Characteristics and Development of Students' Mathematical Identities

The Case of a Tanzanian Classroom

Doward V. Kilasi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph

Abstract

Students’ mathematical identity, referring to students’ context-based narratives about their mathematical self-perceptions, has recently received researchers’ increased attention in mathematics education because, as a construct, it offers a broader socially engaging perspective for analysing the role of these perceptions and socio-cultural factors that shape them. While previous studies have mostly examined students in ‘Western’ schools who do not vary greatly in their mathematical and socio-economic backgrounds compared to students in Tanzanian schools, this study focused on a Tanzanian mathematics classroom whose students varied greatly in these backgrounds. The study applied socio-cultural and socio-psychological perspectives to examine the features and development of these students’ mathematical identity. An ethnographic approach was used to collect and analyse data on the students’ mathematical identity and conditions affecting its development at home, in school, and in the classroom. Students’ narratives provided insights into context-specific features of mathematical identity and patterns of identity development. Also, observations of the school and mathematics classroom, review of official documents, and open-ended questionnaires generated data for contextualising students’ identity narratives.Data analysis resulted in multiple mathematical identities. While positive identities of Innate ability, Persistent effort, and Image-maintenance characterised students’ engagement in mathematical activities, the negative mathematical identity of Oppositional identity was accompanied by the students’ tendency to refrain from these activities.
The study further showed that each type of mathematical identity had a distinct pattern of mathematical experiences. Overall, positive mathematical identities were associated with more supportive previous mathematical experiences compared to the negative identity. Contextual factors such as teachers and parents positively or negatively shaped these experiences. The study suggests that teaching strategies that enable students to exercise their agency may not be enough to promote students’ mathematical identities. It is also important to understand how students have experienced mathematics and how they perceive their future relationship with mathematics, and support them accordingly.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Helsinki
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Hassi, Marja-Liisa, Supervisor, External person
  • Ilsley, Paul, Supervisor, External person
Award date16 Jun 2017
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Publisher
Print ISBNs978-951-51-3215-4
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-3216-1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2016
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Fields of Science

  • 516 Educational sciences

Cite this

Kilasi, Doward V.. / Characteristics and Development of Students' Mathematical Identities : The Case of a Tanzanian Classroom. Helsinki : University of Helsinki, 2016. 232 p.
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Characteristics and Development of Students' Mathematical Identities : The Case of a Tanzanian Classroom. / Kilasi, Doward V.

Helsinki : University of Helsinki, 2016. 232 p.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph

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T1 - Characteristics and Development of Students' Mathematical Identities

T2 - The Case of a Tanzanian Classroom

AU - Kilasi, Doward V.

PY - 2016/6/16

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N2 - Students’ mathematical identity, referring to students’ context-based narratives about their mathematical self-perceptions, has recently received researchers’ increased attention in mathematics education because, as a construct, it offers a broader socially engaging perspective for analysing the role of these perceptions and socio-cultural factors that shape them. While previous studies have mostly examined students in ‘Western’ schools who do not vary greatly in their mathematical and socio-economic backgrounds compared to students in Tanzanian schools, this study focused on a Tanzanian mathematics classroom whose students varied greatly in these backgrounds. The study applied socio-cultural and socio-psychological perspectives to examine the features and development of these students’ mathematical identity. An ethnographic approach was used to collect and analyse data on the students’ mathematical identity and conditions affecting its development at home, in school, and in the classroom. Students’ narratives provided insights into context-specific features of mathematical identity and patterns of identity development. Also, observations of the school and mathematics classroom, review of official documents, and open-ended questionnaires generated data for contextualising students’ identity narratives.Data analysis resulted in multiple mathematical identities. While positive identities of Innate ability, Persistent effort, and Image-maintenance characterised students’ engagement in mathematical activities, the negative mathematical identity of Oppositional identity was accompanied by the students’ tendency to refrain from these activities. The study further showed that each type of mathematical identity had a distinct pattern of mathematical experiences. Overall, positive mathematical identities were associated with more supportive previous mathematical experiences compared to the negative identity. Contextual factors such as teachers and parents positively or negatively shaped these experiences. The study suggests that teaching strategies that enable students to exercise their agency may not be enough to promote students’ mathematical identities. It is also important to understand how students have experienced mathematics and how they perceive their future relationship with mathematics, and support them accordingly.

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Kilasi DV. Characteristics and Development of Students' Mathematical Identities: The Case of a Tanzanian Classroom. Helsinki: University of Helsinki, 2016. 232 p. (Helsinki Studies in Education; 4).