Implementing higher-order thinking in middle school mathematics classrooms
Murray, Eileen Christina
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Effective professional development strategies include a focus on the cyclical process of teaching: plan, teach, reflect. This process is used to provide teachers with practice-based experiences from which they can learn about instructional strategies and student thinking. Although the use of this model has been shown to be effective, more research needs to be done to understand the best ways to support the professional development of teachers, especially those in an urban setting. This study examined the influence of reflective teaching cycles on two urban middle school mathematics teachers’ selection and implementation of tasks that had the potential to facilitate higher-order thinking. Data were collected during the reflective teaching cycles, which consisted of the three phases planning, teaching, and reflecting. In planning, the teachers chose a task(s) that matched their goals for students’ learning, worked to understand and identify what mathematics their students would need to know in order to solve the task(s), and considered how to implement the task(s). As teachers reflected on their lessons, they considered the type and level of thinking in which their students engaged, how their pedagogical decisions influenced students’ learning, and considered alternative instructional strategies. I audiotaped my planning and reflection meetings with the teachers and used an observation protocol to record events during each teacher’s instruction to help prepare for future meetings. The results of the study indicated that reflective teaching cycles focused on higher-order thinking could influence teachers’ selection and implementation of tasks in many ways. The collaborative nature of the cycles and their capacity to build teachers’ knowledge about mathematics and to promote reflection on pedagogical strategies affected how teachers chose tasks and executed instruction. Teachers were also influenced by pacing and assessment pressures, how they could engage their students in mathematics, their teaching experiences, and their views on what it meant to do mathematics.