WIDGETS AND DIGITS: A STUDY OF NOVICE MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHERS ATTENDING TO MATHEMATICS IDENTITY IN PRACTICE
Frank, Toya Jones
Clark, Lawrence M
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This is a study of novice middle-school mathematics teachers' attention to mathematics identity guided by three primary goals: (a) to understand how they were conceptualizing mathematics identity, (b) to investigate how they attended to mathematics identity in practice, and (c) to glean an understanding of the forces that they saw as influential in attending to mathematics identity. I explored how these teachers conceptualized mathematics identity and attended to it across four dimensions: ability, importance, motivation, and the nature of mathematical tasks. I used a metaphor of interlocking gears to represent how these four dimensions were interrelated. While each practicing novice teacher (PNT) conceptualized mathematics identity differently, they all viewed it through an ability lens, meaning their attention to mathematics identity was predicated upon how they positioned students as mathematically competent or incompetent. I used qualitative methods to highlight the perspectives and practices of three PNTs novice teachers who participated in an alternative certification program that prepared teachers to teach in a district with a long, documented history of low student achievement. I used Engeström's (1987, 1999, 2001) activity theory to explore how the elements of the teachers' activity systems promoted or impeded their attention to mathematics identity. I highlighted salient themes across all PNTs in a cross-case analysis. The teachers in the study attended to mathematics identity in various ways. I categorized these tools in three ways: (a) attention to mathematics identity via instruction, (b) attention to mathematics identity via planning, and (c) an emergent sociopolitical stance. I used the cases to provide illustrative examples of what attending to mathematics identity in each category looked like in practice. Across all of the PNTs, the rules at multiple levels (classroom, school, and district) that governed their activity systems were similar in nature. Their test-driven (Valli, Croninger, Chambliss, Graeber, & Buese, 2008) contexts shaped instructional decisions. At the classroom level, classroom management also proved to be a force that either supported or impeded the PNTs' attention to mathematics identity in practice. With the findings and analysis in mind, I present implications for teacher education, data collection, and theoretical considerations.