Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 129–151 | Cite as

Teachers’ conceptions of prior knowledge and the potential of a task in teaching practice

  • Hyung Sook LeeEmail author
  • Jacqueline Coomes
  • Jaehoon Yim


In this study, we specify teacher’s knowledge and beliefs that influence their enactment of mathematics tasks. The use of tasks in lessons requires teachers to consider students’ mathematical thinking and to know how to effectively implement tasks. Among the many aspects of teachers’ understanding of students and ability to implement tasks for learning, this study focuses on teachers’ knowledge and beliefs of students’ prior knowledge and the potential to develop new knowledge while solving mathematical tasks; we exemplify these knowledge and beliefs through the practices of three Algebra I teachers. Three distinct conceptions of prior knowledge and two conceptions of the potential of a task emerged. From combinations of these conceptions, we defined three types of teaching. Two types of teaching reduced potential new knowledge to the prior context, whereas one type of teaching promoted prior knowledge to develop new knowledge. In particular, the type of teaching we call “reviewing” explains why teachers repeat the way they taught a concept the first time. Our study suggests that it is important for teachers to conceive students’ prior knowledge as the knowledge to be developed and the task as having potential for developing new knowledge in order to teach for coherence.


Teacher knowledge Teacher conception Prior knowledge Mathematical potential of tasks Teaching practice Mathematical knowledge used in teaching 



This article is based on a professional development project funded by a Grant authorized under Title II Part A Subpart 3 and Title II Part B of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, administered at the federal level by the US Department of Education and at the state level by the Washington Student Achievement Council and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, respectively. These federal and state agencies are not responsible for statements made in the paper


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Eastern Washington UniversityCheneyUSA
  2. 2.Gyeongin National University of EducationIncheonKorea

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