Exploring teachers’ instructional practices, confidence and beliefs in teaching mathematics and statistics.
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An important contributor to the quality of teaching mathematics is the knowledge of mathematics teachers. In this study, I explore mathematics teachers’ instructional practices, their confidence and beliefs about the teaching of mathematics and statistics concepts. The reason for focusing on mathematics as well as statistics teaching is that in several schools’ mathematics teachers also teach statistics (because statistics is a part of mathematics). This inspired me to undertake a study in order to investigate teachers’ instructional practices in teaching both mathematics and statistics among learners from grade 4 and upwards in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) schools. The use of KZN as a research location provides an advantage of identifying issues of mathematics teachers’ practices in developing countries. The study was conducted with 75 mathematics teachers from KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) in South Africa who agreed to participate in the study while they were enrolled in an in-service course designed to improve their understanding of statistics. The teachers were invited to participate by filling in a detailed questionnaire, which was adopted from the study of Beswick, Callingham and Watson (2012) which was conducted with teachers from Australia. The detailed questionnaire consisted of open ended, Likert scale as well as yes-no responses. The instrument surveyed the teachers about various aspects of their teaching practices such as the formulation of lesson objectives, the use of the different approaches to introduce mathematics and statistics topics, the use of various teaching and assessments strategies to teach different topics as well as their descriptions about learners’ possible understanding or misunderstanding of the topics. The study also elicited from the teachers their reflections about how they would improve mathematics and statistics teaching and learning. In addition, the study examined the teachers’ beliefs about using mathematics and statistics in everyday life as well as in the classroom, and their confidence in relation to teaching the various mathematics and statistics topics. In addition, the study explored how teachers integrate technology in teaching and learning maths/stats topics. Furthermore, their content knowledge was put under the spotlight through the examination of their solutions to mathematical tasks. The findings revealed that 65.3% of the participants managed to set appropriate lesson objectives. Moreover, these teachers reported that they mostly use practical examples, real life approaches and explicit instruction when teaching the topics. It was also reported by most teachers that they tend to focus on a single approach when they introduce a concept in the classroom. Furthermore, less than half the teachers reported that their learners showed an understanding of mathematics and statistics concepts. For the methods and assessments, teachers generally use a single method and more than one type of assessment. I also found that teachers mostly focus on teacher-led instructional methods and formal assessments. Furthermore, the findings revealed that teachers’ demographic factors such as teaching experience, gender and participation in professional development courses are associated with the choice of a variety of teaching and assessments methods (p-value<0.05). For the use of curriculum, the findings revealed that 19% of teachers had no idea about how they would integrate topics across the curriculum in teaching and learning. With respect to the teachers’ reflections about improving teaching and learning mathematics and statistics, teachers said that developing learners’ interest in learning these conceptions, developing grouping and learner-centred approaches for teaching, applying investigation, practical and real life examples would contribute to improvements. Furthermore, the findings suggest that teachers should use the curriculum in the teaching process and upgrade their studies by doing postgraduate courses in education as the factors that would influence them to make a continuous improvement in the teaching process. The findings showed that participating in professional development courses is a factor that motivate teachers to use curriculum (p-value<0.05). For their content knowledge about solving specific tasks, the findings revealed that teachers demonstrated more understanding in finding the correct answer for the problem of using percentage than for fraction and pie chart. However, they struggled to provide justifications for their answers. This indicated a lack of specialised content knowledge, which refers to ability to give the detailed mathematics explanations to teach the given task and weigh up and analyse unconventional solution methods of their students. Teaching experience becomes an important factor to help teachers develop their content knowledge and solve mathematical tasks appropriately (p-value<0.05). In terms of their confidence in teaching various topics, the finding revealed that teachers were confident in teaching fractions, decimals, percentages, histograms and pie charts, patterns and measurements; however their confidence was lower with respect to teaching aspects requiring connections between mathematics and statistics to other learning areas. In relation to their beliefs, teachers reported a positive view towards the need to be mathematically and statistically literate in everyday life, as well in their teaching practices in general. With regards to the use of technology in teaching mathematics and statistics, the findings indicated that almost all the teachers reported that they never use computers in mathematics and statistics discourse. Although the teachers reported that they do not use computers in teaching and learning, about 80% of the participants conveyed a positive view that using technology improves learners’ understanding of mathematics and statistics. The findings further indicate that the teachers’ propensity to use technology in instructional practice is associated with demographic factors of age, experience and gender (p-value<0.05). The study suggests that teachers should attend more professional development programmes which would improve existing teaching strategies.