International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education volume 7, pages957–985(2009)Cite this article
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This study examines a commonly held view that teachers tend to focus less on developing understanding and more on mechanistic answer-finding when teaching in classes of lower-achieving students. The study investigates this by analyzing actual practices of teaching mathematics and of classroom interactions in classes having different levels taught by the same teacher. Four classes taught by two teachers participated in the study. Each teacher taught the same probability syllabus in two of the classes; one class of higher- and one of lower-achieving students. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of observed teaching practices and classroom interactions suggest that one teacher adopted a teaching for mechanistic answer-finding approach in both of her classes, whereas the other teacher used a teaching-for-understanding approach. In contrast with current literature, both teaching approaches were somewhat amplified in the lower-level class of each teacher. The manuscript suggests that in their own way, each teacher attempted to help more those students who encountered more difficulties—the lower-achieving students—and they did so by using the resources available to them. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.