Specialist maths courses trump the generalists

29th July 2011 at 01:00
Study reveals wide variations in student teachers' knowledge of the subject

Student teachers who take specialist primary maths courses learn more about maths content and how to teach it than those who do generalist programmes, according to international research.

The study, the largest of its kind to date, covered 17 countries including the US, Canada, Germany, Russia, Thailand and Chile - but not the UK - and analysed training programmes for teachers of maths at primary and lower secondary level.

It was carried out by the International Association for the Evaluation on Educational Achievement, which also performs the TIMMS survey, one of the international tests dropped last year by the Scottish Government.

Altogether, 13,871 primary and 8,207 lower secondary student teachers, as well as 5,190 of their lecturers, took part in the study over more than half a decade, said Dr Beatrice Avalos, associate researcher at the Centre for Advanced Research in Education at the University of Chile and national co-ordinator of the Chilean contribution to the study.

It revealed wide disparities in students' knowledge of topics like geometry, algebra, data and chance, as well as cognition and the ability to apply knowledge and reason, Dr Avalos said.

Knowledge of maths pedagogy also varied widely across countries and programmes, she told an international audience at the 55th World Assembly of the International Council on Education for Teaching, held at Glasgow University earlier this month.

Overall, programmes with maths specialisation tended to score above the international mean, Dr Avalos told TESS.

The aim of the study was to establish the policy context of teacher education and the range of learning opportunities offered to prospective teachers, as well as assessing their level of preparation both in terms of content and methodology, Dr Avalos added.

The findings come only a few months after Graham Donaldson raised concerns about the confidence of Scottish teachers to teach numeracy and literacy.

His review of teacher education concluded that many primary teachers had "low levels of confidence" in their own subject knowledge.

Many teachers in training demonstrated "basic weaknesses in literacy and numeracy", he added.

Last year, Dundee University designed a continuing professional development programme to help primary teachers overcome basic skills shortfalls in maths, after its research revealed two-thirds of students entering primary teaching lacked the basic skills required to teach maths.

julia.belgutay@tes.co.uk.

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