From the editor - textbooks
Over the past few weeks I have been absolutely inundated with emails, phone calls and packages from publishing companies inviting me to view their new range of resources to accompany the revised GCSE specifications which we will start to teach in September 2010.
It was my Dad who first said to me, after I had been teaching for a couple of years, "I don’t know why you keep buying new text books because you are still teaching the same mathematics aren’t you?". As a keen young teacher I tried hard to impress him with the colour illustrations and relevant contexts which I thought might inspire my pupils but was forced, eventually, to admit that he was right – there I’ve said it! Mathematics is full of big ideas and concepts which don’t change – that’s what is so powerful about mathematics.
I was interested to read an article in The Independent on 29 March, ‘Quality of school books hit by changes. Constant tweaking of maths syllabus mean textbooks are 'less coherent' than in Asia’, and even more intrigued to read the headline ‘Are poor quality maths textbooks letting English pupils down?’ on the King's College website.
The main findings of the report, taken from the King's website, are:
- England’s improvement in international rankings of maths attainment between 2003 and 2007 does not necessarily mean an improvement in all areas of maths education. Year 9 performance in algebra is still below the international average.
- use of textbooks for teaching maths in English schools is low. English textbooks use routine examples and are less mathematically coherent than those used in other countries.
- mathematics education outside school – shadow education – can contribute to high standards, but can also have an adverse effect on pupils’ wider social development.
- there is no link between achievement and enjoyment in maths education. Pupils in countries that perform well in international surveys do not necessarily enjoy maths more than those who perform less well.
- pupils from high-performing countries often have low confidence in maths.
- countries that perform well in maths have not reduced the difference in attainment between pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds.
- there is no evidence that pupils who participate in pre-school mathematics learning are likely to perform better at maths than those who don’t.
- differences in maths performance between countries do not necessarily reflect differences in standards of teaching. The degree to which the questions used in international surveys match the curriculum content of a particular country is a more significant factor than the standard of teaching.
The website also states that
"Cultural factors play an important part in teaching methods and pupil attitudes, and the researchers warn against trying to identify aspects of maths education that appear successful in other countries and importing them into the UK school system."
There are so many points raised here that I am not going to try to respond to all of them, but I do want to ask some questions:
- what drives the mathematical experiences we provide for pupils in our schools? Textbooks, GCSE specifications, QCDA Key Stage 4 programme of study or our school scheme of work?
- does my textbook use routine examples?
- what does ‘mathematically coherent’ mean in the context of my school?
- what would our Year 9 algebra performance be like and why?
This looks like the basis for a good discussion item at our next department meeting. What do you think?