Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

African American Male Students' Perception of a Mathematics Learning Environment

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

African American Male Students' Perception of a Mathematics Learning Environment

Article excerpt


Findings from interview data support National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommendations for student discourse and classroom learning environment. In particular, results indicate that for these African American male students, student involvement and class participation, group work, and student discourse in the classroom are significant contributing factors to their understanding of school mathematics. These perceptions inform pedagogical considerations when seeking to improve the school mathematics achievement of all students.

Gaining Perspective

One of the most prominent problems in urban education in the United States today is that African American students, particularly males, have been categorically underserved by public schools (Murrell, 1994). The evidence of low mathematics achievement among African American students has been well documented for over 25 years (Anderson, 1990; Jencks, 1998). Comparatively, along the lines of race and gender, African American male students perform at the lowest rating of mathematical achievement. Yet, seemingly little progress has been made in understanding why and finding effective resolutions to the problem. Part of the problem stems from an insufficient and incomplete knowledge base about African American male students' development and socialization within the mathematics classroom (Murrell, 1994). Though the majority of research has addressed the mathematics achievement of African American learners from a pedagogical perspective, two areas of investigation are conspicuously lacking in the literature, research on mathematics achievement among African American male learners in secondary schools and research that includes the perspectives of the African American male learners themselves. Murrell posits that teachers cannot fully interpret the developmental learning of these students without an analysis and synthesis of the students' experiences with the curriculum and knowledge of how they position themselves in the culture of the classroom. As an educator, a crucial element of the educational process is what teachers can learn about their students from the students themselves.

Pedagogy that is intended to improve students' academic achievement needs to be informed by the students. Insight into the perceptions of the learners with regard to their mathematical experiences can prove beneficial in developing effective pedagogy for improved mathematics achievement. African American male students, in particular, are in need of effective pedagogy that will improve their school mathematics performance. The purpose of this article is to provide insights into the perceptions of five African American male high school students with respect to the learning environment and student discourse in their mathematics classrooms. Implications of these perceptions will be discussed in addressing how they inform pedagogical considerations in improving the mathematics achievement of African American male students.

Theoretical Framework

A major aspect of the constructivist response to improving students' mathematics understanding is the increase of their opportunity and ability to participate in mathematical discourse. Social interaction constitutes a crucial source of opportunities to learn mathematics in that the process of constructing mathematical knowledge involves cognitive conflict, reflection, and active cognitive reorganization (Piaget, 1970). Building upon Vygotsky's (1978, 1986) emphasis of the importance of social interaction in learning, Cobb and Yackel (1996) proposed a perspective called social constructivism that puts great emphasis on the processes of communicating and negotiating in communities. Their social constructivist perspective incorporates the constructivist and the sociocultural points of view. This emergent framework is used to study mathematical learning as it occurs within the social contexts of the classroom. …

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