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Characterizing pivotal teaching moments in beginning mathematics teachers’ practice

Abstract

Although skilled mathematics teachers and teacher educators often “know” when interruptions in the flow of a lesson provide an opportunity to modify instruction to improve students’ mathematical understanding, others, particularly novice teachers, often fail to recognize or act on such moments. These pivotal teaching moments (PTMs), however, are key to instruction that builds on student thinking about mathematics. Video of beginning secondary school mathematics teachers’ instruction was analyzed to identify and characterize PTMs in mathematics lessons and to examine the relationships among the PTMs, the teachers’ decisions in response to them, and the likely impacts on student learning. These data were used to develop a preliminary framework for helping teachers learn to identify and respond to PTMs that occur during their instruction. The results of this exploratory study highlight the importance of teacher education preparing teachers to (a) understand the mathematical terrain their students are traversing, (b) notice high-leverage student mathematical thinking, and (c) productively act on that thinking. This preparation would improve beginning teachers’ abilities to act in ways that would increase their students’ mathematical understanding.

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Acknowledgments

Data collection for the research reported here was supported in part by the US National Science Foundation under grant no. ESI-0243558, awarded to Judy Mumme and Nanette Seago, WestEd. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. Data analysis was supported in part by Western Michigan University’s Faculty Research and Creative Activities Award and Michigan Technological University’s Research Excellence Fund—Research Seed Grant. The authors would like to thank James Kratky and Dolores Strom, Western Michigan University; Debra Kingdon, Michigan Technological University; and Cynthia Taylor, Millersville University, for their contributions to data collection and coding. Portions of this article were presented at the 2010 Annual Conference of the Psychology of Mathematics Education North American Chapter.

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Correspondence to Shari L. Stockero.

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Stockero, S.L., Van Zoest, L.R. Characterizing pivotal teaching moments in beginning mathematics teachers’ practice. J Math Teacher Educ 16, 125–147 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10857-012-9222-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10857-012-9222-3

  • Mathematics teacher education
  • Beginning teachers
  • Student thinking
  • Teachable moments
  • Teacher decisions