Using prompts to empower learners: Exploring primary students’ attitudes towards enabling prompts when learning mathematics through problem solving

James Anthony Russo, Michael Minas, Travis Hewish, Jessie McCosh


Teaching mathematics through problem solving is central to contemporary approaches to mathematics instruction, whilst augmenting problem-solving tasks through enabling and extending prompts ensures that a diverse community of learners are provided with opportunities to be optimally challenged, supporting an inclusive classroom environment. However, it has been frequently assumed that teachers should determine when a student should access an enabling prompt, perhaps in part due to concerns that students might be reluctant to seek prompts themselves because of social stigma associated with help seeking. In this paper, we argue that getting students to access prompts of their own volition should be central to teaching mathematics in this manner. One hundred and thirty-two Year 3-6 students completed a questionnaire disclosing their attitudes towards enabling prompts in classroom environments where they were expected to access prompts themselves. Most students consistently reported that enabling prompts empowered them as learners, allowing them to both take responsibility for, and have success with, their mathematics learning. In particular, students valued being able to access prompts when they were stuck on a task, felt that prompts had the power to increase their understanding, and to approach mathematical tasks with more confidence. Students generally did not associate accessing enabling prompts with being ‘bad’ at mathematics and acknowledged that even strong mathematicians might use a prompt sometimes. There was almost no evidence of any stigma or embarrassment associated with accessing enabling prompts. The implication is that classroom teachers can rapidly establish a culture where students access enabling prompts themselves to support learning mathematics through problem solving. 


primary education; problem solving; challenging tasks; enabling prompts; instructional design; student attitudes; student autonomy

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