Making a case for exact language as an aspect of rigour in initial teacher education mathematics programmes
Van Jaarsveld, Pieter
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Pre-service secondary mathematics teachers have a poor command of the exact language of mathematics as evidenced in assignments, micro-lessons and practicums. The unrelenting notorious annual South African National Senior Certificate outcomes in mathematics and the recognition by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) that the correct use of mathematical language in classrooms is problematic is reported in the National Senior Certificate Diagnostic Reports on learner performance (DBE, 2008-2013). The reports further recognise that learners do not engage successfully with mathematical problems that require conceptual understanding. This paper therefore highlights a need for teachers to be taught and master an exact mathematical language that for example, calls an ‘expression’ an ‘expression’ and not an ‘equation’. It must support the call of the DBE to use correct mathematical language that will support and improve conceptual understanding rather than perpetuate rote procedural skills, which are often devoid of thought and reason. The authentic language of mathematics can initiate and promote meaningful mathematical dialogue. Initial teacher education programmes, as in the subject methodologies, affords lecturers this opportunity. The language notions of Vygotskian thought and language, Freirian emancipatory critical consciousness and Habermasian ethical and moral communicative action frame the paper theoretically. Using a grounded approach, after examining examples of student language in a practice based research intervention, the design and development of a repertoire of language categories, literal, algebraic, graphical (Cartesian) and procedural (algorithmic) emerged from three one-year cycles of an action research methodology. The development of these repertoires of language was to assist teachers in communicating about mathematical objects through providing a structured framework within which to think and teach. A course model encompassing small group discussions, an oral examination and a self-study action research project, that helped sustain the teaching of an exact mathematical language, is presented. This is supported by student reflections on the usefulness of implementing them.