Daniel Ansari Tweeted the short video above so I took a look and I would encourage you to do the same. I was vaguely aware of JUMP Math. There has been much discussion of Canada’s declining maths performance in international studies such as PISA and TIMSS and I have heard JUMP Math mentioned as a possible solution.
I was struck by the claim in the video that JUMP Math uses ‘guided discovery’ learning. If you visit the JUMP Math website, this claim is repeated and a link is provided to the Alfieri’s et. al. paper that relates to this topic. In fact, this paper compares a range of conditions it labels ‘enhanced discovery’ with a range of other things that could include working from textbooks. One of the enhanced discovery conditions is ‘guided discovery’ but the authors don’t really explain what this is (the others are ‘generation’ and ‘elicited explanation’). The best definition that they offer is that guided discovery conditions, “involved either some form of instructional guidance (i.e., scaffolding) or regular feedback to assist the learner at each stage of the learning tasks.” And anyone who has followed this area will know how diffuse the concept of ‘scaffolding’ is.
This is messy. One common response to the famous Kirschner, Sweller, Clark (2006) paper on ‘minimal guidance’ is for constructivists to claim that their preferred methods contain loads of guidance and so it cannot be described as ‘minimal’ – Kirschner, Sweller and Clark have misunderstood! However, as Alfieri et. al. point out, “although guidance has been an important component of instruction on both sides of the debate concerning constructivist instruction, there remains a remarkable number of discovery-based instructional tasks that are largely unassisted.”
In contrast, explicit instruction is reasonably well-defined. Rosenshine lists a number of key features but probably the most important ones are that new material is presented by the teacher using lots of examples before students are asked to practise, and that this new content is presented in small chunks. Explicit instruction does not start by considering a complex performance or product; it builds learning in small, incremental, sequenced steps.
There are some samples of JUMP Math materials available online. It is hard to tell a great deal about sequencing from these discrete samples although you can tell that that prior knowledge is considered critical because the teachers’ guide lists the knowledge that is required. It also reads a little like a script; not quite to the same level as an Engelmann Direct Instruction program such as Expressive Writing but it’s not too far away. There are details of the examples to use and questions to ask. I’m not alone in recognising something familiar here. A modification of JUMP Math aimed at College students is described by the authors of a randomised field trial as, “an explicit instruction method.”
You have to ask: exactly what are the students discovering? It seems as if they are discovering the concepts that the teachers explain to them.
It will be interesting to see how JUMP Math develops over the next few years. Unlike many programs, the ‘research’ section of the website is fruitful and contains evidence from randomised controlled trials. The fact that they are using an explicit instruction method leads me to think that this evidence base is likely to grow. I will be paying attention.