Monday 4 August 2014

How do maths/numeracy teachers contribute to YG learners lack of progress?

Heyd-Metzuymin is a maths teacher working with a class and conducting research.  One of her students particularly struggles with mathematics and is fairly typical of many YG learners (in my opinion).  This learner gets up frequently, fidgets regularly around in her bag, goes in and out of the classroom and talks 'at' other students loudly.  She also attempts to answer questions, (in a drama-queen type way), and generally takes over the class with her explanations.  She also has the wrong idea about almost everything all the time.

Now the article is exploring the notion of 'disabilities' and whether they are neurologically based or socially constructed.  I tend to sway more toward the social construction end of the continuum but do accept the role of neurological factors.

The teacher/researcher makes a good point about the way she herself treats her student.  Because the student (Dana) is such hard work the teacher limits the types of interaction she engages in with her.  She rarely asks her to explain her thinking, she never gives her harder work, she structures things for her and early on decided that lots of work on the basics was pretty much all they were going to cover.

Here is the problem:  The learner tacitly agrees to this.  It suits Dana fine.  From Dana's perspective, everytime she is asked to explain her thinking or describe something, she gets it wrong and ends up looking foolish in front of the teacher and fellow students.  So she is happy to just stick to the teachers plan also.

The interaction patterns between the two of them conforms to the 'instruction, question, answer' pattern.  In other words the teacher would explain a rule or process, Dana would ask a question and the teacher would evaluate Dana's contribution as right or wrong.  Then repeat, repeat, repeat...

This type of interaction never allows Dana to engage in the kind of discourse that will develop her mathematical thinking.  It is dull, boring and ultimately led to Dana making zero progress in the class. In other words it may not be Dana's disability that stops her learning but sociocultural factors that reduce her opportunities to 'act as a mathematician' and therefore forever be the passive learner.  (And to reinforce her identity as a person who is bad at maths)

Some learners are very difficult and you find that you position them in certain ways.  Our interactions with learners become 'routinized' and often they are not in the best interests of their education, but rather are an outcome of difficult personalities and classroom management styles.

Have you fallen into routinized patterns of interaction with any of your learners?  Is this in their best interests or simply a result of trying to make life easy?  And... does it make all the embedded numeracy in the world effectively useless?

Heyd-Metzuymin, E.  (2013). The co-construction of learning difficulties in mathematics -teacher- student interactions and their role in the development  of a disabled mathematical identity. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 83, 341-368.


  1. Yes. No. Yes. And possibly, but only if we are satisfied with teachers doing what they've always done in terms of their classroom behaviour.

    What Dana and the teacher both need is a radical disruption to their routinised activities. I'm not sure the system or people could handle it.

  2. Agreed. I started doing it with my teaching this year. That's why the article stood out for me - I saw myself in the teachers behaviours. And that's me knowing all about it but STILL falling into those patterns.

    Radical disruption is right.

    Scary though, because the routine gives us some semblance of security. Do we choose the poor and safe rather than the effective but risky. Probably.