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Variation in Math Talk across Preschool Classrooms: The Role of Teacher Characteristics and the Instructional Setting

Braham, Emily (2020) Variation in Math Talk across Preschool Classrooms: The Role of Teacher Characteristics and the Instructional Setting. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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There are prominent individual differences in children’s math skills even before they start Kindergarten. In this study, we focused on preschool classrooms as one setting in which those differences may emerge. Previous studies have shown that preschoolers’ gains in math knowledge are partially related to the amount of mathematically relevant language (“math talk”) they hear from their teachers. However, in previous studies, teachers’ math talk was sampled from just an hour of instruction and no studies, to date, have examined why there is such wide variability in math talk across teachers. In order to more accurately characterize preschoolers’ math-related experiences at school, we examined 48 teachers’ math talk while they engaged their 3- to 5-year-old students in formal instructional activities, informal activities, and during a semi-structured building task. We then transcribed and coded teachers’ speech for different types of math talk. After the observation, teachers completed questionnaires about their background, instructional practices, and beliefs about math instruction, as well as tasks to measure their comfort with and feelings towards math. The primary goals of our study were to 1) capture differences in the frequencies and types of math talk preschool teachers used across different classroom activities, 2) test whether the math talk we observed correlated with teachers’ reports of doing math activities in the classroom, and 3) examine how characteristics of teachers related to their use of math talk in the classroom. We found that teachers used significantly more math talk about cardinality compared to other types of math talk and they used a significantly higher proportion of math talk during formal instruction than during informal activities. We also found significant positive correlations between teachers’ math talk and their reported frequency of doing math activities in the classroom. Overall, we add support to the general finding in the literature that there is tremendous variability in the amount of math talk that occurs across preschool classrooms, that is not explained by teachers’ overall amount of talk, classroom size, or the average age of the children, and that correlates with their self-reported math activities.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Braham, Emilyejb67@pitt.eduejb67
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLibertus, Melissalibertus@pitt.edulibertus
Committee MemberWanless, Shannon Bethswanless@pitt.eduswanless
Committee MemberBachman, Heatherhbachman@pitt.eduhbachman
Committee MemberNokes-Malach, Timothynokes@pitt.edunokes
Date: 16 January 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 10 July 2019
Approval Date: 16 January 2020
Submission Date: 27 November 2019
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 104
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: math, math talk, teacher-child interaction
Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2020 16:44
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2022 06:15


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