School mathematics registers in a context of low academic expectations

Abstract

We investigate the different school mathematical discourses that are made available for students who all share an unfavourable social and economical position and experiences of low achievement in primary school, and who have been streamed into three different ability groups at the very beginning of secondary school. Our investigation is built on the premise that schools distribute different forms of knowledge to different social groups and thus provide different opportunities to develop consciousness. We look at teacher–student interactions as expressions of social structure at the micro-level and as constituents of social structure on the macrolevel. Employing analytic tools from social semiotics, we carried out a register analysis of the school mathematical discourse in each stream. We found systematic differences and linked them to the work of Dowling (1998) on the construction of ability and its implications for social hierarchies. As a result, the upper of the three streams was freed from a discourse of low expectations, while such a discourse was reinforced for the lower stream. Finally, we will discuss our findings in relation to the contemporary debate about the role of mathematics education in social stratification.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    On social semiotic perspectives, e.g. Meaney (2005) and Morgan (1998); on effects of streaming on students’ identity, e.g. Boaler and Wiliam (2001) and Zevenbergen (2005); on effects of streaming on quality of instruction, e.g. Linchevski, Kutscher and Olivier (2011).

  2. 2.

    We have discussed the tensions between social semiotics and Dowling’s use of Saussurian linguistics in more detail in Straehler-Pohl and Gellert (2013).

  3. 3.

    The data corpus is larger (as we are also interested in the transition from primary to secondary schools). Similar videodata had been obtained from two other secondary schools in Barcelona as well as from three feeding primary schools. The focus on this particular school is due to the relatively low-achieving student intake of the school.

  4. 4.

    This happened several times during the three videotaped lessons.

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Acknowledgments

This study is conducted under the auspices of Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (grant EDU2009-07298) and Generalitat de Catalunya (BE-DGR 2010).

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Correspondence to Hauke Straehler-Pohl.

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Straehler-Pohl, H., Fernández, S., Gellert, U. et al. School mathematics registers in a context of low academic expectations. Educ Stud Math 85, 175–199 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-013-9503-5

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Keywords

  • Teacher expectations
  • Equity
  • Register
  • Access
  • Discourse
  • Mathematical knowledge
  • Social semiotics