- Dorottya Demszky
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This study provides the first large-scale quantitative exploration of mathematical language use in U.S. classrooms. Our approach employs natural language processing techniques to describe variation in the use of mathematical language in 1,657 fourth and fifth grade lessons by teachers and students in 317 classrooms in four districts over three years. Students’ exposure to mathematical language varies substantially across lessons and between teachers. Students whose teachers use more mathematical language are more likely to use it themselves, and they perform better on standardized tests. These findings suggest that teachers play a substantial role in students’ mathematical language use.
Teachers’ attitudes and classroom management practices critically affect students’ academic and behavioral outcomes, contributing to the persistent issue of racial disparities in school discipline. Yet, identifying and improving classroom management at scale is challenging, as existing methods require expensive classroom observations by experts. We apply natural language processing methods to elementary math classroom transcripts to computationally measure the frequency of teachers’ classroom management language in instructional dialogue and the degree to which such language is reflective of punitive attitudes. We find that the frequency and punitiveness of classroom management language show strong and systematic correlations with human-rated observational measures of instructional quality, student and teacher perceptions of classroom climate, and student academic outcomes. Our analyses reveal racial disparities and patterns of escalation in classroom management language. We find that classrooms with higher proportions of Black students experience more frequent and more punitive classroom management. The frequency and punitiveness of classroom management language escalate over time during observations, and these escalations occur more severely for classrooms with higher proportions of Black students. Our results demonstrate the potential of automated measures and position everyday classroom management interactions as a critical site of intervention for addressing racial disparities, preventing escalation, and reducing punitive attitudes.
Providing consistent, individualized feedback to teachers is essential for improving instruction but can be prohibitively resource-intensive in most educational contexts. We develop M-Powering Teachers, an automated tool based on natural language processing to give teachers feedback on their uptake of student contributions, a high-leverage dialogic teaching practice that makes students feel heard. We conduct a randomized controlled trial in an online computer science course (n=1,136 instructors), to evaluate the effectiveness of our tool. We find that M-Powering Teachers improves instructors’ uptake of student contributions by 13% and present suggestive evidence that it also improves students’ satisfaction with the course and assignment completion. These results demonstrate the promise of M-Powering Teachers to complement existing efforts in teachers’ professional development.
Although learners are being connected 1:1 with instructors at an increasing scale, most of these instructors do not receive effective, consistent feedback to help them improved. We deployed M-Powering Teachers, an automated tool based on natural language processing to give instructors feedback on dialogic instructional practices —including their uptake of student contributions, talk time and questioning practices — in a 1:1 online learning context. We conducted a randomized controlled trial on Polygence, a re-search mentorship platform for high schoolers (n=414 mentors) to evaluate the effectiveness of the feedback tool. We find that the intervention improved mentors’ uptake of student contributions by 10%, reduced their talk time by 5% and improves student’s experi-ence with the program as well as their relative optimism about their academic future. These results corroborate existing evidence that scalable and low-cost automated feedback can improve instruction and learning in online educational contexts.
Classroom discourse is a core medium of instruction --- analyzing it can provide a window into teaching and learning as well as driving the development of new tools for improving instruction. We introduce the largest dataset of mathematics classroom transcripts available to researchers, and demonstrate how this data can help improve instruction. The dataset consists of 1,660 45-60 minute long 4th and 5th grade elementary mathematics observations collected by the National Center for Teacher Effectiveness (NCTE) between 2010-2013. The anonymized transcripts represent data from 317 teachers across 4 school districts that serve largely historically marginalized students. The transcripts come with rich metadata, including turn-level annotations for dialogic discourse moves, classroom observation scores, demographic information, survey responses and student test scores. We demonstrate that our natural language processing model, trained on our turn-level annotations, can learn to identify dialogic discourse moves and these moves are correlated with better classroom observation scores and learning outcomes. This dataset opens up several possibilities for researchers, educators and policymakers to learn about and improve K-12 instruction.
Responsive teaching is a highly effective strategy that promotes student learning. In math classrooms, teachers might funnel students towards a normative answer or focus students to reflect on their own thinking, deepening their understanding of math concepts. When teachers focus, they treat students’ contributions as resources for collective sensemaking, and thereby significantly improve students’ achievement and confidence in mathematics. We propose the task of computationally detecting funneling and focusing questions in classroom discourse. We do so by creating and releasing an annotated dataset of 2,348 teacher utterances labeled for funneling and focusing questions, or neither. We introduce supervised and unsupervised approaches to differentiating these questions. Our best model, a supervised RoBERTa model fine-tuned on our dataset, has a strong linear correlation of .76 with human expert labels and with positive educational outcomes, including math instruction quality and student achievement, showing the model’s potential for use in automated teacher feedback tools. Our unsupervised measures show significant but weaker correlations with human labels and outcomes, and they highlight interesting linguistic patterns of funneling and focusing questions. The high performance of the supervised measure indicates its promise for supporting teachers in their instruction.
In conversation, uptake happens when a speaker builds on the contribution of their interlocutor by, for example, acknowledging, repeating or reformulating what they have said. In education, teachers' uptake of student contributions has been linked to higher student achievement. Yet measuring and improving teachers' uptake at scale is challenging, as existing methods require expensive annotation by experts. We propose a framework for computationally measuring uptake, by (1) releasing a dataset of student-teacher exchanges extracted from US math classroom transcripts annotated for uptake by experts; (2) formalizing uptake as pointwise Jensen-Shannon Divergence (pJSD), estimated via next utterance classification; (3) conducting a linguistically-motivated comparison of different unsupervised measures and (4) correlating these measures with educational outcomes. We find that although repetition captures a significant part of uptake, pJSD outperforms repetition-based baselines, as it is capable of identifying a wider range of uptake phenomena like question answering and reformulation. We apply our uptake measure to three different educational datasets with outcome indicators. Unlike baseline measures, pJSD correlates significantly with instruction quality in all three, providing evidence for its generalizability and for its potential to serve as an automated professional development tool for teachers.