelmann, & Carnine, 1993). The two differ in important ways as summarized in Table 1.

Scott Foresman

Organization

The most prominent feature of the Scott Foresman (SF) mathematics curricula is its spiral design. …

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