A Jaworskian analysis of four senior class primary teachers endeavouring to teach mathematics from a constructivist-compatible perspective

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McCarthy, Joseph
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University College Cork
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A constructivist philosophy underlies the Irish primary mathematics curriculum. As constructivism is a theory of learning its implications for teaching need to be addressed. This study explores the experiences of four senior class primary teachers as they endeavour to teach mathematics from a constructivist-compatible perspective with primary school children in Ireland over a school-year period. Such a perspective implies that children should take ownership of their learning while working in groups on tasks which challenge them at their zone of proximal development. The key question on which the research is based is: to what extent will an exposure to constructivism and its implications for the classroom impact on teaching practices within the senior primary mathematics classroom in both the short and longer term? Although several perspectives on constructivism have evolved (von Glaserfeld (1995), Cobb and Yackel (1996), Ernest (1991,1998)), it is the synthesis of the emergent perspective which becomes pivotal to the Irish primary mathematics curriculum. Tracking the development of four primary teachers in a professional learning initiative involving constructivist-compatible approaches necessitated the use of Borko’s (2004) Phase 1 research methodology to account for the evolution in teachers’ understanding of constructivism. Teachers’ and pupils’ viewpoints were recorded using both audio and video technology. Teachers were interviewed at the beginning and end of the project and also one year on to ascertain how their views had evolved. Pupils were interviewed at the end of the project only. The data were analysed from a Jaworskian perspective i.e. using the categories of her Teaching Triad of management of learning, mathematical challenge and sensitivity to students. Management of learning concerns how the teacher organises her classroom to maximise learning opportunities for pupils. Mathematical challenge is reminiscent of the Vygotskian (1978) construct of the zone of proximal development. Sensitivity to students involves a consciousness on the part of the teacher as to how pupils are progressing with a mathematical task and whether or not to intervene to scaffold their learning. Through this analysis a synthesis of the teachers’ interpretations of constructivist philosophy with concomitant implications for theory, policy and practice emerges. The study identifies strategies for teachers wishing to adopt a constructivist-compatible approach to their work. Like O’Shea (2009) it also highlights the likely difficulties to be experienced by such teachers as they move from utilising teacher-dominated methods of teaching mathematics to ones in which pupils have more ownership over their learning.
Jaworskian analysis , Irish senior primary mathematics programme , Constructivist-compatible pedagogies
McCarthy, J. 2016. A Jaworskian analysis of four senior class primary teachers endeavouring to teach mathematics from a constructivist-compatible perspective. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.