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Research Shows Teacher Expectations a Barrier to Math Instruction
March 7, 2017 

The expectations that teachers held of their middle school students is a barrier in their planning and implementation of high-quality mathematics instruction, according to a study by a Johns Hopkins School of Education researcher in the Journal of Urban Mathematics Education.

Emily Yanisko, the lead clinical faculty member for mathematics in the Urban Teachers program, focused her research on two new teachers who were placed in the same school, grade and classroom (sharing one vacancy). One of the teachers taught in the high-track, or honors, class, and the other teacher in the low-track, or comprehensive, class.

Much of the research on tracking in schools, she said, focuses on the mindset of teachers who are teaching low-track classes, what they expect of their students and the quality of instruction they plan and implement in their classroom. Often in low-track classrooms, teachers have low expectations of their students and plan lower-level mathematics lessons.

The study, “Negotiating Perceptions of Tracked Students: Novice Teachers Facilitating High-Quality Mathematics Instruction,” showed that the teacher of the low-track class often believed her students were not ready for demanding mathematics instruction and initially planned her lessons accordingly. However, the teacher in the high-track class also felt that his students would be unable to solve complex mathematical problems. He thought his high-tracked students were used to “doing school” in a particular way: listening to lectures, getting a procedure to follow and then independently replicating that procedure.

“I mentored both of these teachers around planning and implementing high-quality mathematics instruction, and both were able to improve their practice over the course of the study,” said Yanisko. “However, I think it’s important for teacher educators, mentors and coaches of teachers to pay attention to the mindset and expectations of teachers of high-track and low-track classes and the barriers these mindsets may have on teacher efficacy.”