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An analysis of teaching processes in mathematics education for adults

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Title: An analysis of teaching processes in mathematics education for adults
Author: Nesbit, Tom
Degree Doctor of Philosophy - PhD
Program Education
Copyright Date: 1995
Subject Keywords Adult education -- Research; Mathematics -- Study and teaching -- Research
Abstract: This study explored the teaching processes in mathematics education for adults and how they are shaped by certain social and institutional forces. Teaching processes included the selection and ordering of content to be taught; the choice of such techniques as lectures or groupwork; the expectations, procedures and norms of the classroom; and the complex web of interactions between teachers and learners, and between learners themselves. The study addressed three broad questions: (1) What happens in adult mathematics classrooms? (2) What do these phenomena mean for those involved as teachers or learners? and (3) In what ways do certain factors beyond the teachers’ control affect teaching processes? The theoretical framework linked macro and micro approaches to the study of teaching, and offered an analytical perspective that showed how teachers’ thoughts and actions can be influenced and circumscribed by external factors. Further, it provided a framework for an analysis of the ways in which teaching processes were viewed, described, chosen, developed, and constrained by certain “frame” factors. The study was based in a typical setting for adult mathematics education: a community college providing a range of ABE-level mathematics courses for adults. Three introductory-level courses were selected and data collected from teachers and students in these courses, as well as material that related to the teaching and learning of mathematics within the college. The study used a variety of data collection methods in addition to document collection: surveys of teachers’ and adult learners’ attitudes, repeated semi-structured interviews with teachers and learners, and extensive ethnographic observations in several mathematics classes. The teaching of mathematics was dominated by the transmission of facts and procedures, and largely consisted of repetitious activities and tests. Teachers were pivotal in the classroom, making all the decisions that related in any way to mathematics education. They rigidly followed the set textbooks, allowing them to determine both the content and the process of mathematics education. Teachers claimed that they wished to develop motivation and responsibility for learning in their adult students, yet provided few practical opportunities for such development to occur. Few attempts were made to encourage students, or to check whether they understood what they were being asked to do. Mathematical problems were often repetitious and largely irrelevant to adult students’ daily lives. Finally, teachers “piloted” students through problem-solving situations, via a series of simple questions, designed to elicit a specific “correct” method of solution, and a single correct calculation. One major consequence of these predominant patterns was that the overall approach to mathematics education was seen as appropriate, valid, and successful. The notion of success, however, can be questioned. In sum, mathematics teaching can best be understood as situationally- constrained choice. Within their classrooms, teachers have some autonomy to act yet their actions are influenced by certain external factors. These influences act as frames, bounding and constraining classroom teaching processes and forcing teachers to adopt a conservative approach towards education. As a result, the cumulative effects of all of frame factors reproduced the status quo and ensured that the form and provision of mathematics education remained essentially unchanged.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/7520
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]
Scholarly Level: Graduate

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