Record: Noraisha Yusof, “Parental and Children’s Views on Mathematical Learning within the Home Environment” in International Perspectives on Home Education (2015): 44-56. [Table of Contents]
Summary: This article is part of a series of reviews on the book International Perspectives on Home Education. Yusof was home educated in the UK for 16 years before receiving a PhD in mathematics from Warwick University. Here she presents the results of a semi-structured questionnaire about how the parents’ approach to home education affected their children’s views and understanding of math.
Yusof begins with a small literature review on home education in the UK and approaches to teaching math. Home education in the UK encompasses families from a wide variety of backgrounds. Parents choose homeschooling for similar reasons to those in the US, such as dissatisfaction with school-based learning and the prevalence of standardized testing. Unlike in the US, however, only about 4% of parents home educate for religious reasons. Some families follow very structured approaches and others are more flexible. Two approaches to math that Yusof mentions are the traditional textbook approach and the open-ended, project-based approach. It has been found that the textbook approach creates difficulties in applying knowledge to real life situations.
The questionnaire asked about the parents’ mathematical beliefs, previous teaching experience, their beliefs when teaching mathematics, and the perceived advantages and disadvantages of teaching mathematics at home. Yusof also did a secondary survey to learn how the children felt about math and to observe their math abilities. In total, 28 families took part in the study. Yusof organizes her findings by the structure of home education: structured, informal and semi-formal. In each section she provides a case study and discusses the influence of the approach on the child’s perceptions of mathematics.
First she talks about families that practice structured homeschooling. These families use a curriculum and have a regular schedule. In the case study, the mother, a Harvard Law grad, wants to teach her children all the math they would learn in school. She uses workbooks to accomplish this. The children have little influence on the content of their studies; they have difficulty recalling what is being studied, and they did not list any positives of homeschooling in spite of the mother’s beliefs. The children believe math is useful but boring. One child believes that every math problem should involve numbers.
The families practicing informal home education believe in a child-led approach. Many only teach their children math if the child requests it. The mother in the case study teaches mathematics in informal and relaxed settings such as while cooking. She believes that her son is good at math and that he really enjoys the subject. The son responded similarly in his survey.
Finally, the semi-formal family shows elements of both the informal and structured approaches. The mother enjoys math, has a flexible timetable and teaches the national curriculum through a number of hands-on activities and real life applications. Her beliefs rubbed off on her son, who feels positively about math and believes that math is about finding things out.
Yusof notes that the children from the structured family dislike math the most and d0 not have strong mathematical abilities. She concludes that just as there are a number of ways to teach math in school, there is a similar diversity of teaching styles at home. Other research has shown that the way students are taught math can strongly influence their perceptions and understandings of the subject, and it appears that the same applies for children from different home educating styles.
Appraisal: The biggest problem with Yusof’s article is that she does not give any information about her sample beyond the fairly small size. We have no idea where she found her subjects or what the characteristics of her overall sample may be. Despite this flaw, she provides a very interesting look at how the structure of homeschooling can affect children’s understanding of math. In addition, it was particularly interesting to hear how the views of the children could differ from the views of the parents. The mother in the first case study believed that her children held more positive views towards math and homeschooling than they actually did.
A second notable thing about this chapter is its celebration of what we might call more “progressive” pedagogies. Recent studies by Green-Hennessey and Martin-Chang, Gould, and Meuse have found various advantages for structured learning and relative disadvantages for unstructured learning. Yusof’s exploratory study here suggests at least the possibility that math might be different. More rigorous studies with better controls, samples, and data collection would need to be performed to test her theory, however.
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