He challenges the NCTM orthodoxy, and the tenets of constructivist math education. I feared that this might be another "Mathematically Correct" screed, but it is far from that. Mighton has an enviable record of success in reaching the most "hopeless" students, and an admirable humility in recognizing that his system is not the only way to improve math education.
Mighton has a Ph.D. in mathematics, a career as a playwright, and a firm grasp of philosophy. He and a large cadre of volunteers have developed the program over a number of years, and refined it by trial-and-error. The major ideas are:
- Learning takes place with a balance of concrete and symbolic, guided and independent, and procedural and conceptual.
- Compared with constructivist methods, the teacher is expected to be a very active guide. Concepts are broken into small units, gaps in student understanding are detected and filled, lessons are carefully designed, sequential, and scaffolded. Weaker students are motivated by carefully graduated challenges, and stronger students are given extra challenges.
- Whole-class lessons allow students to experience the thrill of discovery collectively.
- Teachers give frequent and specific encouragement to all students.
- Formative assessments are given continuously, and used to modify instruction. Students who don't know the material necessary to begin the lesson are given additional instruction before learning the new topic.
- There is a strong emphasis of the development of procedural knowledge through use of workbooks and individual work.
Mighton's book has caused me to rethink some of my pro-constructivist positions. I also will be following up on reading some of the work on cognitive psychology that he cites as having been seriously misinterpreted by the mathematics education establishment as supporting constructivist and situated learning approaches.