Review by Deirdre Dacus of James Poole Elementary School, Big Sandy, Texas. From the August 2007 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics, copyright 2007 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc. (www.nctm.org). All rights reserved. For use associated with the Math Solutions website at www.mathsolutions.com only. This material may not be copied or distributed electronically or in other formats without written permission from NCTM.
Are you a math coach who is lost or in need of guidance or support to effect positive change at your school? The Math Coach Field Guide: Charting Your Course, with a foreword by Marilyn Burns, is a collection of eleven articles, each by a seasoned mathematics teacher leader. Writing about their own experiences, the authors provide brief glances into their challenges, mistakes, and achievements. These easy-to-read articles offer unique insight into issues that math coaches and other teacher leaders regularly confront, including adopting new programs, co-teaching, and helping reluctant teachers.
If you find yourself in the role of a professional leader without a road map to guide you on your journey, The Math Coach Field Guide is for you. This book will not provide specific solutions to challenges but will offer guidance and suggestions on how to build relationships and promote change.
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Reviewed by Dr. Zafer Unal, Assistant Professor, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. From the Brief Reviews in the December 2006 issue of Education Review, a journal of book reviews. Reproduced with permission from Education Review and Dr. Unal, © Dr. Zafer Unal, December 2006.
Math coaches serve young people by providing one-on-one coaching to students struggling in mathematics. Each coach is responsible for providing weekly in-person tutoring assistance to elementary, middle, or high school students using resources provided by the schools. Math coaches and specialists assigned the task of improving mathematics instruction face an enormous and complex challenge. Being a math coach is about more than what one can do for students. The math coach models instruction for teachers, observes the teachers as they practice the skills they have learned, and helps teachers to become more self-directed and reflective.
Most coaches take on this responsibility with a title and a charge, but seldom with a road map. The Math Coach Field Guide: Charting Your Course provides just the kind of guidance needed to help coaches in this demanding and often undefined role as they strive to support teachers in their teaching of math. In this collection of 11 essays, veteran math coaches share their expertise, providing glimpses into the unique trials, false starts, and successes they have experienced in their positions.
Some of the authors come with a broad approach that identifies the landscape of the coach's role. Chris Confer describes ten guiding principles that evolved over the years and offers specific suggestions for implementing them. Patricia Smith distills her years of experience into guidelines that are both informative and provocative. Winifred Findley chronicles her process for helping teachers take ownership for their classroom math teaching and learning.
Others, however, narrow their focus and tell how they grappled with particular questions and situations, weaving through their descriptions broader issues of their work. Robyn Silbey tackles the question of how best to ensure teacher involvement when she teaches demonstration lessons in their classrooms. Her chapter presents the observation process she developed for teachers to use, along with the framework she follows to implement it. Leyani Von Rotz describes a "math bulletin board" on which grade-level teams post examples of their students' work to develop a clearer sense of how the K-6 mathematics curriculum progresses. She explains how this broader understanding helps teachers articulate more focused expectations. Erich Zeller identifies analyzing arithmetic instruction as the focus for his school. He proposes that if teachers can achieve a shift in teaching arithmetic—the cornerstone of elementary mathematics—they can then build on this shift to think about the other areas of the math curriculum.
Ongoing research into school culture, change, and improvement is finding that success is more likely when teachers are collegial and work collaboratively on improvement activities (Levine and Lezotte, 1990; Fullan and Hargreaves, 1991). Collegial relationships exist when people discuss problems and difficulties, share ideas and knowledge, exchange techniques and approaches, observe one another's work, and collaborate on instructional projects (Little, 1982; Rosenholtz, 1989; Smylie, 1988). In schools where collegiality is the norm, these professional, interactive, supportive relationships are accepted, enhanced, and socially encouraged (Little, 1982). Such relationships have a key impact on schools and provide the opportunity for teachers to work together on improvement activities.
Creating and maintaining a collaborative culture among the math coaches is specifically the focus in some of the chapters. Stephanie Sheffield sheds light on what has (and hasn't) worked for them as they focus on enhancing teachers' talents and abilities through creating and sustaining collaborative teaching teams. Karolyn Williams & Chris Confer describe their co-teaching experience and present how they tackled a particular teaching question: How do we get students to transfer what they know and understand about multiplication and division to long division? Their chapter reveals how they worked together to question and improve their instructional decisions.
In addition to all these different aspects of math coaching, some of the authors provide examples of curriculum and standards adoption processes they implemented. Marie Brigham & Kristen Berthao provide rationale, direction, and results that can guide others who engage in a curriculum adoption process. Rosalyn Haberkern describes her work with a team of teachers to develop and modify a specific lesson to be taught to third graders in a lesson study cycle, a process that not only produces a model lesson but also helps the team of teachers collaborate and become interdependent.
Overall, The Math Coach Field Guide: Charting Your Course is an excellent book for math coaches who seek innovative approaches to mentor their students. The editors and authors in this book successfully pass on their experiences and ideas for math coaches to apply in a variety of different learning environments, enabling them to implement educational practices that positively impact the academic achievement of their students. There is no doubt that this book should be a vital element in all math coaches’ libraries and a spark to keep their enthusiasm burning.
Fullan, Michael G., & Hargreaves, Andy. (1991). What's worth fighting for: Working together for your school. Ontario, CAN: Ontario Public Schools Teachers' Federation.
Levine, D.U., & Lezotte, L.W. (1990). Unusually effective schools: A review and analysis of research and practice. Madison, WI: National Center for Effective Schools Research and Development.
Little, J.W. (1982). Norms of collegiality and experimentation: Workplace conditions of school success. American Educational Research Journal, 19(3), 325-340.
Rosenholtz, S. (1989). Teachers' workplace: The social organization of schools. New York: Longmans.
Smylie, M.A. (1988). The enhancement function of staff development: Organizational and psychological antecedents to individual teacher change. American Educational Research Journal, 25, (1), 1-30.
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