Standards-Based Instructional Materials

Context: What the Literature Tells Us

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Historically, the technical core of teachers’ work has not been student-centered and inquiry-oriented, and affecting substantive change in their instructional practices has proven difficult (Condliffe Lagemann, 2000; Smylie, 1995; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). Because of this, research on systemic reform argues that for change to take place in student learning, the focus of reform efforts needs to be on the relationship among teachers, students, and instructional materials (Cohen and Ball, 1999). For this reason, a great deal of research has focused on teacher education and instructional materials.

The choice of instructional materials has been a key factor in systemic reform efforts in mathematics and science education. Textbooks are a prominent, if not dominant, part of teaching and learning in both the U.S. (Tyson-Bernstein & Woodward, 1991) and internationally (Robitaille & Travers, 1992). Several studies have noted the significance of textbooks and materials in classroom instruction (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999); Valverde & McKnight, 2000; Weiss, et al., 2001; Schmidt et al., 2001; Schmidt, Huoang, & Cogan, 2002; Chavez, 2003). In fact, research has shown that both involving teachers in the process of investigating and implementing curriculum can enhance their knowledge of the subject matter and improve their instruction (Ball & Cohen, 1996); (Reys & Reys, 1997). Thus it is not surprising that a district interested in profoundly changing the instructional practices of classroom teachers would design its systemic reform efforts around the implementation of challenging, standards-based curricula (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Commission on Standards for School Mathematics, 1989; Reys, Robinson, Sconiers, & Mark, 1999; Trafton, Reys, & Wasman, 2001). However, teachers adopting these instructional materials may also need to adopt new teaching techniques. National teaching standards in science and mathematics describe many of the skills associated with standards-based instruction. (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Commission on Teaching Standards for School Mathematics., 1991; National Research Council (U.S.), 1996).

Riordan and Noyce’s (2001) study on the impact of Everyday Mathematics and Connected Mathematics on student achievement supports the idea that the curriculum itself can make a significant contribution to improved student learning. Standards-based curricula like these share, among other characteristics, a student-centered, rather than teacher-centered, focus. Teachers facilitate student exploration of concepts through inquiry-based activities in which they encourage students to solve problems in novel ways rather than using a single method. Hiebert (2003) and others (see Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999) have argued, “instructional programs that emphasize conceptual development, with the goal of understanding, can facilitate significant mathematics learning without sacrificing skill proficiency” (p. 16). Likewise, “investigations have consistently shown that an emphasis on teaching for meaning has positive effects on student learning, including better initial learning, greater retention, and an increased likelihood that the ideas will be used in new situations.” (Grouws & Cebulla, 2000, p. 13). Research has also shown that students benefit from opportunities to explain their ideas to others, to challenge each other’s ideas, and, in doing so, to reconstruct their ideas (National Research Council, 2000).

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