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Less Is More

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It’s not often you hear that students are getting too much math in school. But in a way, that’s the message from a set of guidelines recently published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Titled “Curriculum Focal Points,” the report makes the case the math curricula in the United States generally try to cover too much ground, leaving students with an imperfect grasp of essential skills. As opposed to the 40 to 70 yearly “learning expectations” found in some states’ math standards, the NCTM recommends that schools zero in on a few broad topics in each grade—an approach modeled after instruction in Japan, Singapore, and other math-strong countries. At least 10 states are said to be considering the NCTM’s guidelines for possible adoption. One reason is the hope that they might make teaching math less of a scramble. “You’ve got to provide clarity to teachers,” said Sue White, director of mathematics for District of Columbia schools, “so they can go deep.” You can’t help but wonder if the same general idea might apply to other subjects as well.

6 Comments

It's interesting to me that some are shocked at this "less is more" idea as if it were something new! It's been years that many have been saying that an inch deep and a mile wide curriculum only leads to confusion for teachers and students in mathematics. Teachers gloss over lists of things with no time for developing understanding and no hope of reaching mastery for students. Teaching fewer concepts with less repeats from year to year is something that the state of Georgia has been working on for several years now. It is Georgia's hope that with this new, less repetitive math curriculum and improved teacher training that math scores will improve significantly over the next few years.

Leadered.com has a white paper and research titled "overcrowded curriculum" on this matter. (you might have to ask for it).
Our state just adopted a new HS curriculum. What's interesting is to take the words from the document and paste into MS Word and see how many Word doesn't recognize. Wow!
martynemko.com (the guy who wrote Cool Careers for Dummies) says in his article How to Fix the Schools: "curriculum is developed by scholarly Ph.D.s who value their discipline so much that they insist that every bit of arcana is indispensable. And because we would hate to appear as though we were defending low standards we accept the scholars' recommendations."
Maybe for every new item added we need to remove an old item of curriculum.
"when everything is important, nothing is important"

I agree that less is more when it comes to social studies, math, science,... We need to make sure that the extra time (gained by a less is more stategy)is used to go into depth, and to allow the students to apply the subject matter in a meaningful way.

We are stuck with a curriculum that covers ancient history at the 7th grade level (very inappropriate, most of us feel) and includes 6 distinct civilizations and 3 time periods in one of the civilizations, using a book written for the ninth grade.

We have little time to go into real depth when we know that the material that we cover may well be on the 10th grade exam, and will not be covered by any other grade level.

If the students had less content, they would be more engaged in learning that content, if it were presented with a view to understanding and application. Right now we are in a race to the finish line, barely covering topics that could really be fun and meaningful. Much of the content can be applied to today in a variety a projects that would carry content meaning to the 10th grade test, and beyond. I don't see that happening for the majority of our students.

(I was pressed for time, so some words - meaning, meaningful - were overused. Sounds like many of my student and fellow teachers.)

I find moving to Curriculum Maps without defining what the "less" is - makes it difficult for teachers to know what to focus on, what to spiral back to, and how to weight certain skill sets with greater assessment emphasis. I'l like to hear about textbooks being designed with only 5 or 6 chapters; and fewer concepts repeated grade after grade in governmental guidelines.
Barb Smith, The Sterling Hall School, Toronto, Canada

I find moving to Curriculum Maps without defining what the "less" is - makes it difficult for teachers to know what to focus on, what to spiral back to, and how to weight certain skill sets with greater assessment emphasis. I'l like to hear about textbooks being designed with only 5 or 6 chapters; and fewer concepts repeated grade after grade in governmental guidelines.
Barb Smith, The Sterling Hall School, Toronto, Canada

I firmly believe that immersing children in the concept you want them to learn is the way to teach for long term memory acquisition. If they can read about Ellis Island, plan their study with the teacher, then role play the voyage on the ship, arrival at the Island, and what happens when they get there, they will remember their study of Ellis Island for years to come. Our new social studies book is bigger and thicker than the old. We study the (now) six regions of the U.S., American Government, and the state of Illinois - all in 4th grade! It's way too much in one year - curriculum one inch deep and a mile wide. We should be doing just the opposite.

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