Brown (2009)

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The Teacher-Tool Relationship: Theorizing the Design and Use of Curriculum Materials

Outline of Headings

  • Teaching as Design
  • Theoretical Background
    • Artifacts can Extend Human Capacities
  • Curriculum Materials as Artifacts
  • How Curriculum Artifacts Influence Instruction
  • How Teachers Interpret and Use Curriculum Artifacts
  • How Teaching is Design
  • Analyzing Teacher Use of Curriculum Artifacts
  • Types of Curriculum Use: Offloading, Adapting, and Improvising
  • Facets of the Teacher-Tool Relationship: The Design Capacity for Enactment Framework
    • Applying the Design Capacity Enactment Framework
  • Pedagogical Design Capacity
  • Design Implications
  • The Design of Materials
    • Multiple Points of Access
    • Resource-Centric Material Design
    • Creating Reusable Resources and Supporting Customization
  • The Design of Professional Development


Brown begins this chapter comparing the relationship between teachers and curriculum materials to those of musicians and their music; just as the same song played by different musicians takes on its own character, teachers interpret and adapt curriculum materials in ways that make their practice unique, even if there are similarities across classrooms. Curriculum materials are often used to promote educational reforms and the results of such efforts have been mixed (Ball & Cohen, 1996; Cohen, 1988; Cuban 1992, 1993; Snyder, Bolin, & Zumwalt, 1992), the reasons of which have been attributed to practitioners (Cohen, 1990; Spillane, 1999), policies (Spillane, 1998), and professional development (Putnam & Borko, 2000; Wilson & Berne, 1999). Other studies have focused on how teachers interpret curriculum materials (Ben-Peretz, 1990; Brown, 2002; Brown & Edelson, 2003; Lloyd, 1999; Remillard 2000, 2005; Wiley, 2001) and how curriculum materials might be better designed to meet the need of teachers (Brown, 2002; Brown & Edelson, 2003; Davis & Krajcik, 2005; Davis & Varma, 2008; Schneider & Krajcik, 2002. Brown's purpose in writing this chapter is to describe a theoretical framework for the relationship between curriculum materials and teacher practice. In doing so, Brown conceives of teaching as a design activity in which teachers evaluate their resources and make decisions in an effort to achieve instructional goals. Tensions between teachers (the agent) and their curriculum materials (the tool) build on a well-established body of learning theory (Gibson, 1977; Hutchins, 1996; Norman 1988, 1991; Pea, 1993; Wertsch 1991, 1998), and Brown uses this to highlight three key points:

  1. Curriculum materials play an important role in affording and constraining teachers' actions.
  2. Teachers notice and use such artifacts differently given their experience, intentions, and abilities.
  3. "Teaching by design" is not so much a conscious choice as an inevitable reality (p. 19).

Theoretical Background


Brown, M. W. (2009). The teacher-tool relationship: Theorizing the design and use of curriculum materials. In J. T. Remillard, B. A. Herbel-Eisenmann, & G. M. Lloyd (Eds.), Mathematics teachers at work: Connecting curriculum materials and classroom instruction (pp. 17–36). New York, NY: Routledge.
address = {New York, NY},
author = {Brown, Matthew W.},
booktitle = {Mathematics teachers at work: Connecting curriculum materials and classroom instruction},
chapter = {2},
editor = {Remillard, Janine T. and Herbel-Eisenmann, Beth A. and Lloyd, Gwendolyn M.},
pages = {17--36},
publisher = {Routledge},
title = {{The teacher-tool relationship: Theorizing the design and use of curriculum materials}},
year = {2009}