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Teaching for a Growth Mindset: How Contexts and Professional Identity Shift Decision-Making

  • Author(s): Menanix, Sarah
  • Advisor(s): Schoenfeld, Alan H
  • et al.
Abstract

What happens to pedagogy when a teacher’s personal goals of supporting students’ productive dispositions toward learning collide with her professional identity as a successful teacher whose students perform well on standardized tests? This dissertation is a mixed-methods case study that shows how context shapes one teacher’s identity and decision-making, such that she seems to be two drastically different teachers in two different instructional contexts – a summer course in which she had complete flexibility over the curriculum, goals, and achievement measures and an academic year course in which she felt bounded by the state standards test. The dissertation examines the very real consequences these pedagogical decisions have for students.

Using qualitative classroom observations and quantitative survey and assessment data, this dissertation examines why, despite the teacher’s strong commitment to growth mindset instruction and equity in both contexts, the teacher implemented pedagogical moves that contributed to distinctly different opportunities for students to engage with rich mathematics in each, and what those shifts meant for students’ mathematical identities and learning.

The different cultural contexts in the summer and academic years offered the teacher identity resources about what was valued as good teaching, which led to distinct pedagogical decisions that aligned with the salient aspects of her professional identity in each context. Despite her commitment to growth mindset instruction in both contexts, this teacher implemented pedagogical moves that contributed to distinctly different opportunities for students to engage with rich mathematics and develop productive mathematical self-concepts.

This dissertation examines the ways the institutional context shifted and practices changed subtly as a result, and uses these comparisons to unpack which elements of the whole system of teaching for a growth mindset are necessary to contribute to productive changes in student mindsets or dispositions toward mathematics, engagement, and persistence with learning. Using Ms. M as a case study, this dissertation sheds light on the ways in which school contexts - in concert with a teachers’ multifaceted identity - contribute to decision-making while setting instructional goals.

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