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A qualitative study of responsive teaching in the primary mathematics classrooom

Mary Alice Carlson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Mathematics education reforms (e.g. CCSSM, 2010; Kilpatrick, Swafford, & Findell, 2001; NCTM, 2000) suggest that good teaching requires attention to students' reasoning. However, taking students' mathematical conceptions seriously multiplies complexities of teaching because teachers must navigate relationships among mathematical content, students, and students as they are learning content (Lampert, 2001). Choices regarding the best course of action may arise in the form of dilemmas to be managed (e.g. Lampert, 1985; Ball, 1993) rather than either-or decisions to be made. Thus teacher learning is a matter of developing knowledge of content and pedagogy and of developing a stance (e.g. Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) that enables teachers to make productive use of student conceptions. In this qualitative case study I analyze the practice of two first grade teachers who are seeking to be responsive to students' mathematical ideas. Both teachers participated in a National Science Foundation-funded professional development program aimed at supporting K-3 teachers in developing mathematical, pedagogical, and leadership knowledge and skills. A central component of pedagogy coursework was cultivating teacher characteristics thought to be important when teaching in ways that are responsive to students' mathematical ideas. The central question of this study is: What does it mean to engage in a teaching practice that gives students access to meaningful mathematical content while being responsive to students' mathematical ideas? Data analyzed includes videotaped classroom observations, post-observation conversations between the teacher and researcher, teacher lesson plans and notes, and written coursework. Analysis suggests that teachers find ways to navigate particular tensions while being responsive to students' ideas. First, teachers allow space for student thinking while providing classroom structure. Second, teachers draw on their existing knowledge while building new conceptions based on unfolding classroom events. Third, teachers work with individuals while simultaneously shaping the entire lesson. Finally, I find that learning while teaching is in fact a task of teaching (Ball, Thames & Phelps, 2008) that is critical to eliciting, understanding, and responding to students' mathematical ideas in productive ways.

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Carlson, Mary Alice, "A qualitative study of responsive teaching in the primary mathematics classrooom" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3632201.