Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Laura R. Van Zoest

Second Advisor

Dr. Jon Davis

Third Advisor

Dr. Ok-Kyeong Kim

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Melissa D. Boston


Cognitive demand, MOST, building on student thinking


Maintaining high levels of cognitive demand during task enactments can improve student learning in classrooms. Influences such as teachers' beliefs about their students’ abilities, and the curriculum that a teacher uses can affect the factors that contribute to the maintenance of cognitive demand. My study adds to what we know about such influences by looking at how a teaching practice that builds on student thinking affects the factors that contribute to the maintenance of cognitive demand, by asking:

  1. What does the maintenance of cognitive demand look like when teachers are attempting to attend to student thinking during task enactment?
  2. How do factors contributing to the maintenance of cognitive demand vary when the same cognitively demanding task is enacted by different teachers in multiple classes?

To answer these questions, I looked at 24 videotaped enactments of two tasks (12 enactments of each task). These enactments came from six teachers who were engaging in the teaching practice of building. My videotaped task enactments were analyzed using the Instructional Quality Assessment (IQA) and the Reorganized Factors that Undermine or Keep Cognitive Demand (RUK). In addition to my videotaped data, I also analyzed survey and interview data from the participating teachers to help answer my research questions. These data were analyzed by comparing and contrasting the survey and interview responses to the results of applying the IQA and RUK to my videotaped data.

In regard to the first research question, I found that employing a teaching practice that attends to student thinking by building on it can improve the overall maintenance of cognitive demand by aiding some factors that maintain and minimizing other factors that lower cognitive demand during task enactments. Specifically, by implementing the building practice teachers offered a more appropriate amount of scaffolding than they otherwise would have. The building practice calls for teachers to draw out conceptual connections, and as a result there were more conceptual connections drawn out than has been found in previous work—an important part of maintaining cognitive demand. Finally, in order to make available the type of high leverage thinking that the building practice requires, teachers often focused their students on trying to understand misconceptions, and this helped to maintain the appropriateness of the task.

In regard to the second research question, I found that when the same tasks were enacted by different teachers or with different groups of students, the prominence of factors known to affect the maintenance of cognitive demand sometimes varied across enactments. Specifically, I found that offering the appropriate amount of time is highly task dependent, and that it can be affected by teachers focusing on other aspects of maintaining cognitive demand. I also found that allowing students enough time to make conceptual connections on their own is important for the maintenance of cognitive demand. Finally, I found that the number of solution strategies drawn out, as well as the order in which concrete and abstract strategies are presented, was associated with higher and lower levels of cognitive demand.

Overall, my findings showed that intentional use of a teaching practice can affect the maintenance of cognitive demand during task enactments. In light of this I provide some pathways for future research, including looking at the teaching practice of building in different lights, as well as looking at other teaching practices.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access