There are many factors that make the Singapore math approach so successful—a focus on number sense, visual modeling, and mastery over memorization, to name a few. But did you know that textbook ownership is another small difference that sets Singapore math apart and has great implications for learning? Unlike most students in America, students in Singapore write directly in their school textbooks and keep them at the end of the year. Our programs have always adhered to book ownership as a fundamental part of effective math learning, and research shows that how students consume their educational texts has real impacts.
These are some of the advantages of textbook ownership.
1. Book ownership instills autonomy, self-direction, and responsibility. Students take a different level of pride in their work when they write their own names on their books on the first day of school. They are immediately invested and immersed in a way that they are not when they are copying problems from a textbook into notebooks or working on disposable print-outs. A UNESCO Global Education Monitoring study shows that when students copy content from shared textbooks, it greatly reduces their time spent in deep interaction with the topics. Ownership leads to a more meaningful and lasting connection to the content.
2. Book ownership allows students to reference their past learning. Keeping textbooks and workbooks from previous years helps students review their own learning and thinking processes. The books they filled out themselves are their strongest reference point to past concepts. They can track their own development in a way that is impossible when they don’t have any concrete link to the past. These filled-out books can serve throughout their future math studies as review material. Since the records are their own, there’s an internal shorthand and automatic recognition that isn’t there when reviewing material they haven’t physically engaged with themselves. These records of their math journey are a fixed place to return to when faced with new math challenges. Students can see how far they’ve progressed, and understand their learning as building on previous knowledge. Filled-out books help jog their memories of tools and techniques that might serve them in their current math work.
3. Book ownership reduces logistical planning around getting material to students. This period of unpredictable school closures lends itself to rethinking how we do things. Book ownership is practical right now because when students have all their own materials they are ready to learn regardless of remote or in-person school circumstances. For teachers, book ownership means much less time spent copying material and distributing it to students.
Because of the American paradigm, we often get questions about how our textbooks and workbooks go together, if both are necessary, and if students should write in them. The answer is that each student must have their own textbooks and workbooks for the year, and that they are to write in them directly. Textbooks are consummable in our universe! Loaning math books is the default in U.S. schools, but given the known benefits of book ownership, switching to this other model is a positive change schools can make to deepen student engagement with math education for long-term success.