Crossing the Borders Again: Challenges in Comparing Quality Instruction in Mathematics and Reading

Apr. 02, 2012

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 114 Number 4, 2012, p. 7-8.

In this article, the authors focus on one aspect of instruction, the extent of cognitive demand that characterizes reading and mathematics instruction in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.

The authors were interested to examine the difficulties faced in working across the two subject areas.
The authors also wanted to explore whether the instructional styles of teachers who teach in both subject areas exhibited similar amounts of cognitive demand.

Research Design
The authors discuss the struggles faced in data collection, terminology used, and the comparability of research bases in the two domains.
Then, the authors report on an exploratory analysis of classroom observation data from the High-Quality Teaching study.

The authors observed approximately 550 lessons in reading and 600 lessons in mathematics.

Three aspects of cognitive demand were assessed through these classroom observations: demand of tasks posed by the teacher, demand of students’ responses, and demand of the lesson content.

Using data related to these aspects of cognitive demand, the authors also compared the level of cognitive demand in the reading and mathematics classes of the 69 teachers who taught both subjects.

The findings suggest that the level of cognitive demand exhibited in the tasks teachers pose and the responses and work of students are similar in mathematics and reading.

However, the authors found that the cognitive demand associated with content was higher in reading than in mathematics.
For teachers who teach both reading and mathematics, only a small percent demonstrated the same demanding instruction for tasks, responses, or content regardless of subject area.

Updated: May. 28, 2012