Mediating early number learning: specialising across teacher talk and tools?
In this paper we locate our work in the context of claims of poor performance amongst
South African learners in primary mathematics, and gaps in the knowledge base of primary
mathematics teachers. Our focus is on the analysis of three Grade 2 Numeracy teachers’
actions with artifacts in the context of increasing resource provision in the South African
national policy landscape. Using ideas of mediation drawn from the Vygotskian tradition,
and developed by Michael Cole and Jim Wertsch, we identify actions with the artifacts that
suggest shortcomings in teachers’ understandings of the mathematical structures that
underlie the design of the resources. Drawing on the work on modeling and tool use in the
Dutch Realistic Mathematics Education tradition, we note disruptions in openings for
pedagogy to provide ‘models of’ increasingly sophisticated strategies, which might provide
children with ‘models for’ working more efficiently (and ultimately ‘tools to’ think with),
disruptions arising from teachers presenting only concrete unit counting based models of
early number calculations. Within a policy context where improving the resource situation
is a priority, we argue for more attention to longitudinal support to teachers to develop
understandings of number and its progression that allow them to see the significance of the
mathematical structures that are figured into the design of the artifacts that are increasingly
available for use.
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