According to the recent estimations, the current performance of the US school students in the science classes remains low. The poor knowledge raise the issue of the educational system reform. It is suggested by many scholars that the shift of the elementary schools’ self-contained model to departmentalization would improve the students’ performances in sciences, and particularly in mathematics.
The current educational model adopted in the American elementary schools is primarily generalist. It means that the teachers cover “all the core subjects: mathematics, science, social studies, and literacy” (Gerretson, Bosnick, & Schofield, 2008). Thus, the elementary school teacher’s delivery of knowledge is limited. By providing teaching of a vaster quantity of subjects, a teacher’s knowledge becomes of a lesser quality.
But mathematics is a kind of subject that requires a profound knowledge and the right teaching strategy. In mathematics class, “teachers need to be committed to their students as learners of mathematics and be skillful in choosing from and using a variety of pedagogical and assessment strategies” (Gerretson et al., 2008). Unfortunately, the current generalist model offers a merely superficial approach in teaching exact sciences.
Adoption of departmentalization can be a potential problem solution. The main advantage of the model is in the teacher’s “focused attention on the specialized area” (Liu, 2011). The focusing on one subject makes the knowledge delivery more efficient, and it means that “students would get the best teaching for all the subjects” (Gerretson et al., 2008). It was also observed by many researchers in education that teacher’s satisfaction becomes increased when he or she is focused on one subject. While self-contained model requires a teacher to prepare new materials on several subjects for one group of students every day, in departmentalized educational systems teachers need to prepare only one lesson for several groups of students. Thus, along with the increase of the knowledge quality departmentalization has organizational advantages.
A focused attention to the subject is a principal importance in teaching mathematics. Thus, it is fair to say that departmentalization can have a good impact on the learners’ performances. Specialization on mathematics would make the students more aware of the subject and, therefore, would make their transition to junior high school easier (Liu, 2011).
Nevertheless, the disadvantages of departmentalized education also were recognized by teachers. The main negative aspect that makes the specialized teaching less appropriate for the younger students is their loss of the “sense of connection with their teachers” (Chang, Munoz, & Koshewa, 2008). It was proven by researchers that “elementary school years are the formative years in which students develop their attitudes toward school and toward learning” (Chang et al., 2008). Thus, the establishment of the personal and close relationship between teacher and students is important. Unfortunately, the departmentalized model doesn’t support the individual approach and provokes the student’s negative feelings towards school (Chang et al., 2008).
Despite these disadvantages, departmentalization proved to be more effective in teaching sciences, and particularly mathematics. Firstly, it allows teachers to become experts in their area of knowledge and in this way increases the level of the job satisfaction and the working performance. The profound knowledge of subject allows a teacher to choose the best teaching strategies. At the same time, the efficiency of teaching positively influences the students’ perception of the materials.
Therefore, students also focus more on the subject and perform better. The other advantages of departmentalization include a more efficient time and class management, the increased interest of students towards the subject, and the professional development. All these positive sides of the specialist model overweight its disadvantages and make it clear that this model is highly recommendable for teaching mathematics in elementary school.
Chang, F., Munoz, M., & Koshewa, S. (2008). Evaluating the impact of departmentalization on elementary school students. Planning and Changing, 39(3&4), 131-145.
Gerretson, H., Bosnik, J., & Schofield. (2008). A case for content specialists as the elementary classroom teacher. The Teacher Educator, 43, 302-304.
Liu, F. (2011). Pre-service teachers’ perceptions of departmentalization of elementary schools. International Journal of Whole Schooling, 7(1), 40-53.