Recent reform movements have emphasized students making meaning of algebraic relationships; however, research on student thinking and learning often remains disconnected from the design of widely used curricular materials. Although a previous examination of algebra textbooks (Nathan, Long, & Alibali, 2002) demonstrated a preference for a symbols-first approach, research has demonstrated that Algebra I students’ performance on verbally presented problems is better than on symbolic equations, consistent with cognitive theories suggesting the value of concreteness fading. The present study investigates whether current textbooks used in Algebra I courses demonstrate a formalisms-first approach using five different analyses. Results show that despite nearly 2 decades of research on student learning, the conventional textbooks used in most classrooms have been resistant to change and emphasize manipulation with symbols prior to making sense of verbal scenarios.
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