How teachers think about student learning

By Joellen Killion
December 2017
WHAT THE STUDY SAYS Teacher discourse patterns about students’ learning in mathematics reflect teachers’ beliefs and expectations about student learning. These beliefs have the capacity to limit or enhance a teacher’s instructional agency. This study focused on professional development as a vehicle for changing teacher thinking and examines discourse patterns as a viable indicator of how teachers think about student learning changes over time. How teachers think about students as learners affects teachers’ expectations of and their interactions with students. This study demonstrates that professional development has some potential to transform teacher discourse patterns. Study Description Researchers examined how teachers’ discourse patterns as measured by speech acts and storylines changed over a yearlong, 60-hour professional development program. The study demonstrates that some storylines about students

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Joellen Killion

Joellen Killion ( is senior advisor to Learning Forward

Researchers examined 322 speech actions that led to collective discourse, studied the discourse segments that followed the speech actions, and hypothesized what storylines emerged as principles of conventions in the discourse.

Over time, teachers began to use a storyline that identified student age/grade as well as the influence of prior experiences, opportunities to learn, and other influences on students as learners of mathematics.


Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R.C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Dallas, TX: National Staff Development Council.

Learning Forward. (2011). Standards for Professional Learning. Oxford, OH: Author.

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