Mary Kay Stein - Projects
Faculty - Associate Director LRDC

Teacher Learning to Enact Productive Discussions in Mathematics and Literacy

Jan 2018 - Dec 2023

Teacher Learning to Enact Productive Discussions in Mathematics and Literacy


Rigorous classroom discussions are clearly critical to student learning anda set of key teaching practices for setting up and orchestrating such discussion have been identified. But little is known about how teachers learn to enact these practices. In particular, in coaching contexts, we lack knowledge regarding how teacher thinking that is catalyzed in one setting (lesson planning and lesson debrief sessions) transfers, enables, or shapes teacher thinking during classroom instruction. The purpose of the proposed interdisciplinary work is to develop, iteratively refine, and test a cognitive framework that describes mechanisms by which teacher-coach interactions shape teachers’ uptake of discussion practices during lessons. We will begin our search for cognitive mechanisms with analogical reasoning, a highly-studied process that has proven to be central in meaning-making, schema-development, and transfer in various areas of professional case-based learning. Our research questions for teacher learning:

  1. Phase-1: What forms of analogy (or other cognitive mechanisms) appear to be at play during the coach-teacher interactions immediately preceding positive behavioral changes in classroom practices (i.e., observable uptake of the key practices in lesson videos)?
  2. Phase-2: How and to what extent can the identified mechanisms be embedded in tools and protocols and enacted by expert coaches and with what effect?
  3. Phase-3: How, under what conditions, and with what effects (on teacher- and coach-learning) are the above tools and protocols adapted by less-expert coaches across diverse contexts?

Principle Investigator:


Mary Kay Stein

Lindsay Clare Matsumura

Jennifer Russell

Richard Correnti

The Meta Study

Mar 2002 - Mar 2008
Mary Kay Stein, Principal Investigator
Cynthia Coburn, Co-Principal Investigator

Funded by the Spencer and MacArthur Foundations

The Meta Study is a systematic examination of education R&D initiatives that have successfully developed educational innovations and brought them to scale. We seek to learn from these projects how they have re-organized the relationship between research and proactice in productive and mutally beneficial ways. The projects that we are studying include LeTUS (an inquiry science project), the Middle School Mathematics Application Project, Success for All, the Institute for Learning, QUASAR (a mathematics reform project), the partnership among Education Matters, the Boston Plan for Excellence, and the Boston Public Schools, the National Writing Project, and Lesson Study.

Our goal is to move our understanding of the relationship between research and practice forward in three ways: First, by uncovering and making public new ways of combining research and practice, we expect to be able to contribute to their further development and improvement, as well as to make them learnable by others. Second, by analyzing and articulating the mechanisms by which these projects contribute to improvement, we expect to build on and extend conceptual understanding of the relationship between research and practice. Finally, by drawing on our findings, we expect to be able to make recommendations for specific changes in research and funding policy.

Scaling Up Mathematics

Jan 1, 2003 - Dec 31, 2007

Mary Kay Stein, Co-Principal Investigator
School of Education and Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh

Executive Summary

The competitive demands of the global economy in the 21st century require greater levels of mathematical skills and understanding among our nation’s children than ever before (NRC, 2001). Despite a plethora of promising mathematics programs, none have “gone to scale” to produce learning gains across the board for all students and schools. When brought to scale, many promising programs—regardless of subject matter—founder or fail to penetrate the core of classroom instruction (see, e.g., Berends, Bodilly, and Kirby, 2002; Cuban 1993; Elmore, 1996; Tyack & Cuban, 1995).
We believe that past approaches have failed because they are rooted—implicitly or explicitly—in overly simplistic ideas of what is required to take proven innovations to scale. We have developed a complex, theoretically driven model of the conditions necessary for successful scale-up of interventions. In our model, successful scale-up depends on the level of human and social capital fostered by districts and present in schools in interaction with the learning demands of the program being scaled.
Our study seeks to understand:
1. How human and social capital within the school interact to affect the breadth, depth and endurance of curricular implementation;
2. How the characteristics of the curriculum intervention moderate the relationship between human and social capital and curricular implementation;
3. How district strategies influence the human and social capital in schools via the structure and organization of professional development opportunities and curriculum roll-out strategy;
4. How the breadth, depth and endurance of implementation of a research-based curriculum ultimately influence student achievement.
To assess these questions, we examine the scale-up of two research-based elementary-level mathematics programs (Everyday Mathematics and Investigations) in two urban school districts. We use a quasi-experimental, nested, mixed method design to examine the conditions and factors that support and impede the successful large-scale implementation of promising programs as well as the changes in student achievement that ultimately result from implementation. The design leverages the multiple levels at which scale-up plays out (teacher, school, and district).
The study is unique in its integration of several distinct theoretical frameworks, resulting in a rich and rigorous assimilation of three inter-related areas: a) The human and social capital requirements needed to enhance teacher learning and classroom implementation, b) the structure (specificity and integrality) of the new curricula, and the associated demands they place upon teachers, and c) the policy decisions of district leaders in facilitating and enabling implementation and persistence of the new curricula. We have assembled an interdisciplinary team of researchers to undertake the study at the University of Pittsburgh and RAND including scholars of cognitive psychology, educational sociology, organizational behavior, human resource management, statistics, and public policy.
By examining the role of curriculum structure in relation to human and social capital, this study will begin to untangle the complex sets of processes that affect the potential of innovations to reach broadly, deeply, and be sustained over time. In so doing, it will offer guidance to policy makers concerned with providing districts and schools the strategies and resources needed to give teachers the personal skills, the social supports, and the curricula that will enhance their performance and ultimately promote the achievement of their students.
Mary Kay Stein


University of Pittsburgh
828 Learning Research and Development Center
3939 O'Hara Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260