Elementary Mathematics Specialists in “Departmentalized” Teaching Assignments: Affordances and Constraints

In this article, we describe the experiences of three Elementary Mathematics Specialists (EMS) who were part of a larger project investigating the impact of EMS certification and assignment (self-contained or “departmentalized”) on teaching practices and student achievement outcomes. All three of the teachers were “departmentalized,” in the sense that each was responsible for teaching mathematics to at least two groups of students, and accordingly, did not teach all subjects as would a typical self-contained elementary teacher. Each teacher had recently earned an Elementary Mathematics Specialist certificate through completion of a 24-credit, graduate-level program designed to build pedagogical content knowledge and leadership capacity in mathematics. Through a series of observations and interviews over the course of one school year, we examined how the teachers described and navigated specific affordances and constraints they encountered in their particular contexts. Common affordances included opportunities to revise and learn from instruction, and constraints included reduced flexibility introduced by the need to schedule multiple classes of mathematics. Despite these common features, we found important differences between the three models of departmentalization, which we describe as team approach, class swap, and grade-level mathematics teacher. For example, some of the models provided more opportunities for collaboration while others made it difficult for teachers to address potential inequities in learning opportunities across sections. Despite the constraints of their respective models, we found evidence of the EMS-certified teachers drawing on professional expertise in mathematics to meet student needs.

Webel, C., Conner, K. A., Sheffel, C., Tarr, J. E., & Austin, C. (2016). Elementary mathematics specialists in “departmentalized” teaching assignments: Affordances and constraints. Journal of Mathematical Behavior. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jmathb.2016.12.006