Educational and Child Psychology vol:24 issue:2 pages:16-27
Instructional psychologists and mathematics educators have for a long time emphasised the educational importance of recognising and stimulating flexibility in children’s self-constructed strategies as a major pillar of their innovative approaches to (elementary) mathematics education and have designed and implemented instructional materials and interventions aimed at the development of such flexibility. Especially in many curriculum reform documents from the last two decades as well as in many innovative curricula, textbooks, software, etc., there is a basic belief in the feasibility and educational value of striving for strategy flexibility, also for the younger and mathematically weaker children. However, systematic and scrutinised research that convincingly supports these basic claims is still rather scarce. In this contribution, we reflect on the flexible or adaptive choice and use of solution strategies in elementary school arithmetic. In the first part of this article we give some conceptual and methodological reflections on the adaptivity issue. More specifically, we critically review definitions and operationalisations of strategy adaptivity that only take into account task and subject characteristics and we argue for a concept and an approach that also involve the sociocultural context. Second, we address the question whether strategic flexibility is a parameter of strategic competence that differentiates mathematically strong and weak children. Finally, we discuss whether aiming for strategy flexibility is a feasible and valuable goal for all children, including the younger and mathematically weaker and weakest ones.