The “fun” math activities that 1st grade teachers often rely on to engage struggling learners—such as music, movement, and manipulative toys—do not help and sometimes even hinder students’ learning, finds ain the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
Pennsylvania State University researchers Paul L. Morgan and Steve Maczuga and George Farkas of the University of California, Irvine, analyzed 1st grade teachers’ use of different types of instruction, including teacher-directed instruction, such as explicit explanations and practice drills; student-centered, such as small-group projects and open problem-solving; and strategies intended to ground math in real life, such as manipulative toys, calculators, music, and movement activities.
The researchers tracked instruction with both regular students and those with math difficulties, defined as students who had performed in the bottom 15 percent of their kindergarten math achievement tests.
They found that students of average math ability learned equally well with either teacher-directed or student-centered instructional approaches, but struggling students improved only when teachers used directed instruction, especially extra practice with basic concepts.
But teachers were more likely to use the less-effective strategies in classes with higher concentrations of students with math difficulties.
A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2014 edition of Education Week as Math Learning