Teaching Strategies for Building Student Persistence on Challenging Tasks: Insights Emerging from Two Approaches to Teacher Professional Learning


  • Doug Clarke Australian Catholic University
  • Anne Roche Australian Catholic University
  • Jill Cheeseman Monash University
  • Stephanie van der Schans St James Catholic College, Cygnet



In recent years, the mathematics education research community has given increased focus to the use of cognitively demanding, challenging tasks and the demands placed on students and teachers by their use. In particular, there is evidence that a major issue is students' lack of persistence when working on such tasks. In this article, we report on two approaches to teacher professional learning in which the use of challenging tasks was the focus. In the first case, two full days of professional learning were followed by the opportunity to teach up to ten challenging tasks. In the second case, teachers observed three lessons built around challenging tasks taught by members of the project team. In both cases, teachers completed questionnaires about their perceptions of promising strategies for encouraging persistence on challenging tasks, prior to any professional learning input and following the teaching of the tasks and the observation of the lessons, respectively. Both groups also participated in focus group discussions about their experiences and insights that had emerged. Data from written responses and focus group discussions were analysed for themes. There was considerable similarity in teachers' suggestions prior to the two professional learning experiences, but also interesting differences afterwards. In this paper, we describe the professional learning approaches, illustrate the kinds of tasks involved, and discuss similarities and differences in the data within and between the two groups of teachers. We also discuss affordances and limitations of the two professional learning approaches.