Which Instructional Practices Most Help First-Grade Students With and Without Mathematics Difficulties
Published online first in:
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
June 25, 2014

Paul L. Morgan, The Pennsylvania State University
George Farkas, University of California, Irvine
Steve Maczuga, The Pennsylvania State University


We used population-based, longitudinal data to investigate the relation between mathematics instructional practices used by first-grade teachers in the United States and the mathematics achievement of their students. Factor analysis identified four types of instructional activities (i.e., teacher-directed, student-centered, manipulatives/calculators, movement/music) and eight types of specific skills taught (e.g., adding two-digit numbers). First-grade students were then classified into five groups on the basis of their fall and/or spring of kindergarten mathematics achievement—three groups with mathematics difficulties (MD) and two without MD. Regression analysis indicated that a higher percentage of MD students in the first-grade classrooms were associated with greater use by teachers of manipulatives/calculators and movement/music to teach mathematics. Yet follow-up analysis for each of the MD and non-MD groups indicated that only teacher-directed instruction was significantly associated with the achievement of students with MD (covariate-adjusted effect sizes [ESs] = .05–.07). The largest predicted effect for a specific instructional practice was for routine practice and drill. In contrast, for both groups of non-MD students, teacher-directed and studentcentered instruction had approximately equal, statistically significant positive predicted effects (covariate-adjusted ESs = .03–.04). First-grade teachers in the United States may need to increase their use of teacher-directed instruction if they are to raise the mathematics achievement of students with MD.

News Coverage

Right and wrong methods for teaching first graders who struggle with math
The Hechinger Report (Education by the Numbers), July 21, 2014


Drill, baby, drill? Study finds worksheets, practice improve math skills more than fun stuff
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Get Schooled Blog), June 27, 2014

Study: Music, Manipulatives are Fun, but Basics Best for Struggling Math Students
Education Week (Inside School Research), June 26, 2014

Explicit Instruction Works Best for Struggling Math Students
U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2014

Here’s How Not to Teach First-Grade Math
Pacific Standard, June 26, 2014

Morning Education: Adding Up What Works for Math Teachers
Politico, June 26, 2014
Author Interview
Read the Full Article
Share This
Designed by Weber-Shandwick   Powered by eNOAH