Gresalfi on Dispositions

I finished an article by M. Gresalfi on dispositions in mathematics classrooms. She studies four students, two of whom had a teacher who expected, modeled, and continually promoted group collaboration in approaching mathematics, and two of who had a teacher who did not, but focused instead on the individual.  Gresalfi examines how the students’ dispositions changed over the course of the year. She writes this about dispositions: “…[S]tudents’ characteristic ways of engaging with subject matter are the result of complex interactions between themselves, content, and others in a particular activity system that shapes what students are able and willing to do together” (363).

Gresalfi makes these claims:

  • Dispositions are not merely traits of individuals, but are also not simply determined by classroom practice. The classroom system can shape students’ dispositions, but their histories have already shaped their initial dispositions, which can be seen in their sensitivity to or uptake of opportunities (p. 347).
  • Dispositions are not fixed but can shift over the course of the school year.
  • Particular classroom practices seem to make it more likely that students’ dispositions will develop in positive ways. “…[I]ndividual participation, small group work, and teacher interventions conjointly shape productive dispositions and students’ opprotunity to learn” (362).

These findings help me remember that dispositions are malleable, which also makes them fit better in a model of learning than if they were fixed, unalterable traits.


Gresalfi, M. S. (2009). Taking up opportunities to learn: Constructing dispositions in mathematics classrooms. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 18(3): 327-369. doi:10.1080/10508400903013470.||D404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3.


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