Using Student Interviews to Guide Classroom Instruction: An Action Research Project. (Research, Reflection, Practice)

By Buschman, Larry | Teaching Children Mathematics, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Using Student Interviews to Guide Classroom Instruction: An Action Research Project. (Research, Reflection, Practice)


Buschman, Larry, Teaching Children Mathematics


During the 1999-2000 school year, the teaching staff, including teachers and instructional assistants, at Jefferson Elementary School, Jefferson, Oregon, engaged in an action research project to investigate how student interviews would influence the way that teachers present mathematics in the classroom. For the purpose of this article, action research is defined as the process of asking a worthwhile research question, collecting credible evidence to answer the question, and using the evidence to guide further improvement in a school. Action research is similar to traditional research in that it embodies a desire to inquire and understand and a commitment to use data to guide improvement efforts. Unlike traditional research, which is usually conducted by university researchers to construct general theories, action research is conducted by school personnel to build local knowledge. Although action research can yield results that can be generalized outside the local school setting, the outcomes of action resear ch are primarily directed toward meeting the needs of children in a school through changes made by the school's teacher-researchers.

The Problem

Several teachers of kindergarten through fourth-grade classes at Jefferson Elementary School were struggling to implement problem solving in their mathematics classrooms. They found that problem solving is often hard to teach and even harder for children to learn. In addition, the entire staff was working hard to develop effective questioning strategies to use when students experienced difficulty in solving mathematics problems. The teachers realized that they lacked sufficient knowledge about the mathematical understanding of individual students. Large class sizes and an ever-increasing number of special needs children in the school prevented the teachers from regularly spending time with individual children and limited the teachers' efforts to uncover the children's level of understanding of the full array of mathematics topics that must be addressed each school year.

We chose to investigate the following two questions:

* Do student interviews provide teachers with a more detailed, accurate, and complete picture of children's mathematical understanding?

* Does this knowledge help teachers improve the way that they teach mathematics?

Action Research Plan

The major components of our research project included professional development workshops for all team members; data collection from student interviews, teacher self-assessment, and reflection journals; and sessions for sharing results with other team members. The project was conducted as follows:

* Team members interviewed individual children while the rest of the class participated in a program of extended activities (see fig. 1).

* During the interviews, team members used a variety of problem types identified in Children's Mathematics: Cognitively Guided instruction (Carpenter et al. 1999) (see fig. 2). In addition, the teachers used both probing and leading questions to gain additional insight into children's thinking (see fig. 3). Finally, some team members videotaped each interview.

* The team members conducted two sets of interviews, one during the fall and one during the spring of the 1999-2000 school year.

* The team members shared the results of their interviews with the rest of the team and described the impact of these interviews on their classroom instruction. These insights and results were summarized using qualitative data-collection techniques.

Because the primary goal of this action research project was to examine the effect of the interviews on the ways that teachers teach mathematics, changes in student performance were not measured. A follow-up analysis will be conducted over the next five years, however, to examine changes in student performance related to differences in teacher classroom practices. …

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