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Mathematics Teachers at Work: Connecting Curriculum Materials and Classroom Instruction

reviewed by Mary Baker - August 15, 2012

coverTitle: Mathematics Teachers at Work: Connecting Curriculum Materials and Classroom Instruction
Author(s): Janine T. Remillard, Beth A. Herbel-Eisenmann, & Gwendolyn M. Lloyd
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415899362, Pages: 400, Year: 2011
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You may be wondering why Routledge has elected to reprint in paperback form and TCR has chosen to do a review on a book first published in 2009.  It doesn’t take the reader long to figure out why: The message of this text is more relevant and important today than it was in 2009. (And it should be noted that the text was timely and important in 2009!) Mathematics Teachers at Work: Connecting Curriculum Materials and Classroom Instruction, edited by Remillard, Herbel-Eisenmann, and Lloyd, compiles and synthesizes existing research on teachers’ use of mathematics curriculum materials and the impact curriculum materials have on teachers and teaching.

In 2009 the editors’ intention was to synthesize this research to help school districts, schools, and teachers adopt and utilize standards-based curriculum more effectively, so as to better understand the relationship between teachers and curriculum.  NCLB, AYP, and “restructuring” schools were realities of the time.  School districts were adopting new curriculum materials touted by their makers as being THE solution to student achievement: IF teachers teach mathematics in the way espoused by the curriculum makers, then student achievement will occur.  Teachers pointed out that teaching doesn’t work that way, but school districts resisted the message.  In response, researchers and practitioners joined forces and began to examine this emerging field of study: teachers’ use of curriculum materials.  This text synthesized existing research and provided commentary on the state of the field and directions for further research in an easy-to-read format that was accessible to teachers, researchers, teacher educators, and yes, school administrators tasked with finding THE perfect curriculum materials to adopt and FIX their districts’ student achievement problems.

And where does this book fit in 2012?  As stated above, it makes research easily accessible and understandable to many readers, not just researchers, and that is important.  NCLB is being reauthorized, and new curriculum materials now must address both NCTM Standards and Common Core State Standards.  Pressure on schools and teachers is actually at a higher level than in 2009.  This text provides needed information about what should be considered before and after adoption of curriculum materials.

The book is divided into five parts.  In Part I, the editors introduce the emerging field of study of teachers’ use of curriculum materials to help us better understand what happens when teachers use curriculum.  They introduce the five themes that run throughout the book.  The first theme has to do with curriculum: When we say that teachers “use” the curriculum, What Do We Mean By “Use”?  The use of curriculum is a complex activity!  The second theme, Teachers, Professional Identities, and Curriculum Resources, highlights how teachers’ beliefs and mathematical knowledge impact their decisions and use of curriculum.  The third theme, Curriculum Use as Relational, shows how teachers’ interaction with the text can be seen as a social construct.  The context of teaching is further explored in the fourth theme, How Context and Curriculum Materials Matter, as the authors examine why curriculum materials may work well in one setting, but not in another.  And finally, they explore the connection between Curriculum Use and Teacher Learning.  Teachers are always learning and their interactions with curriculum materials can promote or hinder that learning.  

In each subsequent part, the editors selected and grouped chapters to provide a cohesive discussion of particular areas of research, as well as commentaries on those research studies.  Each section contains an eclectic mix of classroom teachers’ and practitioners’, administrators’, and researchers’ findings.

In Part II, the editors gathered writings on theoretical and conceptual frameworks and perspectives that were being developed to guide research on teachers’ curriculum usage.  Research has shown curriculum is both an affordance and a constraint to teaching.  While districts and schools may require faculty to follow the curriculum as written, teachers need to have decision-making power to adapt and improvise to better meet student needs.  Demanding total fidelity to the text denies teachers professional autonomy.  Additionally, the authors stress that when school districts are in the process of selection, they should consider not only human capital but also social capital.  Curriculum adoptions are made or broken based on not only the teachers’ utilization of the curriculum but also the environment in which it is implemented.  Context impacts instructional reality.  The editors synthesized the findings to create a conceptual model of teacher-curriculum interactions and relationships that will be exceptionally helpful in framing future research.

In Part III, the editors looked at classroom context.  When decision makers look at possible adoptions, they should remember that curriculum materials must be educative for teachers.  Teachers may not intuitively know how to support classroom discussions of complex mathematical concepts.  Curriculum materials should assist teachers in developing these skills.  With practice, teachers learn not only to support students as they solve problems, but also elicit student expressions of mathematical thinking and extend their mathematical problem solving ability.  Teaching is a complex process.  Teacher comfort affects enactment; the more comfortable districts can help teachers become, the more productive the implementation.

In Part IV, the authors and editors examined how teachers’ use of curriculum materials changes at different stages of their careers.  Student teachers’ reliance on the textbook as the authority is common; as teachers become more experienced, increase their content knowledge and confidence and ability to enact the curriculum more effectively, that reliance on the text changes.  Professional development opportunities need to focus on the stage of teacher development as well as on the pedagogical and content knowledge needed to enact the curriculum as intended.  Additionally, professional development needs to be available constantly, not just at the initial stage of implementation.  To maintain consistent, masterful use of the curriculum, teachers must be given opportunities to explore teaching practices and learning outcomes.  Thoughtful practitioners implement curriculum more effectively, resulting in greater student achievement.

In Part V, all of the research comes together as we examine the relationship between teacher learning and development and curriculum material use.  The result is a deeper understanding of how teachers use curriculum materials.  Curriculum is adopted, and, after a period of time, teachers will develop a vision of the kinds of teaching and learning that will occur with utilization of that curriculum.  If curriculum meshes with both the human capital and the social capital, teachers begin to experience curriculum trust: the belief that the curriculum will help students achieve mathematical goals.  This shared vision and trust in the curriculum affects the strategies teachers use and the enactment of the curriculum.  The editors and authors emphasize that focus should always be on what we want students to learn.  The curriculum materials are merely tools used to enhance learning.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 15, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16848, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 10:59:49 AM

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About the Author
  • Mary Baker
    University of North Dakota
    E-mail Author
    DR. MARY BAKER is an associate professor of mathematics education at the University of North Dakota. Her research interests include technology in education, methods of teaching that promote conceptual understanding, and mathematics education issues and trends.

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