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Constructing and resisting disability in mathematics classrooms: a case study exploring the impact of different pedagogies

Abstract

This study demonstrates the importance of a critical lens on disability in mathematics educational research. This ethnographic and interview study investigated how ability and disability were constructed over 1 year in a middle school mathematics classroom. Children participated in two kinds of mathematical pedagogy that positioned children differently: procedural and discussion-based. These practices shifted over time, as the teacher increasingly focused on memorization of procedures to prepare for state testing. Two Latino/a children with learning disabilities, Ana and Luis, used multiple cultural practices as resources, mixing and remixing their engagement in and identifications with mathematics. Ana, though mastering the procedural performances necessary for success in the second half of the year, authored herself as separate from mathematics, creating distance between herself and those she considered “smarties.” Luis was identified as a creative mathematical problem-solver and was initially positioned as a “top” mathematics student. As the pedagogy shifted towards memorization, Luis resisted the pedagogy of procedures and continued to identify as a creative thinker in mathematics. Yet, his teachers saw him as increasingly disabled and eventually placed him in a group only for those in special education. This group, which Luis named the “unsmartest group,” was seen as least competent in mathematics by both teachers and students. The narratives of Luis and Ana highlight mathematics classrooms as relational and emotional and demonstrate different strategies of resistance to the construction of mathematical disability.

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Acknowledgments

The research reported was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under grant no. REC-0447542. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

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Correspondence to Rachel Lambert.

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Lambert, R. Constructing and resisting disability in mathematics classrooms: a case study exploring the impact of different pedagogies. Educ Stud Math 89, 1–18 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-014-9587-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-014-9587-6

Keywords

  • Disability studies
  • Special education
  • Identity
  • Equity
  • Urban schools
  • Learning disability