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Teaching Amidst Uncertainty

The utilization of student collaborative groupwork is featured in most lesson models aiming to support math teaching for understanding, and research has shown the importance of student pairs or groups making their own sense of key ideas. However, by decentralizing teachers in class conversations, new challenges arise, such as how to ensure students are engaging with tasks in ways that are both mathematically meaningful and socially inclusive. We refer to this range of practices as groupwork monitoring — what teachers do as they observe, check in with, and support the progress and quality of student-directed collaborative work around the classroom.

Our focus on teachers’ monitoring is important for four reasons:

  1.  Decades of research in math education implores teachers to build instruction on students’ thinking. Research has cited increased and more equitable mathematics achievement and learning, fostering positive identities and enjoyment of mathematics, and broader participation in math classrooms 
  2. Despite the benefits and advantages of collaborative learning, studies highlight the ways social dynamics get (re)produced in student groups, often to the detriment of mathematical learning and inclusion. 
  3. Current research gives contradictory advice about how teachers should monitor. We find exhortations for teachers to primarily listen as they circulate among students alongside suggestions that teachers get involved in students’ small group discussions to scaffold and probe students’ thinking.
  4. In our previous study, we have co-designed a video feedback protocol with experienced math teachers to help them investigate their practice. Across 33 video debriefs with our 13 teacher participants, questions consistently arose around the monitoring phases of their lessons, suggesting that monitoring is a complex and uncertain practice, even for accomplished teachers.

The overarching research question for Project TAU is: How do experienced secondary math teachers learn about groupwork monitoring? Specifically, we will explore 

  • How do secondary math teachers make sense of groupwork monitoring? 
  • How do representations of practice (such as video clips and interactive visualizations) shape teachers’ individual and collective sensemaking about groupwork monitoring?
  • How do teachers’ understandings of groupwork monitoring change over time as they work toward ambitious math teaching?
  • How do teachers’ groupwork monitoring moves support or hinder student groups’ mathematical talk? 

With our findings, we aim to provide evidence to understand not only how teachers learn this complex practice, but offer clearer evidence for how they should use it in their classrooms.