Math teachers expertise can be characterized in three levels: The teachers at Level 1 can only tell students the important basic ideas of mathematics such as facts, concepts, and procedures. These teachers are more likely to teach by telling. For example in teaching students about the set of integers they start by defining what integers are and then give students examples of these numbers. They give them the rules for performing operations on these numbers and then provide students exercises for mastery of skills. I’m not sure if they wonder later why students forget what they learn after a couple of days.
Math teachers at Level 2 can explain the meanings and reasons of the important ideas of mathematics in order for students to understand them. For example, in explaining the existence of negative numbers, teachers at this level can think of the different situations where these numbers are useful. They can use models like the number line to show how negative numbers and the whole numbers are related. They can show also how the operations are performed either using the number patterns or through the jar model using the + and – counters or some other method. However these teachers are still more likely to do the demonstrating and the one to do the explaining why a particular procedure is such and why it works. The students are still passive recipients of the teachers expert knowledge.
At the third and highest level are teachers who can provide students opportunities to understand the basic ideas, and support their learning so that the students become independent learners. Teachers at this level have high respect and expectation of their students ability. These teachers can design tasks that would engage students in making sense of mathematics and reasoning with mathematics. They know how to support problem solving activity without necessarily doing the solving of the problems for their students. The big difference between the teacher at Level 2 and teachers at Level 3 is the the extent of use of students’ ideas and thinking in the development of the lesson. Teachers at level 3 can draw out students ideas and use it in the lesson. If you want to know more about teacher knowledge read Categories of teacher’s knowledge. You can also check out the math lessons in this blog for sample. They are not perfect but they are good enough sample. Warning: a good lesson plan is important but equally important is the way the teacher will facilitate the lesson.
The goal of mathematics instruction is to help students become proficient in mathematics. The National Research Council defines ‘mathematical proficiency’ to be made up of the following intertwined strands:
- Conceptual understanding – comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations, and relations
- Procedure fluency – skill in carrying out procedure flexibly, accurately, efficiently, and appropriately
- Strategic competence – ability to formulate, represent, and solve mathematical problems
- Adaptive reasoning – capacity for logical thought , reflection, explanation, and justification
- Productive disposition – habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one’s own efficacy. (NRC, 2001, p.5)
I think it will be very hard to achieve these proficiencies if teachers will not be supported to attain Level 3 teaching I described above. No one graduates from a teacher-training institution with a Level 3 expertise. One of the professional development teachers can engage to upgrade and update themselves is lesson study. The following book by Catherine Lewis will be a good guide: