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Teacher Learning through Practices: How Mathematics Teachers Change in Practices with Innovative Curriculum Materials


Professional learning and development in and from practices have focused either on how individuals learn from formally organized contexts or on how a group of teachers collectively develop within contexts. Thus there is little research on individual teacher professional learning through practices. This dissertation investigates the ways in which two experienced mathematics teachers develop the means of making sense of content and student thinking, and change their practices through their interactions with innovative curriculum materials. This dissertation also conceptualizes a new framework for teaching practices termed student thinking responsive teaching practices, which is grounded in the literature and this dissertation’s empirical investigations.

In my dissertation, I conducted case studies with two teachers, observing their classrooms over the course of a year to capture their everyday teaching practices during regular lessons, as well as their teaching practices during lessons involving innovative curriculum materials. I also conducted teacher interviews and observed professional development workshop sessions to inform my analysis of how the teachers changed their teaching practices in the classroom. I analyzed the collected data using a mixed methods approach. First, I conducted a qualitative analysis with an existing coding scheme from the literature and a new coding scheme I specifically developed. Second, I quantified my qualitative analysis findings to capture how and whether the two teachers changed toward becoming more responsive to student mathematical thinking in their everyday practices.

My dissertation findings clarify some of the mechanisms for change in teacher practices. First, when teachers are supported in, and make use of, instructional moves that focus on student mathematical thinking, not only is student learning advanced, but teacher learning is also advanced. Second, when teachers’ interactions with curriculum materials involve adapting and developing new pedagogical strategies for student thinking responsive teaching practices, they create opportunities to making sense of content and student thinking. In contrast, when they adapt curriculum materials to align with their existing practices, those opportunities are lost. Lastly, in addition to teachers’ beliefs and knowledge, their professional identity is critical for understanding the ways in which teachers interact with and implement curriculum materials. It is important for teachers to see and make sense of themselves as learners and as professionals who are continuously reflecting on and through their practices. Such an identity may become a catalyst for changing their practices and need to be supported not only by innovative curriculum materials, but also at the school and district level. These results have implications for the design of professional development systems that support the positive aspects of curriculum-based learning.

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