Mathematics, Department of


First Advisor

Wendy Smith

Second Advisor

Nathan Wakefield

Date of this Version

Spring 4-25-2023


Johnson, B. (2023). Classroom social support: A multiple phenomenological case study of mathematics graduate teaching assistants’ decision making in the classroom (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln).


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Mathematics, Under the Supervision of Professors Wendy Smith & Nathan Wakefield. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2023

Copyright © 2023 Brittany R. Johnson


Research suggests that support offered by an instructor can have a significant impact on the student experience, both in terms of classroom performance and affective well-being. Research also suggests that there are different types of support that instructors can offer (e.g., emotional support, instrumental support, informational support, and appraisal support). Although such research suggests that students perceive and are affected by these different types of support in different ways, there does not appear to be research surrounding the decision-making process behind instructors offering the support or the extent to which social support is a priority for them in the classroom.

The present study is a qualitative phenomenological multiple case study in which the decision making of six mathematics Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) was analyzed through the lens of support. This study consisted of both interviews and classroom observations and aimed to understand the goals and beliefs held by the GTAs in order to explain the decisions they made to offer support in particular ways. The findings of this study are presented in three chapters: Chapter 4 discusses two GTAs whose goals and beliefs provide clear insight into the types of support they offer their students. Chapter 5 discusses two GTAs whose decision making is more nuanced and examines their goals and beliefs through existing frameworks in the literature. Chapter 6 discusses two more experienced GTAs in order to better understand how the constructs explored throughout this dissertation can change over time. The findings of this dissertation suggest that GTAs possess a wide variety of goals and beliefs that impact their decision making in complex ways and that GTAs’ goals, beliefs, and decision-making practices evolve over time. The conclusions from this research can help inform individual instructors’ reflections on their teaching as well as professional development efforts of novice mathematics instructors.

Advisors: Wendy Smith and Nathan Wakefield