Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 70, Issue 1, pp 49–70

Constructing competence: an analysis of student participation in the activity systems of mathematics classrooms

  • Melissa Gresalfi
  • Taylor Martin
  • Victoria Hand
  • James Greeno

DOI: 10.1007/s10649-008-9141-5

Cite this article as:
Gresalfi, M., Martin, T., Hand, V. et al. Educ Stud Math (2009) 70: 49. doi:10.1007/s10649-008-9141-5


This paper investigates the construction of systems of competence in two middle school mathematics classrooms. Drawing on analyses of discourse from videotaped classroom sessions, this paper documents the ways that agency and accountability were distributed in the classrooms through interactions between the teachers and students as they worked on mathematical content. In doing so, we problematize the assumption that competencies are simply attributes of individuals that can be externally defined. Instead, we propose a concept of individual competence as an attribute of a person's participation in an activity system such as a classroom. In this perspective, what counts as “competent” gets constructed in particular classrooms, and can therefore look very different from setting to setting. The implications of the ways that competence can be defined are discussed in terms of future research and equitable learning outcomes.


Classroom cultureDiscourse analysisCompetenceMiddle schoolUrban schools

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Gresalfi
    • 1
  • Taylor Martin
    • 2
  • Victoria Hand
    • 3
  • James Greeno
    • 4
  1. 1.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.University of TexasAustinUSA
  3. 3.University of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  4. 4.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA