Something of Interest

This came up in my regular email alert from the online Curriculum Leadership Journal:

An interpretive scheme for analysing the identities that students develop in mathematics classes

Volume 40 Number 1, January 2009; Pages 40–67
Paul Cobb, Melissa Gresalfi, Lynn Liao Hodge


The ways that students relate to mathematics can affect their interest and persistence in mathematics learning. Analysis of the identities that students develop in mathematics classrooms can therefore help inform class design and pedagogical approaches. The article reports on a study that has used an identify framework to analyse the classroom-based mathematics identities of middle-school students enrolled in both a regular algebra class and a collaborative, inquiry-based class, designed for this research. Students’ identities were measured in terms of normative identity, indicating how well they met class-wide norms of mathematical competence; and personal identity, the extent to which students identify with these classroom norms, for example whether they are actively engaged, merely cooperate, or openly resist the teacher. In the algebra class, authority was distributed to the teacher, who determined the methods students could use to solve tasks and was the judge of the legitimacy of their responses. Mathematical competence was constituted as the ability to use set processes to reach appropriate solutions. Interviews with students confirmed that they saw that their role was to take notes, ask clarifying questions, and demonstrate knowledge using processes legitimised by the teacher. Students’ responses indicated that they were merely cooperating with the classroom obligations, and were not developing a sense of affiliation with mathematics in this classroom: their sense of obligation remained directed toward the teacher rather than toward themselves. In contrast, authority in the inquiry-based class was distributed, as students and the teacher jointly determined the legitimacy of responses. Students had agency to select their own methods for developing and explaining analyses, and to challenge those of other students. Mathematical competence was demonstrated by students’ ability to justify their solutions. Students believed that their role was to justify and explain their reasoning, ask clarifying questions, and to explain reasons for disagreement with others’ results. Their positive evaluations of their obligations indicated that they were developing a sense of affiliation with mathematics in this classroom. Different approaches to mathematics teaching foster different learning identities, perceptions of competence, and affiliation with mathematics.


About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
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