The Use of Mathematics Dialogues to Support Student Learning In High School Prealgebra Classes

Susann Meachelle Bradford, The University of Montana


This study explored the use of mathematics dialogue activities as an intervention for low achieving mathematics students. These activities consisted of short scripts that portrayed mathematics students working together to solve problems like those in their lessons. These were accompanied by discussion questions and mathematics problems intended to facilitate student discourse in small groups. This intervention strategy was based on the Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics, which recommends the use of teaching methods that provide opportunities for student discourse. The purpose of the study was to help teachers and schools identify whether the use of discourse could provide an effective strategy to improve student learning and meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. A mixed methods case study design was used to provide a situated comparison of learning outcomes in two distinct instructional settings. Each of two teachers taught two prealgebra classes, one with and one without dialogue activities. Observations and classroom transcripts were used to describe the instructional settings and implementation, and to characterize classroom discourse in each setting. Quantitative methods were used to measure mathematics learning outcomes in terms of achievement and problem solving. In addition, a mathematics attitude survey and student interviews were used to address the potential influence of student attitudes and obtain feedback from students. Results included the development of mathematics dialogue activities as a model for introducing student discourse into diverse classroom settings. Classes using the dialogue activities were found to have more opportunities for student-led questions and explanations and displayed more indicators of student learning and attitudes than control group classes. Student attitudes also emerged as an important factor influencing implementation. Quantitative results indicated that students who participated in mathematics dialogue activities had greater gains in mathematics achievement in both settings, greater gains in problem solving skill in one setting, and positive effects on student attitudes concerning self-concept in both settings. The quantitative findings were not conclusive due to small sample sizes, but indicate that mathematics dialogue activities are a promising intervention strategy for low achieving students.


© Copyright 2007 Susann Meachelle Bradford