My grad school advisor keeps telling me that I need to write more about my thoughts and observations in the classroom for my action research project. I figure I might as well multi-task here and just blog about my research along the way.

We are now a month into the new school year, but I collected some data from them during the first week that I never had time to analyze and write about. There are some interesting (but not all that surprising) things that I found. First, I gave them a journal prompt that asked:

In math class, what is the role of the teacher and what is the role of the student?

Of my 72 students, 79% identified the teacher as the authority (status and epistemic), the student as passive recipient, and/or the role of school as knowledge transmission. Here are some of their responses:

Role of Teacher

All of the following are pieces of direct quotes from students:
Grade the work
Impart knowledge on the students
Teach the material
Share their knowledge
Teach clearly
Help solve problems and do them over and over again
Pass on knowledge
Teach math concepts so they are simple and easy to understand
Show examples of a problem
Teach students how to do the assigned work
Give and deliver information

Role of Student

All of the following are pieces of direct quotes from students:
Listen to the teacher
Take all the knowledge the teachers have to offer
Learn from the teacher
Take notes
Do worksheets
Pay attention
Study diligently
Be quiet
Absorb the knowledge
Absorb information
Learns what the teacher teaches

To be honest, this wasn't surprising...but it is alarming. It's alarming because the way in which we teach math inevitably (and implicitly) simultaneously teaches students things about themselves as mathematicians. Here is the evidence (responses from beginning of the year survey):
80% of my students think they can't do a math problem unless I tell them how to do it first...
85% think they need to memorize things...
and about half of them don't think they can create mathematical ideas, formulas, and rules.

All of this is further support that, as I cited in my research proposal (bold added for discussion here):

1. "our classrooms are the primary experiences from which students abstract both their definition of mathematics (Schoenfeld, 1994) and their sense of self as an active participant in the authoring of mathematics (Lawler, 2010)."

2. "Identity is a model for self-direction and, as a result, a possibility for mediating agency (Holland et al., 1998). Many students have established their identity as receivers of knowledge, with no active role in creating or critiquing mathematical claims. As a result, their sense of agency is surrendered. Research supports the view that such environments cause students to surrender their sense of thought and agency in order to comply with the procedural routines outlined by the teacher/authority figure (Boaler, 2000). Signs of this include negative attitudes towards math, lack of connected knowing, and the belief that mathematics is absorbed rather than created."

I'm interested in the idea of agency (mathematical and otherwise). I'm interested in the hidden curriculum in our classes and how it impacts students' definition of math, students' formation of self, the mediation (or perpetuation) of status/race/economic/power issues, and the recognition of their own ways of thinking and being mathematical in the world.


09/25/2012 7:15pm

Hi Bryan,

I hope you do a similar survey at the end of the year to see if attitudes shifted. Also would be interesting to break down responses by gender. Good luck!

09/25/2012 7:27pm

I can't say that I am surprised by the results. Like Frank said, you should do this again to see if your students' attitudes have changed.
Here's another idea. Give this same survey to random math teachers. I bet you would see similar results.

09/25/2012 7:32pm

The simplicity of these questions and profoundness of the attitudes about learning that they reveal stand in stark contrast to one another. I'm very likely to use these in my physics classes and I'm certain I'll share them with our math department.

09/25/2012 7:55pm

Man. I need to do a survey like this with my students. If they feel the same way (and so far I get the idea that they do) then there are some serious miscommunications going on between my idea of classroom roles and their ideas.

09/26/2012 9:59am

These results do not surprise me unfortunately, and I very much suspect the same kind of results would hold true in my school as well.

Would you mind publishing your form as a template (it looks like you are using Google Forms?) and then sharing the link to the template for us? I think it would be interesting to share results.

09/26/2012 10:57am

What grade level is this?

I'll ask this question of my community college students too, and post their answers. Good way to make these assumptions conscious. Thanks.

09/26/2012 12:43pm

I definitely will be revisiting the survey and journal questions at the end of my research period (which is a few months before the end of the school year). It will be interesting to see how/if things change for them. At the same time, this is a huge issue that has very much to do with things outside of our individual classrooms. There is an unspoken belief here about the nature of schooling, a definition of mathematics, and student beliefs about themselves. Many of these things are culturally/historically defined and are rather difficult to unravel...particularly in one year.

I'm not sure I know how to do that. How would I share it as a template? I'd be happy to try if you can give me some guidance.

These are 10th graders. I would love to know what your college students say. I am also interested in Nathan's idea about surveying math teachers.

Stacey Caillier
10/02/2012 10:33am

Who is this crazy advisor anyway?

This is really fantastic. I'm struck by the questions you asked them (and your beautiful graphs) and eager to see if/how their responses shift over the year. I also love how you unpacked their responses to the role of the teacher and the student (it would be fascinating to dump all of their open-ended responses into a wordle and see which words jump out and which recede). The mix of their words and their responses to your ranking questions is powerful!

Keep writing<; It's awesome!

10/15/2012 6:26pm

I'm curious: Did you create your survey questions yourself or borrow them from something already developed? From Schoenfeld's <i>Explorations of students’ mathematical beliefs and behavior</i> (1989), perhaps? Or something else?

Bryan S Meyer
10/15/2012 7:10pm

I drafted these myself but they were unavoidably influenced by much of my reading from Schoenfeld, Boaler, and others. Did Schoenfeld ask similar questions?


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