Mathematical awareness in lower attaining primary pupils
: Enabling productive contributions to the progress of mixed attainment pairs

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines how a focus on mathematical awareness can be harnessed to enable lower attaining primary school pupils to make mathematically valid and productive contributions to mixed attainment pair working. In this thesis, mathematical awareness refers to the detection of relevant mathematical features or relations and is posited as a necessary but not sufficient condition for mathematical reasoning. Literature indicates that prevailing ‘ability’ group structures in the primary mathematics classroom operate to the detriment of lower attainers in terms of their mathematical progress and their self-image. Whilst there are indications that mixed attainment groups benefit the lower attainer through access to the thinking of their higher attaining partners, this area is not well researched. Existing research does not address the independent contribution that lower attainers make to such mixed groupings. A separate body of research identifies the development of authority relations in such mixed groupings which can disadvantage lower attainers.
Drawing on the methodology of Education Design Research, three experienced primary class teachers worked with the researcher to design and enact a classroom-based intervention which promoted mathematical awareness through task structure, the use of enactive representation, teacher emphasis and teacher questioning. Video recording captured the action and interaction of two mixed attainment pairs in each classroom over the course of one preliminary and three research lessons. Each pair of pupils comprised one pupil operating above, and one operating below, age-related expectations. Data analysis focused on critical sequences from within the data corpus in which changes in observed behaviour enabled inference of a new awareness.
The thesis contributes evidence of lower attaining pupils’ mathematical contribution to mixed attainment pairs: the focus on awareness was associated with lower attainers’ awareness of mathematical structure making significant contributions to task progress. The focus on awareness had a more limited impact on lower attainers’ contributions through awareness of mathematical property. Awareness pathways for each lower attainer reveal how the focus on awareness was also associated with changes in the nature of pair interaction. Findings indicate that this was instrumental in enabling lower attainers’ mathematical awarenesses to impact on task progress. The thesis concludes that the focus on awareness supported the provocation of structural awareness and shifted the focus of the task from solution finding to noticing, enabling more equitable engagement.
Date of Award15 Oct 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorNadia Edmond (Supervisor) & Els de Geest (Supervisor)

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