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“Shh!”: Shifting discourse patterns and techniques of surveillance in middle-school mathematics classrooms

Abstract

The growing body of empirical studies on discourse in mathematics education have drawn on, broadly, sociocultural or situated views of learning but do not make issues of power central and/or explicit. For this reason, then, we situate the present analysis within the intersection of two bodies of literature: professional development focused on mathematics classroom discourse and Foucauldian analyses of power relations. In our poststructural analysis of a mathematics classroom, we interrogate the use of surveillance and its relation to meaningful mathematical discourse. Using Foucault’s techniques of surveillance and modalities of power, we analyze videos from one teacher-researcher’s (TR) classroom at two snapshots in time to answer the questions: What happens to a mathematics TR’s use of teacher discourse moves (TDMs) and surveillance practices across three years of doing action research on their classroom discourse? and How might we know whether these TDMs are doing ‘good’ things in the classrooms? Our findings show the complex ways that a TR’s work on classroom discourse is intertwined with modes of power and techniques of surveillance. First, we found that shushing and silencing, normalized as a part of teaching, decreases when a teacher positively values the use of (mathematical) language by students. This decrease in shushing and silencing details what we understand to be ‘the good’ and constitutes the primary finding of this study as we seek to expand what is understood by enhancing student language: an overall increase in language use by students and an overall increase in their use of mathematical language.

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Notes

  1. This material is based upon work done while Beth Herbel-Eisenmann was serving at the National Science Foundation. Any opinion, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

  2. We use the teacher-researcher’s name with her permission.

  3. We use Beth’s name to recognize that this is her brief re-telling of this story. We do not claim that the TRs, graduate students, or others involved would agree with or tell the same story. Additionally, we use the word with teachers to highlight our commitment to do scholarship with and alongside partners as opposed to on them. This research was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation [(NSF), Grant No. 0347906]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

  4. The research reported in this article was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation [NSF], Award #0918117. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

  5. This quote of Foucault comes from a personal correspondence between Foucault and Dreyfus & Rabinow included on page 187 of their book Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. We include the citation in square brackets since Hardy accidentally cited this as (Foucault & Deleuze, 1972, p. 208) and we merely wish to provide the corrected citation for our readers.

  6. The idea to call a grouping of studies “reconceptualist” was building on curriculum studies who used this term to identify work that had the goal “to critique the ideologies of the individual and the group that were being promoted by conservative, liberal, and radical groups and to bring them forward for deliberation and transformation” (Grumet 1989, p. 13). This particular group of curriculum theorists tended to draw on critical, poststructuralist, psychoanalytic, and phenomenological traditions and later, feminist theories. In retrospect, Beth sees this as a missed opportunity in that review because of the important and different contributions these various studies have made.

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Acknowledgement

We recognize and thank all of our teacher-researcher-partners and, Laurie, in particular, for her collaboration and time. We also thank Gabriele Kaiser and three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback and insights.

Funding

This research was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation [(NSF), Grant No. 0347906]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

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Correspondence to Christopher H. Dubbs.

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Dubbs, C.H., Herbel-Eisenmann, B. “Shh!”: Shifting discourse patterns and techniques of surveillance in middle-school mathematics classrooms. ZDM Mathematics Education 53, 449–460 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11858-021-01243-4

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Keywords

  • Audit
  • Discourse
  • Foucault
  • Gaze
  • Power relations
  • Professional development
  • Surveillance
  • Teacher discourse moves