Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Locating Praxis for Equity in Mathematics: Lessons from and for Professional Development

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Locating Praxis for Equity in Mathematics: Lessons from and for Professional Development

Article excerpt

Attention to issues of equity and diversity within mathematics education is an area of growing interest. For some, this interest grows out of an effort to understand gaps in achievement between historically underserved students (i.e., students of color, English learners, students of lower socioeconomic status [SES]) and their White, middle-class peers (Lubienski, 2008). For others, a focus on the achievement gap masks circumstances at the local level (e.g., access to courses and experienced teachers, procedurally focused instruction) that significantly affect school performance (Diversity in Mathematics Education [DIME], 2007; Gutierrez, 2008; Martin, 2006). Although there is a rich body of research on professional development (PD) within mathematics education that focuses on attending to student thinking (Carpenter, Fennema, Peterson, Chiang, & Loef, 1989; Franke et al., 2009; Kazemi & Franke, 2004; van Es & Sherin, 2010) and a separate but equally fertile body of literature on PD from multicultural education that address issues in attending to diverse learners (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001; Sleeter, 1997), literature that attends to both is emerging. In this article, we report on a study that contributes to this growing body of literature that considers PD focused on mathematics and equity (see, for example, Civil, 2002; Crockett & Buckley, 2009; Foote, 2010a; Weissglass, 1994).

Contributing to a lack of equity in schools is a sociocultural distance between the majority of teachers, more than 85% of whom are White and middle class (Howard, 1999), and the ever more diverse groups of students whom they teach. PD provides a vehicle for researchers to examine this gap in lived experiences between teacher and student (Foote, 2010b). Such a PD program was designed to provide elementary schoolteachers with an opportunity to examine their mathematics classrooms with an explicit focus on equity. Through reflections on readings, discussions, and the mathematical practices of a target student, teachers carved out a space in which to consider where change was needed to achieve equitable learning opportunities in mathematics. In designing the PD, our goal was to support teachers to make movement toward more equitable classroom practice by including attention to the sociocultural factors that affect the teaching and learning of mathematics: what we refer to as equitable mathematics pedagogy (Wager, 2008). In this article, we examine the location of teachers' call for change, how the choice of that site was connected to teachers' experiences and evolving identities, and what this connection implies for PD.

The Influence of Figured Worlds on Praxis

In the introduction to Journal for Teacher Education focus issue on PD (Whitcomb, Borko, & Liston, 2009), the editors identified five aspects of quality PD. Their vision incorporated PD that is (a) situated in the work of teaching, (b) focused on student thinking and learning, (c) supportive of professional learning communities, (d) sustainable and credible, and (e) research based and supported. The PD we studied incorporated all of these elements, and in this article, we direct attention to another element that we think warrants more attention in PD research: How consideration of what teachers bring to the PD shapes how they take up the change that the PD intends to support.

We draw on the constructs of praxis and figured worlds (Holland, Lachiotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998) to inform our thinking. As we progress through the discussion of our framing literature, we will explicate our use of these constructs.


In discussing actions teachers either took or envisioned in an effort to achieve greater equity in mathematics learning, we are referring to praxis. Aristotle defined praxis as a human activity directed at a particular end with a goal of realizing something worthwhile (Carr, 1995). Our definition goes beyond the Aristotelian view by adding a transformative component as used in critical race theory and critical pedagogy (Delgado & Stefancic, 2000; Freire, 2007). …

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