"What am I supposed to do?": A call for more math book editors.

As a teacher and tutor, I work with students grade 4 through college, from states across the country. I see numerous textbooks and online programs created by many different companies. One consistent problem I see across platforms, grade levels, and publishers is this: Everyone needs to hire more editors!

Editors can help with more than just typos. They can help authors create better instructions, write clear directions, and see graphics through fresh eyes. It is a default assumption that a math textbook, instructional program, or practice/homework program would be written by a subject matter expert (SME). That means the concept, directions, and problems are created by people who know exactly what they mean to say. They know the foundation skills needed to master the unit and they know how each math skill will be used in the future (Chevallard & Bosch, 2020). However, the end user (teachers, parents, students) could be learning the math for the first time, without conceptual knowledge or context (Chevallard & Bosch, 2020).

SME's are great at many things, but teaching isn't always one of them (Bromme, 1994). Teaching is about much more than our personal knowledge; it involves supporting, guiding, and assisting others as they develop accurate knowledge of their own (Clements & Sarama, 2018). Many modern textbooks, workbooks, and websites miss the mark. For example, a graphic of a fraction bar and a word problem about unit fractions might leave students guessing whether, or how, the two are connected and whether, or how, the graphic explains the word problem. Maybe the graphic matches the word problem above or below. Maybe it is a problem of its own, not tied to a word problem. Maybe the student spends so long figuring out the possible connection between the picture and the words that they forget what skill they're supposed to be practicing. Math class materials should be reviewed by editors who don't know math, because they can point out the gaps between author knowledge and reader understanding (Chevallard & Bosch, 2020).

Math can be tough enough to learn without having to also learn what a textbook author had in mind when they wrote a question or designed a graphic. Companies in the business of creating math textbooks, workbooks, and online programs should use editors outside the field to help construct useful, straightforward materials designed to meet students where they are: unsure of what to do.

Bromme, R. (1994). Beyond subject matter: A psychological topology of teachers’ professional knowledge. Didactics of mathematics as a scientific discipline, 73-88.

Chevallard, Y., & Bosch, M. (2020). Didactic transposition in mathematics education. Encyclopedia of mathematics education, 214-218.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2018). Myths of early math. Education Sciences, 8(2), 71.

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