Classroom Culture, Challenging Mathematical Tasks, and Student Persistence

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This article discussed the importance of creating a classroom culture that supports students in persisting with mathematical tasks.  The goal is to create an environment where students feel comfortable tackling more cognitively challenging problems and persisting in finding a solution.

The key components of successfully accomplishing this are:

1. The way the tasks are introduced. If students are given preliminary experience, they were more comfortable in engaging in the task and persisting with it.

2.  Providing support to students. It is important to allow students time to struggle individually, followed by working collaboratively, as well as overcoming the tendency to give students “hints” and to use prompts that differentiate the task.  The authors make the point that you can provide support for students without detracting their opportunity to understand the math.

3.  Providing an extension task.  It allows students who have finished to explore the topic with more depth and allows those students who are still working adequate time to work with the task to a conclusion.

4.  The sharing of student solutions.  The authors note that is important to observe students as they’re working and to thoughtfully choose students to contribute.  This allows students to explain their strategies and see that they are making an important contribution to the classroom.

5.  The method of assessment.  Students who feel like they are being assessed competitively (compared to their peers) are less willing to participate. Using a criterion-based rubric encourages students to participate and persist, because they can see up front how they will be graded, as well as encouraged them to reflect on their learning.

Overall, the authors concluded that a positive classroom environment is not just rules and procedures, but ongoing and interactive support from the teacher.

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3 thoughts on “Classroom Culture, Challenging Mathematical Tasks, and Student Persistence

  1. The whole point is to get them comfortable with higher order questions, and even in general, I want them to get comfortable talking with me and asking questions at first! I think these steps are important for a new teacher too! I want students to be comfortable and are able to follow along with how I display the material, and want to share their answers with me as well as their classmates. Ideally, everything we try to do is get our students to think with high questions; yet I want some of my students to just be able to see how to process basic skills, the higher thinking will have to come later.

    • Definitely want to work towards those higher order questions. Students often resist and push teachers to lower their expectations. Important to figure out ways to push them back to higher expectations for thinking!

  2. Acacia,
    This is a good summary of the article, but what I am also interested in is your perspective on the article. Was it useful? Did you believe their arguments? You identify key points here about trying to use more cognitively complex problems in class to encourage students’ engagement and help them make better use of their mathematics. We often tell students what tools to use when or they are implied by the unit. Important for them to get to the point in which they see math as tools for different situations and be able to enter into a context and pick the right tool for the moment. This takes a lot of scaffolding for students–for their dispositions to persist as well as their abilities to decipher situations mathematically. How might you create a trajectory so that students are very capable by the end of the year?

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