Developing gendered identities of exclusion and inclusion in mathematics. Yvette Solomon Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University, UK [email protected] The issue.
Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University, UK
“A classroom, and indeed every human community, is an individual at its own scale of organization. It has a unique historical trajectory, a unique development through time. But like every such individual on every scale, it is also in some respects typical of its kind. That typicality reflects its participation in still larger-scale, longer-term, more slowly changing processes that shape not only its development but also that of others of its type.” (Lemke, 2000 p. 278)
Lemke asks: ‘how do moments become lives?’ – I will ask: ‘how do mathematical moments become mathematical lives?
I wanted to explore how individual relationships with mathematics develop in terms of the dynamics of emerging pupil identities and their interaction with classroom cultures. I asked them about:
… everybody is just better at something different and understands different things …you’d have to get [weaker students] to listen more and try and take part more in group activities and concentrate a bit better [but] … there’s a lot of people can, do pay loads of attention and still can’t do it.
[Did you feel anxious about the SATS?] Slightly, because in some of the practice papers we did every now and again I’d get a paper that we’d do and I’d do quite well and then other times I got a low mark … it depended on the questions and what type of questions I got as to what level I would get. ... I found the paper really hard … but it was like the luck of the draw with what paper.
I think girls are usually a lot better at a lot of mental things than boys are but when you look at all the chess champions and intellectual champions they’re always boys. … And like there’s, it sounds very, very sexist but there’s hardly a girl amongst the intellectual ranks of the world.
I think the boys aren’t usually afraid to put their hands up and the girls will usually sit there quiet but… the girls tend to just sit there and watch. …. I’m like that though, I don’t like putting my hand up that much [because you’re worried about looking stupid or … what?] yeah, that’s it basically … they’re always joking about looking silly anyway so it doesn’t usually matter as much to them.
Maths has got straight answers and [in] English there’s lots of different answers that you can get but maths is simple and there’s only one right answer so I think it’s simple in that way.
Maths is like a lot more … complicated thinking than … science or English because… well, in English there’s only a few … sentences and things like that, whereas maths is a whole … different thing and a whole variety of things to be introduced to… I think there’s lots of different subjects but in the subjects there are lots of different things that … come back together. So one subject, say algebra, there’s actually different topics in that … range but they … somehow fit in together.
I think it’s a bit hard sometimes because if you don’t understand a lot of it it’s a bit embarrassing sometimes if you put your hand up and say “I don’t get it”… If we have a test and everyone else gets a higher level than me I do feel a bit … embarrassed.
I’m quite a strong mathematician, probably because I like working out things.
I am gifted and talented …. I approach maths in a very different way to a lot of people. I do it, I tend to use more tricky methods which doesn’t always work out right but that’s how I like to do it… I don’t usually like conform to what the teachers say to do because I’ll do what I want.
… it’s just the rate of work when we were all mixed. Probably a bit of natural talent as well because some people can just see the answer in their head so if they can just look at it and work it out it saves a lot of time … because you’ve got to be born - some people are good at English, some people are good at maths.
Boys just scribble it down and I don’t think they really care what happens with it … “try and get more done”, quantity not quality.… there is more lads than lasses that go faster and … the hand writing is dead scruffy and you can’t read it. But they go dead fast.
… I can understand how it works and I can see how it works and when I take time and think about it and look at it I can see it and I can do it right and correctly. … Whereas [others] … might be thinking “Oh, what’s this?” and I’m … “Oh yeah, I’ve done something a bit like this so I can use that knowledge to help me with this”, and then maybe the two things actually combine together to make a different thing….
.. we do more of little bits of more things whereas the people who are lower down do more things with little bits so they don’t see as much .. we sort of see it, we sort of see all the maths problems and how they connect to each other and we understand it more.
Michael (Year 9, top set): the top set
[The teacher’s role is] mainly just trying to explain things…. Once we get rolling we’re usually quite independent and … we’ll run it through her just to make sure she thinks we’ve gone about the right way of doing it. But that’s about it really …. I only ask her as a last resort. I usually ask the people around me first.
Georgia (Year 9, top set):
It won’t be the same as anybody else’s idea. You get to add a part of you into the project ….you’re using what you already know and then adding some bits that maybe you didn’t know with the teacher’s help or whatever. … If you don’t understand something you can try and connect it to something else that you do understand which might make it easier for you to get better at it.Top set relationships with teachers: teacher as resource
I want to be a truck driver so I’ve got to see how many hours I’ve done. And then you’ve got to try and get, work out the exact mileage and everything. …When I go with my dad and my mum shopping, like buying stuff and it’s seventeen point five per cent, they might need to work it out before they go up and buy it…
The teachers say you’ll need maths when you’re older. But you’re not going to need simultaneous equations or graphs when you’re older unless like you’re an accountant or something. ... You’re not going to need to know all this. But I think it’s just to prove how clever you are sort of thing.
You want to get to the lesson and just get into it … and you’re wanting to find more than other people
I didn’t hardly speak at all, I did a lot of work in that [And what was the end point?] There were lots of different ways [pause] can’t quite remember [What was your target?] As many as possible and trying different grids and how many different, enlarging the grids [Did you actually generate any kind of formula for how things related to each other?] No I don’t think so. [So what did you learn maths-wise?] Puzzles sort of thing [pause] [Is there anything you’ve learnt from it that you’d be able to apply next time?] [pause] I don’t think so, no.
If we’ve got the right idea but don’t get the right answer, they don’t tell us off, still like, at least we’ve tried.
It depends if you want to do it or not … if you choose to do it you enjoy it more because it’s what you want to do. But if you don’t chose it and you get forced to do it then it’s different. I don’t like my teacher this year … … we do pointless things all the time, I know I’ve said it’s pointless but we really do. We sit there and we have to draw triangles, whereas last year we were really working hard.
The teachers tend to show the hard way a lot of the time. They do show you an easier way but only briefly because they just want you to do the complicated way so you probably can pick up more marks or something.
Maths, I don’t really like it because I don’t see the point of it. I like … I don’t know… Like when we’re doing work, all the algebra things, I think “what is x and what is n? Why are we trying to make that y, what’s that all about?”. I can’t understand why I’m doing it so I can’t really understand how to do it.
‘I’m quite good’
‘I’m above average’
You know, Harry’s a very good mathematician so his [coursework] is really good. … he is more advanced, he knows more things that we have to do … in tests he can take the formulas out of the front of the paper and put them to the questions and some of them I don’t know what to do with them.
‘Some people really aren’t … as good. Some people can’t learn as much.’