What does it mean to be research-based?
I am not a PL apologist by any means. I know what I like about the BTC framework (and note it is a framework not a theoretical framework, philosophy or methodology) and a distillation. BTC is not a research text. It is a popular text, meant for a popular audience. I've probably known Peter for 20 years...about as long as I've been in Canada. A simple google scholar search (https://scholar.google.com/scholar?start=10&q=peter+liljedahl&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5) will turn up lots of the research evidence which is 'distilled' in the BTC book. Including work in ZDM (one of the premier and oldest journals in mathematics education but often paywalled unless the open access fee is paid) and other highly selective mathematics education journals. Peter's early work is on problem solving and belief/affect and the BTC work has grown out of that over the 20 years and again is a distillation. The same is true for most texts published by Corwin - they are not 'research' texts in the traditional sense, i.e. their audience is wider, more practitioner focused, and not 'researchers' only.
Carl Wieman (Nobel Physicist) positioned it well in a nice piece in Ed. Researcher (2014, 43(1)) about the relative development of the methods in education research compared to that of the 'hard' sciences. Education research is still in its early days compared to more mature sciences and is 'messy' and 'complex' since the complexities in the systems involved have not yet been well studied and understood. Similarly the recent set of Editorials in JRME under Cai make the case that mathematics education research (in English) is still in its early adolescent phase (if you read it that way then Peter's work falls right in line with the challenging of all of the traditional orthodoxies and deploying the Costanza method in its early days - try the opposite of what we've been doing).
The thing I like and respect about the BTC approach is that it has made available to more kids and teachers the beauty and joy that I experienced as a student preparing for math contests. This is the way we work - as a mathematics community. Peter has made a version of this accessible to the more traditional and over-surveilled classrooms in North America with many teachers who are under-prepared mathematically.
Respectfully, Someone who reads the original papers (cause its my job).
Great post MP! Yes, irritating. It's like the "evidence" for sham nutritional supplements.
But this is how it's supposed to work, right? But, isn't this the point of research? He was a teacher doing some cool stuff, he didn't have access to like institutional research boards and classrooms of kids available for experimental control. He still put his stuff out there, he shot his shot, and the journals published it. Lots of people talked about it and liked it. I'm glad you pointed out that at this point the research behind it might lack behind the scale at which it's being used, or perhaps a nicer way to say it is that the wide spread of it makes it possible to do larger research and learn more about what is behind the successes people see. But isn't this the order it has to go in? People are supposed to put stuff out there, see if it works. Get some feedback, do some more testing, put that out there, see if it works, etc. I think we would all rather see this out in the world then to see it not in the world because he spent 15 years going from school to school trying to gather up enough kids for a large enough pilot of his new teaching method to have a representative sample.
The points you raise about where exactly the evidence for BTC is and how strong that evidence is are valid given that the book draws a lot of authority from vaguely hinting at research, which seems hard to actually pin down. I am wondering if you reached out to Liljedahl for comment/resources that shed light on these questions. If so, what did he say? If not, in my experience, he is very easy to reach via email (his address is easy to find on the internet).
Also, I think some of your characterizations of the book and the research are a bit off:
1. The book doesn't recommend not using direct instruction. Rather, direct instruction happens in short highly intentional ways- when tasks are launched and during consolidation/ note creation.
2. The book also doesn't recommend only answering questions with other questions in some generic way. This recommendation is for questions that, if answered, would deprive students of the opportunity to think.
3. You're summary of Liljedahl's take on homework doesn't capture the essence of that take which is that homework should be a chance for students to check their understanding of the work they did in groups without fear of failure.
4. You incorrectly conveyed an important detail about the study on work spaces. The people coding for engagement and so forth were independent observers, not Liljedahl.
I have all the data you need to show it works. Contact me at Christopher.email@example.com and I’ll share.
Thank you for this. Many years ago, in my graduate education program, we were taught how to tell the difference between real research and opinion pieces by looking for key indicators of reliability and validity. I've surveyed (completely unreliably and invalidly) my junior colleagues and they all tell me this skill is no longer taught, or inadequately taught in teacher training programs. I think what's required are publicly funded, 100% transparent education think tanks whose only purpose is to rigidly establish what research is reliable and valid, and what isn't. Like a Consumer Reports for Education Research. Is that a crazy idea?
Thanks for taking the time to summarize this for us, that's a lot of work! You are totally correct there needs to be a better understanding of the difference between strong & weak evidence. Can i be both cynical and skeptical?
I have Wipeboards up in the room and hallway to access for problem-solving activities. The kids enjoy using them and appear engaged. The Wipeboards have become an enriching element of our cooperative learning.
My biggest issue is with how this book/research has been adopted as though it is the holy-grail of evidence-based mathematics practice in my school and school board. We have math coaches/mentors presenting this book as though it were a rigorous meta-analysis with large effect sizes. They have said "we know problem solving is critical to mathematics and this a proven method for supporting student learning.""the groups have to be random, it won't work otherwise," "the directions have to be oral, so don't give handouts with the problems," "don't answer questions from students, let them experience productive struggle," "classrooms should be messy because learning is messy." I realize these things would matter if you were concerned with replicating the study but our concerns lie with supporting learning - learning in little people at that (elementary). PL's study measures engagement in high school students. Engagement is a poor proxy for learning and his findings may not be generalizable to elementary students.
The statements above are wishful extrapolations and absurd distortions of evidence-based research.
During our math PD sessions I'm unsure whether to laugh or cry at the conviction and ignorance of claims. This is not PL's fault but a major challenge in the profession - particularly in elementary settings and it is impacting the quality of instruction students are getting.
Consider BTC for complementing your existing EBP in math. Circle the wagon and take what is valuable but don't hook your wagon to it.
Check out the facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/buildingthinkingclassrooms, it has real teachers sharing success and failures within the thinking classroom. It is really the best collaborative workspace that I have ever been apart of, everyone is very encouraging and happy to share in the work to help kids think about math differently
What research is there for this method with neurodivergent students? My 2E daughter's (autism, ADHD, anxiety, facial blindness, gifted) HS recently started this in her math class and it has been disastrous for her. The constant seat changing and group changing heightens her anxiety so much that she's unable to get past the fight/flight. Is there support for use with neurodivergent students?
n of 3 here. Our children's school implemented it this year and within a month our daughters went from loving math to dreading it. All top three in their previous algebra classes.
Here are the results of a survey we conducted of parents in our District since BTc started. Our District quashed a survey started by a student surveying other students.