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Data Use Practices for Improved Mathematics Teaching and Learning: The Importance of Productive Dissonance and Recurring Feedback Cycles

by Jolley Bruce Christman, Caroline B. Ebby & Kimberly A. Edmunds - 2016

Background: A growing number of studies argue that data use practices in schools have not sufficiently attended to teachers’ learning about students, subject matter, and instruction. The result has been changes in instructional management (e.g., student grouping, assignment of students to tutoring) rather than instructional improvement. Further, there is a paucity of research on how teachers make sense of data and their ensuing instructional actions.

Purpose: We report findings from qualitative research on an intervention designed to put teacher learning about mathematics instruction center stage in data use practices. The research sought to understand what happened as teachers made sense of data in their professional learning communities (PLCs), what changes they made in their mathematics instruction, and why they made the changes.

Research Design: The theoretical foundation for the research is situative theory, which conceptualizes teacher growth as “a process of increasing participation in the practice of teaching, and through this participation a process of becoming knowledgeable in and about teaching.” A case study approach was chosen to illuminate the complex interrelationships among intervention components and their influence on teachers: (1) between individual teacher sensemaking about data and collective sensemaking in PLCs and (2) between sensemaking and instructional changes. Additionally, case study methodology facilitates theory building grounded directly in data by providing nuanced accounts of the phenomena under study that uncover concepts and coherently relate them to one another. Teacher interpretation of data is ripe for theory building.

Findings: The case study of Ms. Walker illustrates in rich detail the developmental nature of her growth and the important roles of dissonance, collegial discussion, and productive dissonance in that process. Due to considerable progress in both her questioning strategies and her ability to build on student thinking to focus on important mathematical ideas, Ms. Walker was able to move beyond surface instructional adjustments to demonstrate substantial instructional improvement.

Conclusion/Recommendations: We argue that a fuller understanding of how teachers experience dissonance, and the supports necessary to make that dissonance productive, can enrich the design and implementation of data use practices. The research also offers an example of the contribution that microprocess studies can make to research on data use practices. We encourage researchers to attend carefully to teacher sensemaking and interrogate the concepts of dissonance and productive dissonance in future theory building about data use practices.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 11, 2016, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21628, Date Accessed: 8/2/2021 10:51:46 AM

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About the Author
  • Jolley Christman
    Research for Action
    JOLLEY BRUCE CHRISTMAN is a founder of Research for Action, whose mission has been to conduct rigorous studies designed to provide a broad range of educational stakeholders with the information they need to improve student outcomes and strengthen schools and communities. Her research interests include professional learning communities and organizational learning, civic engagement and school reform, and the privatization of public education. Her work has been included in recent compilations, including Between Public and Private: Politics, Governance and the New Portfolio Models for Urban School Reform, American School Reform: What Works, What Fails, and Why, and The Transformation of Great American School Districts.
  • Caroline Ebby
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    CAROLINE B. EBBY is a senior researcher at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) and an adjunct associate professor of mathematics education at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the use of learning trajectories and formative assessment to improve mathematics instruction. She leads the development, use, and analysis of the TASK instrument, an online assessment of how teachers interpret student work for instruction. She has published articles in Journal for Mathematics Teacher Education, Journal of Mathematical Behavior, Teaching Children Mathematics, Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, and most recently a chapter “Conceptualizing Teachers’ Capacity for Learning Trajectory Oriented Formative Assessment in Mathematics” in J. A. Middleton, J. Cai, & S. Hwang (Eds)., Large Scale Studies in Mathematics Education (Springer, 2015).
  • Kimberly Edmunds
    Equal Measure
    E-mail Author
    KIMBERLY A. EDMUNDS is a senior consultant at Equal Measure in Philadelphia, PA, where she works on multiple evaluation projects, particularly in the areas of college and career readiness and postsecondary access and success. Stemming from her graduate studies in urban spatial analytics, she has a special interest in discovering ways to integrate geographic information systems as part of mixed-methods research that illuminates the complex relationships between educational opportunity and structural barriers, like residential segregation, concentrated poverty, and school choice systems. She is furthering her interdisciplinary interests through a graduate program in organization development and leadership. Recent publications include Edmunds, K., Pearsall, H., & Porterfield, L. (2015). Narrowing pathways? Exploring the spatial dynamics of postsecondary STEM preparation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Urban Review, 47(1), 1–25; Hartmann, T., Gao, J., Kumar, A., & Edmunds, K. (2013). A Snapshot of OST Programming in Philadelphia: An Evaluation of Six 21st Century Community Learning Center Grantees. Philadelphia: Research for Action.
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