Mathematics Education: Exploring the Culture of Learning

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

7

Mathematics, social class and linguistic capital

An analysis of mathematics classroom interactions

Robyn Zevenbergen


Introduction

The role of classroom interactions in the construction of mathematical meaning has been well documented, particularly by those working in the area of constructivism. This body of literature has been powerful in illuminating the role and importance of interaction in the negotiation and development of mathematical meaning. What is less researched is the political dimension of such interactions whereby the competencies needed to participate effectively, as determined by the hegemonic culture embedded with such interactional practices, are closely aligned to the social background of the students. This chapter seeks to explore one aspect of interactional patterns in mathematics classrooms in terms of the social milieu within which such interactions occur and the subsequent potential for students to participate effectively within such contexts. In so doing, my purpose is to raise awareness of how some pedagogical practices can be socially biased in order that they may be identified as contributing to the successful (or failed) participation in classroom dialogue. As a consequence of this analysis, some of the apolitical assumptions that have been built into the constructivist writings may also be challenged.

Using the theoretical constructs offered by Pierre Bourdieu, this chapter critically analyses the three-phase interactional practices offered by ethnomethodologists in order to understand how the social context of mathematics is implicated in the construction of social disadvantage. In so doing, the purpose of the chapter seeks to raise awareness of how some students are (further) disadvantaged through the practices of classroom interactions that are often taken as normal within the everyday life of the classroom. The focus of this chapter is on practices within the primary school setting and draws on the theoretical constructs of habitus, cultural capital, and field.

It is argued that students enter the school context with a linguistic habitus that predisposes students to interact and talk in ways that will be recognised or marginalised in and through the pedagogic practices of the classroom. Where students enter the classroom with a linguistic habitus congruous with the legitimate linguistic practices of the classroom, such habitus becomes a form of capital that can be exchanged for academic success.

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