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Are there national patterns of teaching?

Evidence from a video study

University of Chicago Press Journals

Why do teachers today teach as they do, and why has teaching evolved in the way that it has evolved? And are these instructional methods global or shaped by national culture? A new study published in the August 2005 issue of Comparative Education Review, seeks to answer these questions through an analysis of the 1999 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) video archives.

In their research, Karen Bogard Givvin and colleagues, consider two possible explanations for the patterns that have developed in school teaching. One explanation is that there are universal elements in most schools today that shape teaching practice. These elements include the physical environment, the social dynamics of classrooms, and the content to be learned. If this explanation were sufficient, the videos would evidence global patterns of teaching.

A second explanation the researchers consider is that countries have shaped teaching by evolving classroom methods in alignment with national cultural beliefs, expectations, and values. These would include beliefs about the nature of a subject and how students learn, expectations about the level of performance students should demonstrate, and the values held for school processes and outcomes. There are reasons to think that these beliefs, expectations, and values differ across countries.

The broad goal of the mathematics portion of the TIMSS 1999 Video Study was to describe and compare teaching practices in eighth-grade mathematics in a variety of countries, including those with varying cultural traditions and with high mathematics achievement as measured by the TIMSS 1995 assessment. Countries participating in the TIMSS 1999 Mathematics Video Study were Australia, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong SAR, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States. The researchers also evaluated video of instruction in Japan as part of the 1995 study. Based upon their examination of the videos, they conclude that even though teaching in a given country may exhibit a common pattern, this does not mean that the pattern is unique. In fact, the patterns within countries tended to share some features observed in other countries. Many of the features within the three dimensions examined (purpose of activity, interaction structure, and content activity) were discernible in all seven countries, and there was some convergence across all countries. Global convergence was most evident in the forms used by teachers to review at the beginning of the lessons and during public interaction at the beginning and end of lessons. This suggests that teachers would have little difficulty recognizing, in a general sense, what their counterparts in other countries were doing at many points in a lesson. However, they might also be surprised and interested in the different ways in which familiar practices were sequenced and used, and the different ways that lessons unfolded. Different sequences can enable different methods of teaching and different learning experiences for students.


The article and accompanying video can be viewed online: www.journals.uchicago/CER

"Are There National Patterns of Teaching? Evidence from the TIMSS 1999 Video Study " Karen Bogard Givvin, James Hiebert, Jennifer K. Jacobs, Hilary Hollingsworth, and Ronald Gallimore. Comparative Education Review. August 2005.

The TIMSS 1999 Video Study was funded by the National Center for Education Statistics and the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the National Science Foundation. It was conducted under the auspices of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

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