The Art and Science of Teaching Developmental Mathematics: Building Perspective through Dialogue

By Galbraith, Michael W.; Jones, Melanie S. | Journal of Developmental Education, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The Art and Science of Teaching Developmental Mathematics: Building Perspective through Dialogue


Galbraith, Michael W., Jones, Melanie S., Journal of Developmental Education


On the first day of my college teaching career, I entered the classroom thinking that somehow I would make a difference with these adult learners enrolled in a "mid-level" developmental math course. I soon discovered that to make any significant difference as a community college math instructor I would not only need to understand the mechanics of teaching but the artistic aspects as well. (Elizabeth, a 25-year-old female mathematics instructor)

An understanding of the term pedagogy, the science and art of teaching, is essential if one seeks to become effective in the teaching and learning process with adult learners. The art of teaching is difficult to define but is closely linked to "factors akin to the human spirit, intellect, emotion, volition, authenticity, wholeness, self-renewal, philosophy and personal goals" (Borland & Lockhart, 2002, p. 33). It is the creative achievements lying beyond technique. The science of teaching refers to instructors' behaviors associated with the mechanics or how-to aspects regarding the methods of the process. These could include such things as lesson organization and structure, facilitation technique, interactive communication skills, elocution, and feedback. In most cases, college instructors have been taught and have developed the mechanics and content expertise but have little understanding or training in how to develop the artistic dimension of teaching. Developing the mechanics of teaching is important, but the development of the art of teaching is essential.

The teaching and learning process is not an easy task as Galbraith (2002/2003) indicates: "The mode and complexity of the teaching and learning process are confined in the individuality and idiosyncrasies of those who take on the role of teacher and learner" (p. 9). This is certainly true in all teaching and learning disciplines and perhaps more applicable when engaged in instructing developmental mathematics at the community college level.

Returning adult learners are unique in their individual characteristics as well as the various social roles they play in their lives (Galbraith & James, 2002). It is because of this variability that developmental mathematics instructors need to seek an understanding about how adults learn and to ground that learning process in the art and science of effective instruction. A study by Higbee and Thomas (1999) of the affective and cognitive factors related to mathematics achievement has found that collaborative learning helped reduce academic anxiety. Dee (1991) also maintains that collaborative learning plays an important role in helping learners become more successful in remedial mathematics courses.

Penny and White (1998) discovered that faculty and student characteristics-faculty gender, employment status, student age, ethnicity, and enrollment status-impacted students' performance significantly. Interestingly, they found that full-time and part-time students tended to perform better in developmental mathematics courses when taught by a full-time instructor.

However, the majority of part-time students falls within the classification of adult learners (Aslanian, 2001) who are most likely to be taught by part-time instructors. In addition, the primary methods of instruction are lecture, lecture with laboratory, individual learning modules, and computer-aided instruction (Grouws, 2004; Waycaster, 2001). However, as Waycaster suggests, "one mode of instruction is not a panacea for all students...colleges should offer at least two modes of instruction for developmental mathematics courses" (p. 413).

Academic achievement is determined by numerous factors. Adults as learners bring to developmental mathematics courses a unique set of characteristics, qualities, learning styles, social roles, life experiences, and motivational levels. It is imperative that instructors have a sense of how to teach adults, utilizing any and all elements associated with the artistic and mechanic dimensions. …

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