Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Secondary Education



Committee Chair

Dr. David Glassmeyer

First Committee Member

Dr. Nita Paris

Second Committee Member

Dr. Mei-Lin Chang


Productive struggle is a necessary and important part of mathematics learning, occurring when students engage, grapple, and make sense of mathematical ideas and relationships that are not yet apparent. Teachers play a vital role in creating and facilitating opportunities for student struggle, and frameworks have been developed to describe how students struggle in mathematics and how teachers typically respond. However, a better understanding of how teachers respond to students in different classes would help ensure all students are receiving the same opportunities to experience productive struggle. I used the existing frameworks of productive struggle and cognitive demand of tasks to characterize what an episode of struggle looks like in high school mathematics in terms of the type of task used, the student struggle, the teacher response, the outcome of the struggle, and the impact on cognitive demand. Analysis showed a statistically significant relationship existed between the productive struggle elements: struggle and response, struggle and outcome, response and outcome, response and cognitive demand, and the elements outcome and cognitive demand. For all teachers, probing guidance and affordance responses were more likely to lead to productive outcomes when compared to telling and directed guidance responses. Strong correlations were found between the response, outcome and cognitive demand variables. Interestingly, no statistically significant differences existed in the struggle, response, and outcome variables when comparing On-Level and Honors/AP teachers. The results of the study provide mathematics educators with important and relevant information about productive struggle, the impact of specific responses, and how equal opportunities are being given to all students.