Learning to Teach Primary Mathematics: A Case Study

Ashfield, Jean E. (2010). Learning to Teach Primary Mathematics: A Case Study. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ed3c


The National Numeracy Strategy (1999), a UK national initiative aimed at raising standards in mathematics, placed considerable emphasis on whole class interactive teaching, as a means to improve teaching and raise levels of attainment. In this research I consider how a group of primary PGCE student teachers, on a one year initial teacher education (ITE) course, developed their understanding and implementation of interactive teaching in mathematics, examining the interplay of personal and contextual influences on their practice as novice teachers.

The two-year study (Sept 2004 - Dec. 2006) drew on qualitative data from observations, interviews and discussions with students, and later as qualified teachers. Data collected illuminated three issues of particular relevance to the research; students' interpretation of interactive teaching in mathematics; their implementation of this approach; and factors influencing their classroom practice.

Four features emerged as key components of interactive teaching; pupils' active involvement; questioning; discussion; and creative problem-solving. The stage of development, internal factors such as limited mathematics knowledge, low levels of confidence and behaviour management issues, and external factors such as teachers' pre-determined plans, schools' expectations, and Standard Assessment Test targets, were all seen to mitigate against students' use of creative and challenging features of interactive teaching. The role of schools and their mentors emerged as a key factor in students' development from novice to competent teachers, in particular, their use of cognitively challenging aspects of interactive teaching in mathematics.

My study suggests NSS demands for whole-class teaching with pace and urgency, and the Government's insistence on schools meeting ever-higher targets, has driven new teachers back to traditional, didactic teaching of rules and processes, heavily weighted towards SATs questions. This raises questions about the impact ITE might have on students as innovative, creative teachers, if, once qualified, they revert to seemingly safe practice, learned from experienced teachers.

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