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Teachers Engaged in Research: Inquiry into Mathematics Classrooms, Grades 6-8


reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight - September 25, 2006

coverTitle: Teachers Engaged in Research: Inquiry into Mathematics Classrooms, Grades 6-8
Author(s): Joanna O. Maslingila (Ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1593114990, Pages: 280, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com


The aim of this edited volume—and in truth, the whole series—is to understand the passion of the teacher-researchers who have offered us insights into their math classrooms.  While many passionate authors contribute to this particular text, the intent of these teacher-researchers is threefold: “to transform their teaching practice, expand the mathematical knowledge and skill of their students, and enhance the life chances of their students in the world” (p. xii).  The research stories are written with vibrant humility and clarity.  Just as the teacher-researchers came to the realization of what works in their classrooms, they offer their understandings to their fellow teachers in order to assist them in teaching in the classroom.


In the forward of the series, Cochran-Smith presents us with the richness of this particular text.  She states: “...[T]he use of inquiry has generally reflected a move away from transmission models of teacher training and retraining…toward a concept of teacher learning as a life-long process of both posing and answering questions appropriate to local contexts…”(p. xiii)  This statement provides the major trajectories of the text.  More specifically, it gives us a view into the lives of the researchers and the passion they have for solving their questions—not necessarily to present to the research community, but rather, to ascertain ways of assisting the students before them in their classes.  This action research is rich with stories about the struggles the researchers have with the question under investigation and the formulation of ways to think about the solution.  The research is presented in a very readable form so that those who struggle with the concepts will be able to think in new ways.  


Parini (2005) describes the qualities of the teacher-researchers in his book, Art of Teaching:  “You have to teach out of who you are.  That is the only way you will succeed, as a professional, as a teacher and scholar, as a member of the community of scholars. The essential journey in this profession is toward self-knowledge; this will involve getting lost in order to get found, losing your thread, having to revise your sense of reality over and over, frequently adjusting to new information, new contexts” (p. 105). Parini’s analysis of the teaching and learning paradigm comes through very clearly in the researchers’ report of what is going on in the math classrooms.  The text is not filled with educational jargon nor does it attempt to appeal to some powerful force in the textbook industry; instead, it is written to assist the reader in teaching and thinking about mathematics in a new way—a way that is needed for the 21st century.


The series was written for teachers by teacher-researchers who are attempting to teach for “deeper understanding.”  This deeper understanding manifests itself by “engaging students in substantive explorations and discussions about social structures and practices that matter in their lives” (p. 114).  Some common themes of the research are to engage students in mathematical thinking and to examine teacher practices.  One way to look at mathematical thinking comes across in a research example concerning word problems. One of the most difficult strategies for teachers is to assist students in the understanding of word problems.  It is not for the faint of heart to get students deeply involved in solving word problems.  The dense symbol system of mathematics comes to life through the solving of word problems, which allows students to deeply understand the concepts. In another research study, the researchers engage the students in complex mathematical concepts that are embedded in word problems. The emphasis is on authentic mathematical tasks. Their strategy is to make connections to big ideas that include mathematics, history and culture. In so doing, they empower the students in mathematical strategies that make sense to each individual and provide a deeper understanding of the concepts.

 

In another research study, the researchers develop projects and assessments designed for students to apply mathematics in new situations. The reader can feel the passion of the researchers in designing projects and assessments with the students. In this collaborative effort, the students use the concept of backward design to make their teaching/learning meaningful to each person involved.


What I want the students to be able to accomplish in the math classroom is the focus of several research chapters in this text. (This supports the second theme of teacher practices.)  The researchers encourage teachers to reflect on their own practice and to self-analyze their work.  This self-analysis provides the students with a sense of meaningful work in the understanding of the concepts under construction.


The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) (2000) calls for an investigation of the ways we evaluate students in the mathematics classroom. They call for an analysis that connects the students’ everyday knowledge of mathematics to their school knowledge. With this in mind, the researchers encourage ongoing questioning of what works, how it works, and why it works as it does. This realization again empowers the students to be in charge of their mathematical knowledge and concepts, and ties assessment in a very deep way to the understanding of the concepts.


Another research study that follows the findings of the NCTM is the need for collaboration in the math classroom. This need has been documented by many researchers, including Knight & Becker (1994), when they provided qualitative evidence indicating that the students that worked together in Knight’s class reported that they learned more when they talked over the math concepts with their colleagues.  In the study in this series, the researchers encourage the students to work together so teachers as well as students can “think” together and supply support for one another during their daily work in the math classroom.


Two of the chapters emphasize the skills of the teacher in attempting to figure out what the students already know in order to build from that knowledge.  In the past, we often attempted to work off a deficit model in which the weaknesses of the students were delineated. The research presented focuses on the strengths of the learner and how we can teach from his or her strengths. These strengths—or what researchers call prior knowledge—fuels and engages the student to realize how he or she can make sense out of the math concepts being taught.


A rather important, yet idiosyncratic research study looks at a strong conceptual understanding of the mathematics that is fundamental to make sense out of such issues as profit and loss, racial profiling, economic systems, budgets and other global issues. This is a very unique, fundamental use for mathematical knowledge that brings the reader to realize the vast importance math plays in every facet of our lives.


Why read this book?  One of the most important outcomes of this book is the richness of the dedication of the authors of the text. It specifically gives us authentic methods of assessment, collaborative models of teaching, a discussion of the connection between math and other disciplines, and several methods in which the math classroom becomes more interactive.   It is not a book that focuses on pleasing the academy of scholars; instead, it focuses more on finding those issues that will be helpful to the teacher in the classroom.  How can I assist the student to become mathematically literate while using the strengths they have already honed?  The researchers writing in this text value the importance of excellent teaching and learning and tell their stories in such a way that energizes and informs those working in the field.


References


Knight, E., & Becker, J. (1994). Connecting the past with the future: Preparing to teach elementary mathematics. Teaching Education. Volume Number?(6), 223-227.


National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics. Reston: VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.


Parini, J. (2005). The art of teaching. London: Oxford University Press.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 25, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12729, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 10:45:54 PM

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About the Author
  • Eileen Knight
    St. Xavier University
    E-mail Author
    EILEEN QUINN KNIGHT, Ph.D is professor of education at St. Xavier University in Chicago. For the past 22 years she has worked with pre-service teachers to assist them in becoming elementary, middle school and high school teachers. Her area is psychological development and her specialty is math methods. She recently gave a presentation in Panama City, Panama entitled: "Putting the Heart Back into Education: Case Studies that Matter" in June 2006. Her most recent publication is in the Illinois School Journal entitled: "Collaboration Builds Vo-tech Charter Idea" concerning the work she has done at ACE Tech Charter High School as part of the Renaissance 2010 program of Mayor Daley. Professor Knight also works for the Golden Apple Foundation, Civic and Arts Foundation of the Union League Club and is part of the steering committee for the Higher Learning Commission of St. Xavier University. Her teaching duties include: Adolescent Development, Math Methods, and Research in Teaching and Learning. She was recently interviewed by the Catholic New World about how to assist students in a world after 9/11.
 
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