Writing lesson plans has traditionally been a big part of a teacher’s job. But this doesn’t mean they should be starting from a blank slate. Ideally, teachers are supposed to base their lessons on the textbooks, worksheets and digital materials that school leaders have spent a lot of time reviewing and selecting.

But a recent national survey of more than 1,000 math teachers reveals that many are rejecting the materials they should be using and cobbling together their own.

“A surprising number of math teachers, particularly at the high school level, simply said we don’t use the district or school-provided materials, or they claimed they didn’t have any,” said William Zahner, an associate professor of mathematics at San Diego State University, who presented the survey at the April 2024 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Philadelphia. Students, he said, are often being taught through a “bricolage” of materials that teachers assemble themselves from colleagues and the internet.

“What I see happening is a lot of math teachers are rewriting a curriculum that has already been written,” said Zahner.

The survey results varied by grade level. More than 75 percent of elementary school math teachers said they used their school’s recommended materials, but fewer than 50 percent of high school math teachers said they did.

**Share of math teachers who use their school****’**s recommended materials

**’**s recommended materials

The do-it-yourself approach has two downsides, Zahner said, both of which affect students. One problem is that it’s time consuming. Time spent finding materials is time not spent giving students feedback, tailoring existing lessons for students or giving students one-to-one tutoring help. The hunt for materials is also exhausting and can lead to teacher burnout, Zahner said.

**Related: Education research, condensed. The free Proof Points newsletter delivers one story every Monday.**

The other problem is that teacher-made materials may sacrifice the thoughtful sequencing of topics planned by curriculum designers. When teachers create or take materials from various sources, it is hard to maintain a “coherent development” of ideas, Zahner explained. Curriculum designers may weave a review of previous concepts to reinforce them even as new ideas are introduced. Teacher-curated materials may be disjointed. Separate research has found that some of the most popular materials that teachers grab from internet sites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers, are not high quality.

The national survey was conducted in 2021 by researchers at San Diego State University, including Zahner, who also directs the university’s Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education, and the English Learners Success Forum, a nonprofit that seeks to improve the quality of instructional materials for English learners. The researchers sought out the views of teachers who worked in school districts where more than 10 percent of the students were classified as English learners, which is the national average. More than 1,000 math teachers, from kindergarten through 12th grade, responded. On average, 30 percent of their students were English learners, but some teachers had zero English learners and others had all English learners in their classrooms.

Teachers were asked about the drawbacks of their assigned curriculum for English learners. Many said that their existing materials weren’t connected to their students’ languages and cultures. Others said that the explanations of how to tailor a lesson to an English learner were too general to be useful. Zahner says that teachers have a point and that they need more support in how to help English learners develop the language of mathematical reasoning and argumentation.

It was not clear from this survey whether the desire to accommodate English learners was the primary reason that teachers were putting together their own materials or whether they would have done so anyway.

“There are a thousand reasons why this is happening,” said Zahner. One high school teacher in Louisiana who participated in the survey said his students needed a more advanced curriculum. Supervisors inside a school may not like the materials that officials in a central office have chosen. “Sometimes schools have the materials but they’re all hidden in a closet,” Zahner said.

In the midst of a national debate on how best to teach math, this survey is an important reminder of yet another reason why many students aren’t getting the instruction that they need.

*This story about math lessons was written by Jill Barshay and produced by *The Hechinger Report*, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for **Proof Points** and other **Hechinger newsletters**.*

I totally disagree with this article. It states that math teachers are not using the curriculum that they should be using. It also says that teacher made materials may sacrifice the thoughtful sequencing of topics planned by curriculum designers. For the last 15 years, I have been using my own written curriculum, with great success. 15 years ago my district was looking at buying new textbooks. I looked at textbook after textbook. The one thing they all had in common was a totally bizarre sequencing of chapters. They all followed a progression, for a couple of chapters, and then bizarrely skipped to something completely unrelated. After that chapter, they skipped to something else, not related to either of the first two covered topics. Not one single textbook displayed progression and continuity. For all my classes, my curriculum starts at a certain point and slows progresses logically. Each skill is built on the mastery of the skill learned before. This has resulted in tremendous mastery of the material. If I had used textbooks my students would have ended up with low skills and little understanding.

