Student Stories about Mathematics: A tool to understand more about the teaching and learning of mathematics
This qualitative study sets out to explore the experiences of secondary school students while they are learning mathematics in school. By using student stories of learning mathematics as my main data collection method I began to understand the view of mathematics that my students were constructing as they negotiated the complicated terrain that I know as the mathematics classroom. This method of student stories to communicate student voice was selected by me to allow the students the freedom to express themselves in a variety of comfortable, differentiated formats. My methodological approach evolved as the action research phases progressed, allowing for methodological inventiveness (Dadds and Hart 2001). This was a deliberate decision by me so that my research progress could be best served by a suitable methodological approach. The end result was a qualitative study that embraced a living theory model of action research (McNiff 2013), where practitioners can develop their own personal theories of practice (Whitehead 1999). Within this action research structure I used a narrative approach, considering narratives both as a data collection method and as a transformative phenomenon. Using the ideas of narrative research for data collection, I facilitated storytelling workshops with my students, collecting stories to inform the research interest. In this research, using narratives was also considered as a phenomenon because of their influence in allowing authors to model and re-model their experiences through their stories. I found that considering narrative as phenomenon complemented and supported a portraiture methodological stance (Lawrence-Lightfoot 2005). Narrative as a phenomenon also became apparent by the influence the student stories had on my 9 ability to understand my classroom and my subsequent teaching practice. To analyse the story data I utilised the ideas of Anderson (2011) who developed a transpersonal research method that incorporates the researcher’s intuition, emotional and personal capacities into the research process. By using a multi-method approach of thematic analysis, symbolic interactionist perspective, input from colleagues and my reflexive intuition, I formed an analysis of the data that could be used to look at similarities and trends in the student stories. In addition, working with the student stories encouraged levels of empathy between the reader and the student author that transformed classroom practice and understandings. There are several ways that this thesis can contribute to practice. Firstly this research develops a pedagogical tool that encourages student voice, celebrates individuality and helps create an approachable interface between mathematics teacher and student. Secondly, it models how this way of working could be used to inform the practice of the classroom teacher by developing a deeper understanding of their students. Thirdly, the identification of particular themes is invaluable to subject department development and planning, and these themes can feed into a department and whole school ethos. Finally, it models a form of action research that encourages critical reflexive practice and utilises the knowledge, experience and intuition of the researcher with the sole purpose of improving the experiences of their students.