An investigation of teacher decision-making with respect to discourse in the mathematics classroom at the elementary level

Date of Completion

January 2004


Education, Mathematics|Education, Elementary




The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has been on the forefront of reform efforts to incorporate more meaningful classroom dialogue, referred to as discourse, at the PreK–12 level (2000). Research has indicated that classroom discourse is a function of many interconnected factors, including the nature of the task, norms of the classroom environment, and role of the teacher. The NCTM believes that the teacher plays a central role in orchestrating discourse, but the complexity of the teacher's role in promoting discourse has not been given significant attention. Teachers make numerous decisions in the implementation of discourse and draw upon a knowledge base to help make instructional decisions. The teacher knowledge base (TKB) is enacted when they make decisions through a process called pedagogical reasoning and action. Thus, this study looked at how teachers make decisions with respect to discourse as they engage in this process to teach mathematics. ^ A conceptual framework was developed to coincide with Shulman's (1987) TKB and pedagogical reasoning and action processes, and it helped inform the selection of participants, collection of data, and data analysis. Three case studies resulted from this research. It was assumed that teachers' knowledge bases would vary according to their mathematics background and years of experience. The participants included ‘Nina,’ a fifth-year teacher, ‘Jane,’ a second-year novice, and ‘Matt,’ a 20-year veteran. ‘Nina’ had a strong mathematics background. Data were collected in Spring 2003. Interviews and classroom observations of two lessons served as sources of data, and audiotape, videotape, and notes provided the means to capture the information. All interviews were semi-structured and protocols were developed by the researcher. ^ Results indicated that teachers' decisions with respect to discourse prior to, during, and after teaching followed their beliefs regarding the purpose of discourse. ‘Nina’ believed that the purpose of discourse was to address significant mathematical ideas and uncover students' misconceptions, while ‘Jane’ thought students should share their ideas to contribute different perspectives. ‘Matt’ believed that discourse should be used to transmit information to students and have students explain their thinking to see if it matched his own view of mathematics. ^