I could not disagree with this conclusion more. I have been teaching high school math for over thirty years and have not used a textbook or provided materials in over a decade. That does not mean, as the author implied, that I am going rogue. I follow the district created curriculum but I do it with my own lessons and problem sets I create. I have been doing this long enough to know what trouble areas I will need to preaddress and those my students are likely to have already mastered.

In the current digital age where most of us are using some sort of learning management system I feel no need to use a middleman for my content. I can create lessons targeted to the needs of my students in a voice that they can understand. By creating my own problem sets I make it slightly harder to cheat. It also allows me the ability to create problem sets large enough for my students to have multiple attempts without seeing the same problems over and over.

This article feels like it was written by either a textbook publisher/writer or an expert who makes their living teaching others how teach. Neither of these really want to encourage teachers to act independently because it hurts their bottom line. Please remember that classroom teachers are professionals that often have decades of experience they have used to hone their skills. Textbooks and supplemental materials definitely have a place in the classroom but that does not mean we need to demonize those who have chosen to move on from them.

As a veteran of 33 years teaching math students from middle school to college, I too disagree with this article. The are many reasons why teachers will seek out materials to bolster or replace what is provided.

First, the curriculum presented by textbooks or written by state curriculum specialists does not follow the logical progression of mathematics. Instead it is a hodge-podge of concepts that will be tested. Concepts that are not tested are seldom included in the curriculum even if they are required for the tested concept.

I have also found that state curricum time frames allow few, if any, opportunities or textbook resources for revisiting basic skills. All students, including advanced students, need to have mastery of certain skills before a new topic is introduced.

Last, state math curricula does not allow for in depth teaching of even the most difficult concepts. The curriculum is compressed so that concepts are covered by state testing in early Spring.

One common example in an Algebra curriculum would be the concept of factoring. A review of the vocabulary and the process of factoring numbers is needed prior to the teaching of factoring polynomials. The length of the review would depend upon the level and skill of the students in the class. Then prior to factoring higher degree polynomials a review or lesson in long division is a prerequisite. Yet there is no time built in and scant material to allow for this necessity.

A survey focusing on teachers of a small, but admittedly growing, population gives a skewed perspective and often inaccurate answers to the posed question. A better study would ask veteran math teachers why they spend or spent so much time rewriting the curriculum and curating materials for their subjects.

I am not a math teacher. I have been teaching three of my daughters math since elementary school. They have all done well and I would like to agree with the teachers here. The curriculum in my schools do not follow a progression that allows mastery. I am constantly surprised by what was not cover in class then proceed to teacher it. I applaud our good teachers.

Our district’s curriculum for Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II is the free one from OpenUp/MVP. It’s complete garbage. It doesn’t actually teach students anything, so if teachers do not use outside resources, there are no resources to actually learn from. My son did the first year of this sequence via an online program that provided structured lessons. He excelled with that program but was placed in a classroom with a first year teacher for the second year when he returned to in-person schooling. The class spent all day struggling to come up with explanations (on their own) for complex topics and they never had time to go over homework. Had his teacher had experience, I predict he would have been given outside resources and would have done okay with it. In fact, when this teacher did use some of the resources another teacher in the school created, my son easily understood the concepts. When she went back to the district curriculum only, he was lost. We ended up pulling him from the class and I teach him at home via the same online program he used last year. In study halls, he’s constantly needing to explain things to his old classmates. They’re not learning.

I am a middle school special education teacher. I frequently watch our general education math teacher “cobble” together materials for class. Usually they are reference pages or anchor charts to visually reinforce concepts. Often they are materials meant for students to complete in a note taking activity. The textbooks we have as a district do not encourage taking notes in any format. They only have fill in the blank areas for students to fill in numbers/answers. Occasionally they have space for students to justify an answer. This isn’t enough. Students need to reference material that they have interacted with.

