Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

CARING MATHEMATICS INSTRUCTION: Middle School Students' and Teachers' Perspectives

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

CARING MATHEMATICS INSTRUCTION: Middle School Students' and Teachers' Perspectives

Article excerpt

Caring instruction has been shown to support students' engagement with and learning of academic content. Although previous research has shown that caring instruction matters, research is needed that illustrates the nature of caring instruction in a manner that is situated in relation to specific school subjects. Additionally, information about the caring instructional practices that middle grades students report may be illuminating for teachers who could then consider how to enact the sort of caring instructional practices that students might notice or value. The purpose of this article is to provide a framework representing caring instructional practices in middle school mathematics classrooms. This framework was developed through a qualitative analysis of teachers' and students' voices from four classrooms in Grades 6 through 8 based on interview data Results indicate that caring mathematics instruction involves four dimensions: teaching so that every student's learning matters, communicating high expectations for students, creating a welcoming and inviting classroom community, and engaging students in learning mathematics.

One of the characteristics of the middle school concept from its inception has been to provide a more caring, nurturing environment than has typically been the case in junior high schools (National Middle School Association, 2003). While care is usually associated with social and emotional development of adolescents, teachers can also support students' learning of mathematics and engagement with mathematics by enacting care for them. For instance, secondary school students report increased effort when they perceive that their teachers care for them (Muller, 2001; Stipek, 2006). Also, when at-risk students perceive that their teachers care for them, they perform better in mathematics compared to at-risk students who do not perceive that their teachers care for them (Muller, 2001). Noddings (2001) describes care as a basic need grounded in relationships, including relationships between students and teachers, and care involves reciprocity between the giver and receiver of care (Noddings, 1992). If care matters for students' learning of mathematics, what does caring instruction look like in middle school mathematics classrooms? How do students prefer to receive care and how do teachers intend to enact care in middle school mathe- matics classrooms?

The purpose of this study is to articulate a framework describing components of caring mathematics instruction as informed by both middle school mathematics teachers' and their students' voices. Researchers, such as ourselves, who attempt to capture the voices of participants through their work strive to allow their participants to speak for themselves rather than speaking about them, and these researchers also resist efforts to redescribe what the participants say to reflect researchers' own interests (Fielding, 2004). (In the case of this study, the participants' voices are captured through interview data.) Studies of students' voices on caring instruction are rarely situated in specific subject matter. Capturing both teachers' and students' voices to describe caring mathematics instruction as well as analyzing for similarities and differences between teachers' and students' conceptions, allows for constructing nuanced portrayals about the nature of care in mathematics classrooms. Additionally, this analysis affords the opportunity to consider the forms of care to which students and their teacher explicitly attend and the forms of care of which students are aware.

Perspectives on Care

We do not attempt to operationalism our own specific definition of caring mathematics instruction, because the purpose of this study was to investigate what caring meant to middle school mathematics students and teachers, as captured in their voices. However, to orient the reader and to frame our interpretation of our results, we share our general perspective on the construct of care: Along with Noddings (2005), we believe that the moral and social development of students is among a teacher's responsibilities. …

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