Mathematics Teachers' Interpretations of Messages in Curricular Resources and the Relations of These Interpretations to Their Beliefs and Practices
Graybeal, Christy Danko
Fey, James T
Graeber, Anna O
The curricular materials that teachers use, the assessments that teachers are required to administer, and the professional development activities in which teachers engage all contain messages about mathematics and mathematics teaching. The recent emphasis on both reform-oriented teaching and high-stakes testing in mathematics has increased the number and intensity of competing and conflicting messages. This qualitative study used survey, observation, and interview research methods to explore the messages that five experienced, elementary certified, middle school mathematics teachers interpreted from a variety of resources and the ways that those interpretations related to their beliefs and practices. The teachers in this study interpreted messages in eleven themes. Four themes--Concepts and Procedures, Question types, Source of solution methods, and Technology--created the most tension for the teachers. In general, when the teachers agreed with messages from professional resources about mathematics curriculum and teaching, they attempted to reflect those messages in their practice. However, the resources often lacked supports necessary for the teachers to follow through with the messages in their practice. When the teachers disagreed with particular messages they sometimes consciously decided to not reflect those messages in their practice. But usually the messages were so pervasive that the teachers were not able to ignore them. At times they felt obliged to reflect all of the messages in their practice, regardless of their personal beliefs. The amount of support that the resources provided for teachers was a strong indicator of the degree to which the teachers were successful in reflecting the messages in their practice. Frequently the resources only superficially presented messages to the teachers. This phenomenon was especially apparent when the messages were reform-oriented messages. The study suggests that curriculum and policy writers need to consider the consistency of their messages, be more specific about their intentions, and provide more support to teachers as they try to translate recommendations into practice. Additionally, teacher educators and providers of professional development need to help teachers learn to critically examine curricular resources so that they can more consciously make decisions about to which messages they will attend.