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Limitations of Curricular Materials

March 22, 2010

This article review draws attention to the importance of teachers as well as how students make sense of new information.  Rather than relying on the best curricular materials, we ought to place education in the hands of the best teachers.

Research Summary:

Tao (2003) studied how well students learned desired outcomes through interaction with short historical stories. They studied student views using a pretest/posttest experiment.  The treatment included five lessons in which students read and discussed historical short stories in small groups with little teacher input.  What the study found was that students made few gains from the treatment and no matter what students initial ideas were, the students fit used the stories to confirm those ideas.

Classroom Implications:

Curricular materials are not self-implementing.  This study notes that the teacher did not interact or guide student thinking to a large extent.  While the study was trying to determine the effectiveness of the short stories, the study makes clear how important teachers are in the classroom.  We, the teachers, must draw students attention to what we want them to learn.  This doesn’t mean we need to simply tell students “right” answers, but we have to provide guidance that highlights conflict between student thinking and new information.  For example, “You all have been taught about the scientific method.  Yet, this story has scientists approaching the same problem from different angles.  What might this mean about the scientific method?”.  We teach by encouraging students to mentally wrestle with ideas, not by handing out materials.

This research also highlights that students are a lens.  Through the lens of themselves (their experiences, prior knowledge and background), students make sense of new information.  We must constantly ask students what they are thinking (or get them to reveal their thinking), so that we can assess how well their thinking aligns with accepted ideas.  We have to ask students their views as part of the instruction process, not just at the end of instruction.


Tao, P, (2003). Eliciting and developing junior secondary students’ understanding of the nature of science through a peer collaboration instruction in science stories, International Journal of Science Education, 25(2), 147-171.

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