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Learning Lessons From Instruction: Descriptive Results From an Observational Study of Urban Elementary Classrooms

by Heather C. Hill, Erica Litke & Kathleen Lynch - 2018

Background: For nearly three decades, policy makers and researchers in the United States have promoted more intellectually rigorous standards for mathematics teaching and learning. Yet, to date, we have limited descriptive evidence on the extent to which reform-oriented instruction has been enacted at scale.

Purpose: The purpose of the study is to examine the prevalence of reform-aligned mathematics instructional practices in five U.S. school districts. We also seek to describe the range of instruction students experience by presenting case studies of teachers at high, medium, and low levels of reform alignment.

Participants: We draw on 1,735 video-recorded lessons from 329 elementary teachers in these five U.S. urban districts.

Research Design: We present descriptive analyses of lesson scores on a mathematics-focused classroom observation instrument. We also draw on interviews with district personnel, rater-written lesson summaries, and lesson video to develop case studies of instructional practice.

Findings: We find that teachers in our sample do use reform-aligned instructional practices, but they do so within the confines of traditional lesson formats. We also find that the implementation of these instructional practices varies in quality. Furthermore, the prevalence and strength of these practices corresponds to the coherence of district efforts at instructional reform.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that, unlike other studies in which reform-oriented instruction rarely occurred, reform practices do appear to some degree in study classrooms. In addition, our analyses suggest that implementation of these reform practices corresponds to the strength and coherence of district efforts to change instruction.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 12, 2018, p. 1-46
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22502, Date Accessed: 9/30/2020 3:26:08 AM

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About the Author
  • Heather Hill
    Harvard Graduate School of Education
    E-mail Author
    HEATHER C. HILL is the Jerome T. Murphy Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her areas of expertise include mathematics teaching and professional development.
  • Erica Litke
    University of Delaware
    E-mail Author
    ERICA LITKE is an assistant professor of mathematics education at the University of Delaware. Her research focuses on instructional practice in mathematics, with a particular focus on algebra and issues of equity. Recent research looks at teaching quality in mathematics as well as the impact of district-level policies designed to address equity in secondary mathematics. Her work has appeared in American Educational Research Journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, American Journal of Education, and Economics of Education Review.
  • Kathleen Lynch
    Harvard Graduate School of Education
    E-mail Author
    KATHLEEN LYNCH is a postdoctoral research associate at Brown University. Her research interests include education policy and strategies to reduce educational inequality, particularly in mathematics. Her research has been published in journals including Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, American Journal of Education, Journal of Mathematical Behavior, and Mathematical Thinking and Learning.
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