Challenges and opportunities when advancing epistemic discourses
Suzanne De Froy, University of Windsor, & Clare Brett, OISE/University of Toronto
Findings are presented from a five year longitudinal study that follows a group of self-declared math anxious teachers inducted in a two year program (N=20 from a total cohort of 57) and their first three years as elementary teachers when they agreed to participate in a self-directed professional development design experiment known as The MathForum Group (TMG). Forms of discourse as promoted by Bereiter (2004) and mathematics reform documents, such as the NCTM (2000) were encouraged to address changing attitudes toward learning, beliefs of instructional practice and the nature of mathematical knowledge. Such a shift required participants to go beyond the notion of mathematics as traditional skill acquisition for algorithmic reasoning to viewing mathematics as a dynamic domain of knowledge that can be made accessible through discourse-based inquiry and exploration.
When learning goals include teaching for deep conceptual understanding, effort will be required to navigate inherent complexities, pressures, tensions and contradictions of competing interest groups. Very little is known about how prospective teachers reconcile their personal epistemology to the realities of day-to-day practice in their school communities (Cochran-Smith, & Zeichner, 2005). Windschitl (2002) determined that very few studies have examined the full scope of challenges faced by those teachers whose intent is to improve learning and teaching by adopting a reform perspective. Further, very little is known about the way teachers make personal sense of this shift in ideology and how they proceed to resolve their conceptual, pedagogical, cultural and political dilemmas that arise in their curriculum decision-making (Borko, 2004; Brett, 2002; De Froy, 2006; Grossman, 2005)
This longitudinal study examines the processes underlying developmental trajectories to illustrate movement over time, from an initial state of curiosity to the day-to-day disciplined creativity of a mature knowledge producer. Findings suggest that for a number of participants, mathematical ideas, questions and problems progressed to deeper levels of complexity and resolution creating conceptual movement. Implications for knowledge-building and creating community are presented.