How We Think

A Theory of Goal-Oriented Decision Making and its Educational Applications

by Alan H. Schoenfeld

Series: Studies in Mathematical Thinking and Learning Series

Teachers try to help their students learn. But why do they make the particular teaching choices they do? What resources do they draw upon? What accounts for the success or failure of their efforts? In How We Think, esteemed scholar and mathematician, Alan H. Schoenfeld, proposes a groundbreaking theory and model for how we think and act in the classroom and beyond. Based on thirty years of research on problem solving and teaching, Schoenfeld provides compelling evidence for a concrete approach that describes how teachers, and individuals more generally, navigate their way through in-the-moment decision-making in well-practiced domains. Applying his theoretical model to detailed representations and analyses of teachers at work as well as of professionals outside education, Schoenfeld argues that understanding and recognizing the goal-oriented patterns of our day to day decisions can help identify what makes effective or ineffective behavior in the classroom and beyond.

In The Press

"[It] constitutes an important scholarly contribution to our understanding of a key determinant to the quality of what takes place in the complex activity known as teaching and learning. In How We Think, Schoenfeld homes in on a facet of instructional practice that is central and yet invisible. The results are illuminating." --Teachers College Record

"How We Think is an important resource for mathematics education, as well as the decision making sciences…The book is highly recommended to anyone interested in self analyzing teaching practice, researching teacher practices, building a program of research, or simply interested in how we think. The moderate length of the book also facilitates it being accessible for semester long graduate seminars. Last but not least the appendices contain a wealth of real data with notes and URL’s for those interested in learning fine grained analysis of teaching data."—Journal for Research in Mathematics Education

"In-the-moment decision making is perhaps the most central activity of teaching; it is also one of the most elusive teaching activities to study.  How We Think presents an approach to modeling in-the-moment decision making as a function of the teacher’s goals, orientations, and resources, and invites the educational community to explore the use of this model as a tool for understanding and improving teaching. The product of over a decade of scholarship, it is a wonderful example of theory building through careful, detailed empirical analysis."--Hilda Borko, Professor of Education, Stanford University

"Alan H. Schoenfeld presents a general scheme for analyzing a person's activity in a dynamic environment by which he frames explanatory accounts of classroom mathematics teaching. There is much here that contributes to understanding important aspects of teaching and that shows how standard assumptions of psychological choice theory can be modified and extended to provide explanations of teaching."--James Greeno, Visiting Professor, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh

"Reading this book is a must for members of the mathematics education community, not only because of the standing of its author and his writing style, but also because of the issue it addresses which is at the core of today’s agenda: mathematics teaching and the need for theoretical frameworks to study it."—Abraham Arcavi, ZDM: The International Journal on Mathematics Education

About The Author

Alan H. Schoenfeld is the Elizabeth and Edward Conner Professor of Education and Affiliated Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley.