Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 91, Issue 3, pp 327–348 | Cite as

Rituals and right answers: barriers and supports to autonomous activity

  • Marcy B. WoodEmail author


Student autonomy has been an important object of study for mathematics educators for many years. Over time, framings of autonomy have moved from a focus on the individual to considerations of how an individual’s autonomy is entangled in classroom-level interactions. What has been less closely studied is how classroom interactions provide uneven access to autonomy for individuals. This study uses a communicational perspective to clarify Piaget’s intellectual autonomy and examine students’ mathematical interactions. The findings describe barriers and supports to autonomous activity for three students. Students were prevented from engaging in autonomous activity when they were seen as less capable than others, when they felt the need to manage the activities of their peers, or when they focused on being seen as knowledgeable. In contrast, students acted with autonomy when they took up the teacher’s request for explanations, noticed a contrast between their answer and the right answer, and worked on making connections across different representations.


Communicational perspective Autonomy Discourse Classroom interactions Learning 


Compliance with ethical standards

There is no potential conflict of interest involving any material included in this manuscript. The research was conducted with approval from the Institutional Review Boards at Michigan State University and the University of Arizona. All participants who were minors voluntarily assented to their participation and a parent or legal guardian provided consent for their child’s participation. All adult participants voluntarily consented to their participation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Teaching, Learning, and Sociocultural StudiesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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