Each year, we take a look at the top 10 posts from the Curriculum Matters blog. In 2016, our most popular stories indicate that while curriculum certainly matters, it’s in flux.
The top 10 list includes stories about how most textbooks and curricula still aren’t aligned to the standards that many teachers are expected to teach, about how teachers are finding classroom materials in unexpected places, and about research that calls into question common classroom practices in both reading and math.
Six years after states started adopting the Common Core State Standards, reviewers found that many formal textbooks and online curricula aren’t fully aligned with standards for either reading or math. So maybe it’s not surprising that studies from Harvard University, the RAND Corporation, and the Education Week Research Center all found teachers turning to the internet to find classroom materials and creating their own. This was also the year that more than a dozen states jumped onboard with a federal initiative to promote open educational resources—even as professional organizations warned that such resources often lack coherence and researchers found that having quality lessons might have a bigger effect on students’ academic achievement than professional development.
Clearly, teachers’ approach to classroom materials and the materials themselves didn’t change overnight. But 2016 seems to be the year that researchers really had evidence of new patterns and trends: Last year’s top 10 list had just one story focused on the evolving world of educational resources.
Other hot topics this year include cursive handwriting and why teenagers’ attitudes toward science in general (they like it!) and science class (they don’t!) don’t quite line up.
Here are the year’s top 10 posts:
The nonprofit EdReports.org, which posts online reviews of textbooks and curriculum, found that just two of the 13 math programs it surveyed were fully aligned to the common core. Everyday Math, which is used in more than 200,000 classrooms, drew a particularly scathing review, though publisher McGraw-Hill pushed back against that assessment.
Is cursive handwriting still a necessary skill or a relic of a less-digital time? This question has been inspiring fiery debate for at least a decade. My colleague Liana Heitin spoke with one of the authors of the common core about why the standards focus more on technology than on handwriting. She also followed up with researchers to determine whether or not that focus makes sense. The debate is clearly still ongoing: Arizona recently replaced the common core with a set of standards that adds cursive as a requirement.
A study from Northwestern University found that students of middle school math teachers who were given inquiry-based lesson plans on topics like the NBA and video games seemed to have higher scores on standardized tests. The researchers argue that the engaging lesson plans were more effective and cost less than professional development.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences released a synthesis of findings from math research that it’s funded in recent years. The findings include very concrete recommendations, including that teachers can use physical gestures to help students understand math concepts.
Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan argues that the “five-finger rule” many teachers use to help kids evaluate whether books are appropriate for them isn’t backed by research.
EdReports.org’s first review of English/language arts textbooks and curricula found that while they tended to be better aligned to the common core than math programs, some popular programs still don’t hit the mark. EdReports.org’s methodology has some detractors, but districts and individual teachers report that they do use the reviews to help them select materials.
A survey found that while a majority of teenagers reported being interested in biology, physics, chemistry, and other sciences, fewer than 4 in 10 said they enjoy their science classes.
The RAND Corporation found that almost all teachers report creating classroom materials themselves, and that many are turning to Google, Pinterest, and Teachers Pay Teachers rather than more traditional, expert-vetted sources.
A study from Harvard University also found that many teachers are creating materials themselves, though many are also turning to online sources like EngageNY and LearnZillion. The researchers found that most teachers had changed their classroom materials since the common core came on the scene.
Students who relied on memorization alone to learn math did well on easier problems but struggled when math got more complex, according to the organization that administers the Program for International Student Assessment. And the countries that traditionally do well on the PISA are not those where memorization is prevalent.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.