I am attaining my master of arts in secondary mathematics. I completed a high school lesson on statistics today for my student teaching. The textbook did a TERRIBLE job of explaining what a standard deviation was. There were no visuals representing the data in the given examples. The whole lesson felt like word vomit. I started supplementing with normal distributions I drew on the whiteboard to illustrate the differences when comparing data. I cannot overstate the lack of visuals in the textbook. For exceptional learners (students with disabilities) visuals are essential in math. Concepts need to be accessible to everyone. My bet would be that many of those teachers have to supplement with materials to differentiate as well.

It doesn’t matter if it has McGraw Hill stamped on every page. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. The problem with education is that teachers aren’t expected to be critical thinkers anymore. In the same vein, we are not teaching students to be critical thinkers either. Our district is lead by wonderful admin but none of them have ever taught mathematics. None of them have ever taught any STEM subjects, in fact. They are in charge of curriculum. That tells you a lot about the state of public education. Very top heavy and beauracratic with very little common sense or practical application. Our local ISD is the same. The consultants have 3-5 years of classroom experience and now they’re “experts” being fed every line from curriculum companies.

There can be bad and good “cobbling together” of resources from the Internet. Every teacher is required to teach standards from their state. If what they teach doesn’t support those state standards (textbook, Internet resources, etc.) then it is bad. Conscientious teachers make sure that what they are teaching meets the state standards and supplement with outside textbook sources as needed. Teachers that want to have a fun classroom and are not focused on teaching their state’s standards will supplement or supplant with Internet resources that do not support their state’s standards and their students will suffer for it. If a parent or admin has concerns about the validity of these Internet resources, ask the teacher to show how they support the state standards and the level of rigor required to succeed on their state assessments.

I could not disagree more with the conclusion of the article which is essentially saying, “Those math teachers aren’t listening to what we in academia tell them what to do.”

What gives these “researchers” reason to believe they know better what we should do in the classroom when they are not living the day to day enounter with students who often need reinforcement of preliminary concepts, who need not just instruction but motivation, who enter the classroom with preformed beliefs about what they are capable of that needs to be considered (and ideally changed for the better) is simply their lack of knowledge of what real life teaching is.

Not only are the researchers lacking in real life knowledge of teaching, they have the arrogance to think that getting a PhD gives them the right to tell others what to do. If critical thinking skills are important to the development of a student then use critical thinking skills must be the right of any teacher. Obedience to others who presume a superior status and thinking what is best for my students are anathema to each other.

Amen to the teacher who develops her/his own materials. When I was teaching I calculated that I easily put in more time reading through homework assignments and preparing the next lesson that responded to the difficulties I saw, along with teaching the new topic, than I spent in the actual classroom teaching. Add testing and other responsibilities and it was more like 1.3:1.

Yes, this is very time consuming but teachers do what they do out of care for our students and our refusal to listen to what others think is best for the students we know. Give us the general outline of topic and help us with resources to utilize to put together our lessons for our students. This would be helpful, not a set of marching orders.

I think the problem is that premade lesson plans and worksheets that come with a textbook are too often formulaic, shovel-ready assignments intended to be mindlessly distributed to students by overworked teachers who may not themselves deeply understand the content they’re teaching.

In contrast, a teacher who “cobbles together” his or her own materials is more likely to engage with the subject. It’s misleading to call that “time not spent on teaching” — it’s time spent thinking productively about teaching.

To be sure, I do think *some* of the points made in the article are valid; materials written by the designers of the curriculum may align with the notation and sequence of development given in their textbook more naturally — though that can be a mixed blessing, giving students a narrow “you have to do it this way” mindset.

Maybe my day job running a math circle — with really knowledgable and creative instructors carving their own idiosyncratic curricula of math enrichment — has left me blinkered to the realities at most schools, but I’d much rather give teachers as much autonomy with their own students as possible.