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Abstract

My dissertation examines how experiencing heightened pressure during conceptual mathematics instruction impacts children’s mathematics learning and engagement. Classrooms can be stressful places for many students, with the pressures of children’s larger socio-cultural contexts often taking shape in everyday interactions. In the current educational landscape, many students feel a great deal of pressure at school and may also worry that their academic abilities will be judged based on negative stereotypes, a phenomenon often referred to as stereotype threat (see Steele & Aronson, 1995). These pressures can be especially pronounced in the mathematics classroom: a “high stakes” subject area in which stereotypes remain highly salient. In a series of classroom-based experiments, I compare impacts of two different but sometimes co-occurring sources of pressure that many students experience in the mathematics classroom: stereotype threat (pressure from increased salience of a self-relevant negative stereotype, and the potential of being judged stereotypically) and evaluative performance pressure (pressure from the possibility of obtaining or losing an incentive). While both sources of pressure can increase anxiety, they differ in the extent to which identity is implicated and threatened. Although most prior research on pressure and academic achievement has focused exclusively on testing situations, findings from these experiments indicate that the role of pressure in shaping academic achievement extends beyond impacts on test performance to also shape initial knowledge acquisition. Impacts of pressure on student learning depended on both the pressure source and student characteristics.

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