Designing for Consequential Engagement: The Role of ‘Push Back’ on Student Thinking
Melissa Sommerfeld Gresalfi

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Indiana University

Primary Discipline

Mathematics Education
Researchers have suggested that encouraging students to pursue mathematics in school and beyond should involve more than arguing about the best strategies for increasing achievement, and instead requires attending to the nature of students’ engagement with mathematics. Beyond ensuring that students are able to answer mathematics questions accurately, there is a concern with the dispositions that students form in relation to a domain; the ways that students approach, engage, and feel about the subject matter. The study will examine how creating opportunities for students to engage consequentially with mathematics supports the dispositions they develop towards the domain. Engaging consequentially with information involves interrogating the usefulness, impact, or significance of particular tools on outcomes. One way to create opportunities for students to engage consequentially is to embed mathematics problems in authentic contexts. Beyond simply providing “relevance” for disciplinary work, contexts can serve as a resource for learning and reflection by pushing back on students’ disciplinary reasoning. Thus, consequential reflection can support students’ deep mathematical engagement because being asked to consider how and why a particular strategy or procedure impacted a solution actually shapes one’s understanding of the strategy or procedure itself.The hypothesis tested in this study is that creating opportunities for students to engage consequentially with content will lead to productive dispositions towards mathematics by supporting practices of meaningful disciplinary engagement and the development of a notion of oneself as someone whose actions can have impact. I will investigate the role of consequentiality by comparing three units situated in two project-based mathematics curricula, and will document how aspects of curricular designs impact student engagement with mathematical ideas and the development of more enduring dispositions. This study will contribute to educational research by supporting a deeper understanding of which aspects of instructional methods are most effective for what purpose, under which circumstances, and for whom.
About Melissa Sommerfeld Gresalfi

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