Mathematics Education: Exploring the Culture of Learning

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

14

Pupils' perspectives on learning mathematics

Barbara Allen


Introduction

There have been numerous changes in UK schools over recent years. These changes include the introduction of statutory testing, the system of inspecting schools under the auspices of the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) and the Framework for Teaching Mathematics. However, despite being a time of immense change in schools, there has been relatively little consideration of pupils' experiences.

In this chapter I attempt to redress that balance by reporting on pupil perspectives on their own learning experiences, and the impact this has on the way pupils view themselves as learners. Significant learner experiences are found to relate to three aspects of schooling: setting, assessment and rewards. Implications of these findings for learning mathematics are discussed.

In any social situation people tend to behave in ways that are appropriate for that culture. In the culture of the classroom the type of behaviour that is generally valued is that which conforms with learning expectations and discourages disruption. How pupils' behaviour and achievement are perceived by their teachers and peers in the classroom has an impact on the way they view themselves as learners of mathematics.

The way that pupils are perceived within a classroom depends on their positional identity. Positional identity is a term coined by anthropologists Holland et al. (2001) and refers to the way people understand and act out their position within a community. Pupils' positional identities are formed in response to how they participate in classroom activities and how that participation is seen by themselves and others.

But how do pupils become positioned as successful or unsuccessful learners? What are the issues that have value within the classroom that have an impact on their positional identity?


The study

The research reported here was part of a larger study that was concerned with exploring pupils' perspectives on their mathematics classrooms. Although I used a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection, each meeting with the pupils included a semi-structured interview. These interviews were carried out with small groups of pupils, usually in twos or threes. Over five terms I interviewed 18

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