Main goals of the study and research questions
One fundamental theoretical assumption of this research project is that the use of language differs according to the situation. Consequently, pupils also use resources from different language registers and participate in different manners during different situations of the mathematics classroom, which might affect their opportunities to learn (Moschkovich, 2018; Schiitte & Krummheuer, 2017). Despite several research efforts that have underlined the importance of language for learning and despite the high emphasis on improving the pupils’ language skills, there exist just a few investigations that describe academic language - in particular, discursive (academic) language requirements - for different social formations, learning contents and class levels (Heppt, 2016). The central purpose of the presented study is to examine the pupils’ language use during different situations of the mathematics classroom. There are many influencing factors in the situation that may have an impact on the pupils’ language activities, such as the social formation of the pupils, previous lessons and learning contents, the (non-)presence of illustrative learning material, or - as this research pays attention to - the use of real-world contexts, which makes the mathematical content more emotional and meaningful for the pupils. Given that different situations affect the ways of using language, of behaving and of opportunities to learn, the leading question for the research project is the following: How do the language-based contributions of the pupils differ according to the varying situations of the mathematics classroom discourse? As a single research project is unable to investigate the impact of these and much more influencing factors of the situation on the pupils’ language in depth, our focus here is on the use of real-world contexts. For that reason, the main research question has two sub-areas of research- guiding questions which are more precise. The first focuses on these selected situational aspects on the pupils’ language: What does the use of language look like when the mathematical content is - either implicitly or explicitly — connected to a real-world situation?
Another important aspect of the use of real-world contexts within the mathematics classroom is their impact on language (and learning) opportunities and language demands. A central and leading assumption of the presented study is that different situations create different possibilities of using language, and, as a result, also create different demands to the pupils which form of language is seen as the ‘more appropriate’ one in the current situation. But as in educational settings more or less noticeable educational goals are effective, there are also restrictive aspects according to the use of language. From this, the following questions can be derived: Which language-based opportunities and requirements go along with the use of real-world contexts within the mathematics classroom? How do the pupils fulfil them and to what extent this might have an effect on the pupils’ opportunities to learn?
The existence of empirical evidence of the impact of special situational factors on the language of the pupils would be instrumental for educators, policymakers, and funding agencies alike (e.g. for designing mathematics workbooks and textbooks). More important, findings about the situatedness of language within the mathematics classroom will be instrumental for the training of (prospective) teachers: They can be sensitized for specific language-based particularities of different situational factors and, as a result, use different didactic approaches during different situations. The analyses presented below will deal with these more precise research guiding questions and try to provide answers about the impact of a (narrative) real-world context for the pupils’ language use and their opportunities to learn mathematics. The close connection between the use of language and mathematical learning opportunities can be justified with the underlying methodological embedding, which is in the social-constructivist approach of interpretative classroom research.
The fundamental methodological assumptions and methods of the study
The presented research adopts an interactionist perspective and uses the method of interactional analysis (Schiitte et al., 2019). Interpretative research as a methodological approach for research is based on social-constructivist, phenomenological and symbolic-interactionist theories of learning and cognition, namely on Symbolic Interactionism (Blumer, 1969) and on Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967). Following the fundamental assumption that meaning (e.g. of mathematical contents) is negotiated co-constructively in interactions among the participants, social communicational processes can be understood as a main constitutive factor for learning processes (Cobb & Bauersfeld, 1995; Schiitte et al., 2019). In this regard, differences in interaction and in language use result in different opportunities to learn and to participate within the mathematics classroom.
To gain a broad impression of the pupils’ language use during different situations of the mathematics lessons in which real-world contexts are used, the study will contemplate different school types and class levels in terms of these two central influencing factors. Therefore, mathematics lessons in the several classes (and also across different school types and different class levels) in Germany have been video- recorded during the period from 2017 to 2018. The duration of the recordings in each class varies from between two and four weeks (just mathematics lessons), including a sequence of at least six consecutive video-recorded lessons. Until now, the database of mathematics lessons encompassed recordings from seven German classes in primary school (twice classes one and three, once classes two and four), a multi-graded high school classes seven and eight with children between 12 and 15, and one 12th grade class of a mathematics-intensified course (in which the pupils are between 17 and 18 years of age). Selected lessons and passages were transcribed and analyzed via interactional analysis to illuminate to what extent the selected situational aspects have an impact on the pupils’ use of language and their mathematical learning.