This page serves as a sort of journal for Geoff’s doctoral program, separate from the Emergentmath blog. Here, Geoff will share thoughts and reflections on classes, insights into literature and other PhD-related musings. While you’re here, feel free to explore Geoff’s main blog, various “miniseries,” and select blog posts. Here is Geoff’s About Me page.

Week 6

Journal: Researchers are people too

I’m now six weeks into my Math Education PhD program. It’s been a steady diet of reading, writing, and classwork. Some of the readings are challenging to get through. But occasionally – and more and more recently – the Math Education research community hands me a little treat.

I’d like to step back for a moment and acknowledge my immense privilege I’ve had before enrolling as a PhD student. I’ve had the opportunity to present at NCTM and other conferences. I’ve had the incredible chance to meet Math education scholars before I even knew anything about Math education scholarship.

So in the midst of paper after paper, I get a little treat when I read a paper from someone I’ve seen present or, on the rare occasion, have actually met. This week as I stumbled across a paper from the great Elham Kazemi, who is a brilliant present, excellent author, and esteemed scholar. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Elham on a few occasions and her research is as rock solid as her warmth as a person.

I’ll be reviewing her paper Promoting Conceptual Thinking in Four Upper-Elementary Mathematics Classrooms (2001) for my weekly research reflection this week.

Research Reflection: Kazemi & Stipek (2001)’s “Press for Learning”

The term “warm demander” was rightly popularized via Zaretta Hammond’s seminal work Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain (2014). However, thirteen years prior, Kazemi & Stipek (2001) researched a similar concept around “press for learning.”

This article focuses on four classrooms from low income schools and how the teachers were able to push for conceptual thinking via “high press” discourse. The authors examined the “press for learning” via videotaped instruction in which the researchers assessed the following variables: (a) emphasis on student effort, (b) focus on learning and understanding, (c) supporting students’ autonomy, and (d) deemphasizing performance. Transcripts of the conversations among students and teachers are provided, with examples pulled from classes consistently scoring highly in the “press for learning” metrics. The teachers who demonstrated “high press” had students give reasons for their methods, rather than the procedure itself. Conversely, teachers who demonstrated “lower press” were more focused on non-specific or procedure based questions (i.e. “does this make sense?”). Such classrooms also progress with students merely offering solutions and methods without critical analysis. The evidence suggests subtle, but very real differences in what teachers demand from their students. Such seemingly small differences result in significant differences in how students experience and understand mathematics. 

This article offers an excellent contrast and corrective to the conditions faced by many students in low income neighborhoods as described by Davis and Martin (2018), also in this annotated bibliography. By remaining steadfast in their commitment to high levels of “press for learning,” teachers saw students engage with mathematical on a deep, conceptual level, resulting in more permanent learning. 

Kazemi, E., & Stipek, D. (2001). Promoting Conceptual Thinking in Four Upper-Elementary Mathematics Classrooms. The Elementary School Journal, 102(1), 59–80. JSTOR.