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Teacher Characteristics and Student Mathematical Dispositions

Reston, Va., March 11, 2014—Providing future teachers of mathematics with more mathematics or math education courses will not necessarily influence their beliefs and awareness, although it may improve their mathematical and pedagogical knowledge, according to a study in the March 2014 issue of the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education (JRME), published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Lawrence Clark and colleagues report their findings in “Teacher Characteristics Associated with Mathematics Teachers’ Beliefs and Awareness of Their Students’ Mathematical Dispositions.” The study also concluded that as teacher education programs shape teachers’ beliefs, they must acknowledge, honor, and investigate teachers’ personal experiences, including experiences associated with race and gender.

“NCTM is positioned to take a leadership role by strengthening the bridge that connects research to the practice of teaching and the outcome of learning,” said NCTM President Linda Gojak. “This research is just one way that the Council creates new resources that put usable information into the hands of those directly responsible for students’ learning.”

This study involved 259 novice upper-elementary and 184 novice middle-grades teachers. It examined the how teacher characteristics, professional qualifications, and teaching contexts relate to teachers’ beliefs about mathematics teaching and learning and teachers’ awareness of their students’ mathematical dispositions.

The following findings emerged:

  • Upper-elementary teachers certified in special education did not feel as strongly as did other upper-elementary teachers with a belief that mathematics teaching and learning should include periods of time when students make sense of mathematics without relying on teacher intervention.
  • As compared with their white counterparts, middle-grades teachers of color may more effectively structure mathematics learning environments that reflect incremental mastery and simultaneously work to obtain a deeper awareness of their students’ mathematical dispositions. (Non-White middle grades mathematics teachers viewed mastery of skills to be critical for the future success of their students, despite working side by side with teachers who may have held that belief less strongly).
  • Middle-grades teachers placed less emphasis on incremental mastery of basic skills as the percentage of students receiving free and reduced meals in their classrooms increased.

The authors conclude that that (1) it is imperative that mathematics education researchers strive for a better understanding of potential influences on teachers’ beliefs and awareness, and (2) there are potential influences on teachers’ beliefs and awareness that appear to extend beyond the domain of teacher education.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is the public voice of mathematics education, providing vision, leadership, and professional development to support teachers in ensuring mathematics learning of the highest quality for all students. With 80,000 members and more than 200 Affiliates, NCTM is the world’s largest organization dedicated to improving mathematics education in prekindergarten through grade 12. The Council’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics includes guidelines for excellence in mathematics education and issues a call for all students to engage in more challenging mathematics. Its Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics identifies the most important mathematical topics for each grade level. Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making advocates practical changes to the high school mathematics curriculum to refocus learning on reasoning and sense making. NCTM is dedicated to ongoing dialogue and constructive discussion with all stakeholders about what is best for our nation’s students.

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