Young children's representations of identities of high and low achievers in mathematics

Crafter, Sarah and de Abreu, Guida (2013). Young children's representations of identities of high and low achievers in mathematics. In: European Association for Research in Learning and Instruction, 27-31 Aug 2013, Munich.


In this paper we examine children's representations of mathematical achiever identity. In the UK 'ability setting' in mathematics is a prevalent practice and one which some academics have argued, is detrimental for both high and low-achievers. We agree, and suggest that from a young age children develop particular meanings around mathematics achiever identities which can have a negative impact in light of institutional 'ability setting'. A sociocultural perspective frames this work through the concept of mediation, which directly addresses the construction of meanings and identities of a learner - either through the role of 'others' or through self-identification. To explore the representations of achiever identities in very young children (6/7 years and 10/11 years) we developed a 'child identity task' using a story completion technique. The child is asked to produce a story, containing specific prompts provided by the interviewer, which in this case focused on a boy/girl who was a high-achiever or low-achiever in mathematics. The children were asked to comment on the characters thoughts and feelings about mathematics. Twenty-seven children from two different schools participated. Of these, only one group of year-2 children were not put into 'ability sets'. Findings from the identity task show the complexity of children's representations of low and high-achiever in mathematics. On the surface the high-achiever likes mathematics more than the low-achiever. However, common to both characters were feelings of fear, speed of processing difficulties or boredom. Relationships with others (friends, parents, teachers) could be particularly fraught for the low-achiever at home and school.

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