Theme 1: An Ethic of care

Caring classroom communities that are focused on mathematical goals help develop students’ mathematical identities.

The creation of non threatening mathematics learning environments and the cultivation of positive self concepts in mathematics are fundamental to the success and progress of all students, but particularly for those most at risk. Students operate at their best in an environment of trust. They feel it is safe to ask questions, to take risks, and to share ideas when the responses from their peers and the teacher are honest, constructive and without judgment. Students must also sense a growth not only in their own mathematics capability but also in their ability to achieve realistic expectations with increasing independence.

Descriptions of the co-construction with the students of inclusive, respectful and focused mathematics learning communities can be found in the following stories which describe the development of both mathematics competencies and identities.

     

Exemplars:

If we believe that teachers make the difference I knew that it was important that both sessions were held in my classroom where I have a maths corner. This would allow them to realise that maths is important and that I care for their well-being in the sessions. The sessions were held at regular times and the children in both the groups’ eagerness to come and get ready for each lesson was quite impressive. The older group in general was children behind the level expected but it was great to know that they felt included and valued throughout the lesson. Confidence increased. This was very evident when we, teacher and the group, returned to their own class and taught a group of their mates some of the activities. And boy did they shine!!! Perseverance for problem solving became evident and their support for each other when things got a bit challenging was pleasing to note.
There was a very noticeable change in their attitude straight away. I believe they felt ‘safe’ with these peers and the teacher.
There were many ‘lightbulb’ moments. One student threw his hands up in the air and said “I get it!” and the change in his whole attitude to our lessons was amazing. He tackled all maths problems with confidence and wanted more challenges.
Eight out of ten children were markedly more positive and capable by the end of our sessions.
The first two weeks focused on improving the students’ attitudes and their enjoyment of maths. Card games were taught as were achievable ‘hands-on’ activities to learn addition and subtraction facts, first to 10 and then to 20. Consolidation of place value knowledge to 100, using ideas from P. Hughes, also took place during the first few weeks.
Straight away, a noticeable shift to a more positive attitude was seen as students learnt and remembered basic facts. The games created a little positive competition in the groups as students wanted to win the games both at school and at home.
When interviewed at the end of the study, a big shift in attitude to maths was seen.
For this intervention to be successful I needed to establish an inclusive classroom culture in which the students felt ‘safe’ to voice their opinions and to clarify or seek support when misunderstandings occur. I felt that the students needed to feel as if they were in control of the situation and that they were on an equal footing with the teacher to develop the course of the intervention. Wink (2005) asserts that “we learn by reading, talking, writing, listening, experiencing, engaging, interacting… and we do it better if we are in a safe and secure environment” (p. 18). I have taken care of the way I share children’s learning needs and I model to the children how to ‘take risks’ in their thinking as well in their clarification so that they feel safe to have a go.

(more examples)