Understanding and Improving Mathematics Teaching: Highlights from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study

Phi Delta Kappan, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Understanding and Improving Mathematics Teaching: Highlights from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study


By TIMSS Video Mathematics Research Group

After the release of the TIMSS 1995 Video Study, many educators concluded that only Japanese teaching methods would produce high achievement. The follow-up study reported here looked at teaching methods in five additional high-achieving countries to determine whether this was indeed the case.

THE TIMSS 1999 Video Study is a follow-up and expansion of the TIMSS 1995 Video Study of mathematics teaching, which was itself a part of the analysis of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Larger and more ambitious than the first, the 1999 study investigated science as well as mathematics and expanded the number of countries from three to seven.1 The countries participating in the mathematics portion of the TIMSS 1999 Video Study included Australia, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong SAR,2 Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States. In this article, we focus on the mathematics lessons; the science results will be available at a later date.

Stimulated by a summary article that appeared in the Kappan and by other reports,3 interest in the TIMSS 1995 Video Study focused on its novel methodology and the striking differences in teaching found in the participating countries. In particular, the sample of eighth-grade teachers in Japan taught mathematics differently from their peers in the U.S. or Germany. Because Japan was a high-achieving country and because the Japanese method of teaching resonated with many U.S. mathematics educators, it was tempting to draw the conclusion that such teaching is essential for high achievement. The TIMSS 1999 Video Study addressed this issue by sampling lessons in more countries whose students performed well on the TIMSS 1995 achievement study, in Europe as well as in Asia.

As shown in Table 1, eighth-graders in all of the countries participating in the TIMSS 1999 Video Study scored significantly higher than U.S. eighth-graders on the TIMSS 1995 achievement test,4 which was used to select countries for this study.

The mathematics portion of the TIMSS 1999 Video Study included 638 eighth-grade lessons collected from the seven participating countries. The Japanese lessons were the same ones collected in 1995 as part of the earlier study, but they were reanalyzed for the current study.5 A random sample of lessons was filmed across the school year, one lesson per teacher. Sampling information, videotaping procedures, and other methodological notes are detailed in an appendix to the report Teaching Mathematics in Seven Countries: Results from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study, from which this summary is drawn.6 For a more detailed discussion of the technical aspects of the study, readers should see the companion technical report.7

What Can a Video Survey Tell Us?

Although many factors inside and outside of school influence students' level of achievement, the quality of classroom teaching is a key to improving students' learning.8 But why undertake an expensive and labor-intensive videotaping and analysis of hundreds of hours of randomly selected classroom lessons from all over the world? Here are a few reasons.

* Surveying national samples of classrooms provides information about students' common experiences. Teaching is rarely studied at a national level, but education policy is often discussed nationally. It is important to know what teaching looks like, on average, so that national discussions of teaching focus on the typical experiences of students.

* Using video makes possible a detailed examination of the complex act of teaching from different points of view. Video preserves classroom activity so that it can be "slowed down" and viewed multiple times, by many people with different kinds of expertise, making possible detailed descriptions of many classroom lessons.

* Comparing teaching across cultures allows educators to see their own teaching with fresh eyes and reveals new alternatives. …

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