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Crossing the Borders Again: Challenges in Comparing Quality Instruction in Mathematics and Reading


by Anna O. Graeber, Kristie J. Newton & Marylin J. Chambliss — 2012

Context: Although many studies have looked at the teaching of mathematics or at the teaching of reading, few have looked at teaching in both subjects and attempted to discuss characteristics of quality instruction across these two domains. In this article, we reflect on our attempts to do so. We focus on one aspect of instruction, the extent of cognitive demand that characterizes reading and mathematics instruction in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.

Purpose: We pursued this work to share the difficulties faced in working across the two subject areas and how the differences and similarities in the two subject areas influenced data collection and the interpretation of results. We also wanted to explore whether the instructional styles of teachers who teach in both subject areas exhibited similar amounts of cognitive demand.

Research Design: After discussing the struggles faced in data collection, terminology used, and the comparability of research bases in the two domains, we report on an exploratory analysis of classroom observation data from the High-Quality Teaching study. Three aspects of cognitive demand were assessed through the classroom observations of approximately 550 lessons in reading and 600 lessons in mathematics: demand of tasks posed by the teacher, demand of students’ responses, and demand of the lesson content. Using data related to these aspects of cognitive demand, we also compared the level of cognitive demand in the reading and mathematics classes of the 69 teachers who taught both subjects.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the level of cognitive demand exhibited in the tasks teachers pose and the responses and work of students are similar in mathematics and reading. However, we found that the cognitive demand associated with content was higher in reading than in mathematics. For teachers who teach both reading and mathematics, only a small percent demonstrated the same demanding instruction for tasks, responses, or content regardless of subject area. Are the differences real, or an artifact of the definitions and protocols used to compare the subject areas? In either case, we raise issues related to teacher education, professional development, and evaluation. Should teacher policies incorporate information about potential differences in quality instruction across disciplines, and, if so, how? If quality instruction across subjects differs, what are implications for policies that shape expectations for teachers who teach both reading and mathematics?



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 4, 2012, p. 1-30
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16650, Date Accessed: 3/22/2017 6:10:45 PM

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About the Author
  • Anna Graeber
    University of Maryland
    E-mail Author
    ANNA O. GRAEBER is an associate professor emerita, College of Education, University of Maryland. Her research focuses on students’ (mis)conceptions in mathematics and ways of ameliorating their influence. She is also interested in the broader field of mathematics teacher education. She has published her work in journals such as Educational Studies in Mathematics, the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, and the Journal of Mathematical Behavior.
  • Kristie Newton
    Temple University
    E-mail Author
    KRISTIE J. NEWTON is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology in Education at Temple University. Her research focuses on the interactions between mathematical knowledge, motivation, and instruction, particularly in the middle grades. Her work has been published in journals such as American Educational Research Journal, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, and Mathematical Thinking and Learning.
  • Marylin Chambliss
    University of Maryland
    E-mail Author
    MARILYN J. CHAMBLISS is an associate professor emerita, College of Education, University of Maryland. Her scholarship focuses on promoting content-area literacy for all children. Believing that educational issues are complex, she has pursued a mixed methodology guided by the questions she is asking. Recently, she has become interested in philosophical issues related to the question, How do we know? She has published her work in three books and numerous journals, including Reading Research Quarterly, Written Communication, Discourse Processes, Educational Psychologist, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, and Contemporary Educational Psychology.
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