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Learning Through the Use of Instructional Materials: Secondary Mathematics Teachers’ Enactment of Formative Assessment Lessons


This dissertation is an exploratory study that investigates what and how teachers learn from use of instructional materials. Over the course of one school year, eight secondary mathematics teachers in two urban schools interspersed their usual instruction with “formative assessment lessons” (FALs), based on lessons and lesson guides designed to allow teachers to use student thinking to inform instructional decision-making. The focus of the study was on understanding how the teachers interpreted the goals and uses of these materials for their own and their students’ learning and how the materials supported teachers’ learning about formative assessment.

Teachers were expected to enact five FALs, which they selected from the Mathematics Assessment Project web site ( to place in curriculum units in accordance with their instructional goals. The lessons were planned and enacted without formal professional development. However, five collaboration meetings allowed teachers time to plan with colleagues and reflect on their experiences. Teacher surveys, classroom observations, and classroom artifacts were analyzed in order to examine the placement and enactment of the lessons as well as the influence of enacting the lessons on teachers’ classroom practices and use of formative assessment. The teachers’ choices in selecting, placing, planning, and implementing the lessons significantly limited their potential to support teacher learning. However, analyses of student explanations and the teachers’ interactions with small groups of students provide evidence of changes in classroom practices that allowed instruction to be better informed by student thinking.

Two case studies detail how teachers’ knowledge, goals, and beliefs, their perceptions of the lesson designers’ intentions, and the school environment influenced their use of the FALs and other materials, e.g., a monitoring sheet. Although the materials provided affordances that could support a range of teacher learning, the teachers’ choices played a fundamental role in determining what they learned from teaching the FALs and using the materials. In one case, the teacher developed and refined new classroom routines that reflected his goals for his students about communication and accountability. In the other case, the teacher began to change her teaching practices when using the FALs and monitoring sheet, but later adapted her use of the FALs and altered the monitoring sheet to be more consistent with her routine instruction, limiting her opportunities for exploration and learning. The implications of these findings for research on teacher learning, for revision of the FALs, and for professional development are discussed.

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