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Teachers Engaged in Research: Inquiry into Mathematics Classrooms in Grades 3-5

reviewed by Elaine Young - December 21, 2006

coverTitle: Teachers Engaged in Research: Inquiry into Mathematics Classrooms in Grades 3-5
Author(s): Cynthia W. Langrall (Ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1593114974 , Pages: 244, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

Teachers Engaged in Research: Inquiry into Mathematics Classrooms, Grades 3-5 is one of a four-part series under the general editorship of Marilyn Cochran-Smith, with series editor Denise S. Mewborn. This book is devoted to the teaching and learning of mathematics in grades 3-5. The book consists of a series forward by Marilyn Cochran-Smith, an introduction by Cynthia W. Langrall, followed by 10 chapters written by mathematics teachers and teacher educators from seven U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The book bears the NCTM logo and indeed, all chapters give reference to the NCTM Standards (2000) and other related documents; however, the book is published by a publisher focusing on scholarly book series in Education, Social Science and Business Management. The inclusion of chapters from authors in Canada illuminates the influence of the NCTM standards outside of the United States.

This book is intended for use by teachers who are committed to teaching mathematics for understanding. Classroom teachers were involved in research in collaboration with mathematics faculty at a university, with teacher educators and their preservice teachers, and in action research in their own classrooms. The book could also be used by teacher study groups, in content courses and methods courses for preservice and inservice teachers, and for professional development. In addition, the book can be informative for researchers, policy makers, administrators, teacher educators, and other stakeholders.

The book begins with an explanation of the phrase “inquiry stance,” which is a worldview that implies on-going and continuous teacher research rather than discrete or bounded inquiry “projects.” Such practitioner inquiry reflects a move away from the transmission models of teacher training and professional development, toward a life-long interaction with posing and answering questions for a deeper knowledge of mathematics and a richer understanding of learning and learners. The book continues with two themes: teacher research as a form of professional development and the importance of collaboration.

Research from the classroom has a direct impact on teachers, teaching, learning, and learners. Some of the chapters address mathematical topics such as division of fractions, multiplicative reasoning, subtraction, probability, and bridging from arithmetic to algebra. Other chapters address mathematical pedagogy such as mathematical writing, sense-making, and mathematical discourse. Several chapters directly address experiences of teacher researchers and the resulting transformations in their teaching and the learning of their students.

Chapters are written in first person narrative and are replete with pictures of student work and student words. Chapter concepts include current concerns such as writing in mathematics, lesson study, teacher questioning, and applying research to the classroom. Meghan B. Steinmeyer wrote about her own action research which involved videotaping and then analyzing class sessions where students shared their methods and solutions to mathematical problems. “My participation in this project not only helped other teachers, but it also provided me an opportunity to reflect on my teaching and to evaluate the effectiveness of my instructional practices with regard to student sharing sessions” (p. 147).

As a result of their research, teachers report significant growth from this professional development opportunity, and are able to sustain what they had learned beyond the end of the defined research timeline. Teachers are using these experiences to share with and mentor other teachers in their grade levels and throughout their schools. The book shows intimately the changes in teachers’ mathematical understanding and teaching, as well as changes in student thinking through teacher research.

In Chapter 6, Eileen Phillips of the Vancouver School Board discusses her research with mathematical writing in fourth grade. She begins by discussing the nature of textbook writing prompts and the reasons that writing should be a part of mathematics. She concludes that textbook writing prompts are often more about opinion and choices than mathematics. She uses an interdisciplinary approach to writing in mathematics lessons that supports improving linguistics and explores different writing styles. Ranging from mathematical autobiographies to descriptive statements for building pattern block designs, her students wrote weekly, and then more importantly, responded and critiqued each other’s writing. The class also wrote their own mathematics textbook over the school year. Phillips shares examples of students’ writings and concludes the chapter with an appendix of 13 mathematical tasks and their written components.

In Chapter 11, Ann R. Taylor and Laurel D. Puchner of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville team with Gwen Scheibel of Millstadt Consolidated School in Illinois to tell “Gwen’s Story.” Gwen shares her attempt to introduce problem solving in her fourth grade classroom along with the dreadful results. Although she swears never to attempt it again, she finds herself subsequently involved in a lesson study group at the local university. This chapter tells the journey through several voices, as the lesson study group met to choose a general research theme, explored possible lesson ideas, and chose to rewrite the problem scenario that had failed so miserably in Gwen’s class earlier. The group designed and honed the lesson so each part was thoughtfully prepared, including questions and extensions. Gwen taught the lesson with fellow group members observing, and the group later met to debrief. The experience was completely different from the first attempt and eye-opening for those involved. With planning and collaboration, the activity is overwhelmingly successful, and students were “engaged, busy, and well-behaved” (p. 185) during the entire lesson. The chapter also shares student work and concludes with the research lesson plan in the appendix.

Teachers Engaged in Research shares experiences and insights from practicing teachers and teacher educators. Although most teachers will be involved in less formal research in their classrooms, this book offers a glimpse of a more formal research process that is supportive of mathematics teaching and fulfilling for teachers in the lifelong pursuit of excellence in their profession. This book joins its sister volumes for grades Pre-K-2, 6-8, and 9-12 to complete the series.


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

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 21, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12904, Date Accessed: 12/8/2021 8:56:34 AM

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About the Author
  • Elaine Young
    Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
    E-mail Author
    ELAINE YOUNG, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Mathematics in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Dr. Young teaches mathematics content courses for preservice and inservice teachers and is the project director for a two-year grant program to increase the number of “highly qualified” mathematics teachers at the middle and high school level in South Texas. Her areas of interest include the learning and teaching of mathematics by preservice elementary teachers, the role of problem solving in learning and teaching mathematics, and mathematical activities that use large muscles and team collaboration in outdoor or large space settings. Recent publications include Excelling with Fibonacci and the golden mean (ON-Math, 2006) and TEKS: A mathematical continuum for the early grades (Texas Mathematics Teacher, 2006).
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