Powering up math teachers
An article published in the In Focus section of The Sunday Gleaner of February 1, 2015 titled 'Sparking a math revolution' addressed the use of one particular teaching strategy - journal writing - and its effectiveness in developing mathematical thinking skills.
While the Ministry of Education concurs with the writer about the usefulness of this strategy, we note that this approach, by itself, will not produce the desired results. One may ask why?
First, we submit that the strategy is only effective when correctly used, that is, when teachers develop journal writing activities that require students to think, explain, justify and reason. Second, the strategy is only effective when the primary teaching strategy - the approach used by the teacher in the classroom - is one that is focused on students learning to understand concepts and being required to explain, justify and reason throughout the lesson.
In essence, journal writing will only produce mathematical thinkers IF the approach used by the teacher in the development and delivery of the lesson is focused on the understanding of concepts and consistently provides opportunities for students to reason and justify their answers.
Therefore, before we can focus on the use of any one strategy, we must ensure that teachers are able to design and engage students in lessons which are focused on concept development and provide opportunities for mathematical thinking.
BUILD TEACHER CAPACITY
The Ministry of Education's main strategy to build teacher capacity is the deployment of coaches to schools with the greatest need across the island. More than 45 mathematics coaches and 33 mathematics resource teachers have been charged with the task of strengthening teacher competence. Coaches support teachers in lesson planning, observe lessons, and provide direct feedback, conduct demonstration lessons, and facilitate job-embedded professional development sessions for teachers.
Through these sessions, teachers are given an opportunity to become proficient and confident in using a multiplicity of strategies:
n Journal writing.
n The discovery method driven by the use of manipulatives.
n Discussion - driven by the use of effective questioning techniques.
n The problem-solving approach.
In addition, the ministry, in collaboration with the National College for Educational Leadership, has facilitated the delivery of the Mathematics Leadership Training Programme for all primary and secondary principals and all mathematics heads of department. The programme was designed to ensure that they were able to effectively manage the mathematics curriculum, ensure quality mathematics teaching, provide targeted support to teachers, guide the development of quality assessment tools and create a positive mathematics culture in the school.
The Ministry of Education, in collaboration with all teacher-training institutions (private and public), has also implemented the administration of diagnostic testing for all incoming primary and secondary education student teachers who would be prepared to teach mathematics. Results of the test have been analysed and plans are in place to provide practical support to all institutions designed to address the content gaps and misconceptions identified in their students.
These strategies, along with the review of the national curriculum and the redesign of assessment tools under the National Assessment Programme, will play a significant role in helping to ensure that mathematical thinking skills becomes a focus of the mathematics classroom.
One of the most significant changes being made to our assessment tools is adjusting the blueprint to ensure that more emphasis is placed on understanding/problem solving and reasoning. For students to be adequately prepared for assessment, our teachers will have to change their instructional approach - placing less emphasis on knowledge and more on critical thinking skills.
Indeed, the Ministry of Education is encouraged to see a wide range of stakeholders displaying a genuine interest in the teaching and learning of mathematics. We welcome inputs from all and thank the teachers and principals who continue to partner with their coaches and regional teams, the regional offices led by their respective directors and all parents and members of the private and public sectors who have joined the math revolution.
We are confident that the consistent implementation of the ministry's comprehensive programme will lead to us reaping a ripe harvest of a mathematically competent society in the not-so-distant future.
- Tamika Benjamin, PhD, is the national mathematics coordinator in the Ministry of Education. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.