Mathematics Education: Exploring the Culture of Learning

By Barbara Allen; Sue Johnston-Wilder | Go to book overview

3

Learners as authors in the mathematics classroom
Hilary Povey and Leone Burton with Corinne Angier and Mark Boylan
Introduction
In this chapter we explore authoring as the means through which a learner acquires facility in using community-validated mathematical knowledge and skills. As an author, the learner uses his or her mathematical voice to enquire, interrogate and reflect upon what is being learned and how. What does it mean to say that a learner of mathematics is an author? For the majority of classrooms, authorship appears to be vested in the mathematicians who determine what is to be learned, and the texts through which that mathematics is conveyed. We believe that such a view ignores what is known about the process of coming to know, which, far from being one of cultural transmission, is necessarily one of interpretation and meaning negotiation in the context of current personal 'knowing' as well as knowledge situated in the community. This we believe to be a lifelong struggle to accord meanings to the narratives that describe the personal, the socio-cultural and, inevitably, the political. Without such meanings, it is difficult to make sense of why so many people fail in, or discard, their attempts to learn mathematics and, in particular, why so many of these unsuccessful learners are predominantly found in particular communities.This leads us to ask three questions, which will guide the development of this chapter.
• How does characterising mathematics learners as authors help us to uncover what might be liberatory discursive practices in the classroom?
To answer this question, we invoke models of different ways of coming to know in order to allow us better to theorise the learning of mathematics as located within pedagogical practices that support critical mathematics education.
• In what ways does understanding mathematics as narrative help to change the classroom experiences of learners?

We explain our understanding of mathematics as a socio-cultural artefact similar to language. Any particular 'piece' of mathematics can then be located, spatially and in time, and be 'understood' within its cultural context. One outcome of this approach is to take away some of the mysticism and power of mathematics and to relocate respect to the learners, as well as those who have discovered or invented the culturally powerful tools and knowledge.

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