Prospective teachers' conceptions of and performance teaching mathematics to socio-culturally diverse students

Gallivan, Heather
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University of Delaware
The purpose of this study was to determine (1) the progress prospective teachers' can make in their conceptions of teaching mathematics to socio-culturally diverse students and students in urban, high-needs schools; (2) the progress prospective teachers can make in their performance revising a high-level mathematics task to be culturally relevant for one socio-culturally different middle school student; and (3) the relationship between their conceptions and their performance. Participants included four prospective teachers enrolled in a middle school mathematics methods course. Data sources to measure conceptions included pre-post surveys and pre-post interviews. Data sources to measure progress towards revising a high-level mathematics task to be culturally relevant included a variety of course projects that required the participants to shadow a chosen student, conduct a problem-solving interview with them, and then revise a task to be culturally relevant for that student. Data were analyzed qualitatively using analytical frameworks developed by the researcher based on relevant research literature. The results of this study indicate that while the prospective teachers made some progress in their conceptions regarding good mathematics teaching practices and the importance of getting to know their students, by the end of the semester they also held on to their unproductive conceptions regarding low income students and students from urban, high-needs schools. In addition, all of the prospective teachers were mostly successful in taking what they learned about a particular student and using it to revise a high-level mathematics task to be relevant for that student. Finally, the participants' productive conceptions may be related to how they described they would use good teaching practices to implement their revised tasks and how successful they were getting to know the students that they shadowed, despite only being tangentially related to the success they had revising tasks to be culturally relevant. The results of this study have implications for mathematics teacher educators in that it is important for them to provide targeted activities to address prospective teachers' productive and unproductive conceptions. Also, the results suggest that teacher educators should support prospective teachers to develop culturally relevant teaching practices throughout their teacher education programs in order to better prepare them to better teach students who are socio-culturally different from them.