Outlier data visualized by Datascope (Credit: Datascope)
Outlier data visualized by Datascope (Credit: Datascope)

Curriculum comes and goes but adaptive teaching methods will always be a major influencer of how a lesson progresses, a recent UChicago study found.

The study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and completed by education research group Outlier UChicago, conducted 45 minute interviews with 75 teachers from several districts across Illinois to show how teachers use Everyday Mathematics, a commonly used curriculum. The aim was to understand how teachers used and adapted materials. What they found, however, is that teachers changed what influenced their use of the curriculum over the course of the 45 minute interview, a conclusion seen in a visualization of the data put together by Chicago analytics firm Datascope.

“Depicting this data illuminates the complexities of curriculum use and highlights the need to attend to both the individual and the context in designing ongoing professional learning opportunities for teachers,” wrote Amy Cassata, Outlier lead researcher, and Jeanne Century, director of Outlier, in the study.

Read on to find out what Cassata and Century found out in their study.

Chicago Inno: Tell us more about the curriculum. Why did you decide to test with Everyday Mathematics?

Cassata and Century: Everyday Mathematics is one of the most widely used elementary mathematics curricula in the country. Among several reasons for focusing on it were a few, practical reasons. First, it was developed in our Center (the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education – CEMSE) at the University of Chicago. Outlier Research & Evaluation resides within the Center. Second, because it is one of the most widely used curricula, particularly by entire, large school districts, we were able to find a sufficient number of sites to work with for our research.

What was the most surprising result?

It was interesting and exciting that in fact we did see changes. It was also interesting to see which factors increased, which decreased and which stayed the same. The most pronounced difference related to teaching attitude, teaching philosophy and teacher collaboration (more mentions at the end vs. beginning).  And much fewer mentions of “EM design features” from beginning to end.  And, the things that stayed the same from beginning to end are also notable – (e.g., student learning needs, EM perceived value (& other teacher-level factors), Common Core, district pacing guide, time constraints). It was also interesting to see what appeared to be differences between teachers who resided in different districts.

A look at the change in responses (Credit: Datascope)
A look at the change in responses (Credit: Datascope)

What can we conclude from the change in response over the interview?

This is only one conversation and one example…but it does suggest that 1) conversation and reflection makes a difference when trying to gather information about influences on curriculum use (or perhaps in conversations about anything);  that  2) Influences are complex –  there are a lot of reasons why teachers implement a curriculum in a particular way – more than requirements or tests, or other more often identified influences; and perhaps that 3) “external” influences (like standards, requirements, etc.), while they may seem more influential to the public or even teachers themselves, are perhaps far less influential than more “internal” influences – most notably, teachers’ desire to meet students’ needs.

What do you think curriculum companies can take away from this data?

To know that a range of influences will affect teachers’ use beyond what’s written in the lesson guide. It’s good to be aware of these things to understand the real contexts in which teacher implement curricula – and because of these, design with an expectation of adaptation.  Also, that the influence of student learning needs still trumps everything else in terms of influences (so it will be helpful to design more resources to help teachers meet those needs).

What about teachers?

Teachers can see a validation of sorts that there are others like them. And, that they might benefit from providing themselves with some time to reflect to help them get focused on the best decisions in their work (just like the rest of us!).

Anything else you would like to point out?

This is important for everyone to understand (including school leaders, district leaders, parents, the public…) that teachers are like the rest of us – we all feel the input and pressure of many different factors on our decisions every day and we need to balance them out to make the best decisions we can. Teachers, like other professionals, should receive support to enhance their abilities to make the best decisions, not to simply follow the written word of the text rotely.

Karis is a Minnesota native and Chicago resident writing about tech and startups for Minne Inno and Chicago Inno. Got a newsy tip (or a coffee shop recommendation) for either place? Email: khustad@americaninno.com Tweet: @karishustad