24 SES 07, The Lexicon Project: Seeing what we can name in middle school mathematics classrooms internationally
Our interactions with classroom settings, whether as learners, teachers, or researchers, are mediated by our capacity to name what we see and experience. This symposium presents and compares the professional lexicons of middle school mathematics teachers in Australia, China, Germany and the Czech Republic. Data generation was undertaken simultaneously in nine participating countries as part of the International Lexicon Project. The national lexicon from each country involves the assembly of local terms reflecting the well-established pedagogical traditions of the participating communities. These terms are supplemented with the clearest possible operational descriptions in English, describing both the form and function of each named term. Video material from the participating countries then becomes a source of multiple high definition video exemplars of each of the named terms.
The theoretical position adopted by this project is that our experience of the world, our engagement in socio-cultural practices, and our reflection on those experiences and practices are mediated and shaped by available language (Sapir, 1949, p. 162). Marton and Tsui (2004) suggest that categories “not only express the social structure but also create the need for people to conform to the behaviour associated with these categories” (p. 28). In this project, we examine this normative role of language in relation to classroom practice and research.
Comparison of the lexicons reveals surprising emphases and silences in each lexicon reflecting conceptions of education and the role of the mathematics teacher idiosyncratic to each country; idiosyncrasies concealed from an international research community restricted to English for the publication and sharing of its knowledge. Structural aspects of the lexicons suggest underlying pedagogical principles or associations that shape the ways in which middle school mathematics teachers in each country function and interact within the mathematics classrooms of each country. The lexicons also offer insight into the language available to researchers in each country, by which they study, classify, analyse, conjecture and theorize about the practices and the affordances of the mathematics classrooms of their country.
The project revealed significant differences in the way teachers and researchers from each country perceive the classrooms that are the focus of their professional activity. In this symposium, English is used to describe the content and structure of the Chinese, German and Czech lexicons. This reflects the underlying purpose and challenge of the Lexicon Project: to identify and make accessible to the international community the pedagogical principles and distinctions encrypted in different lexicons. Examples from the original language are cited for purposes of clarification. For example, some terms can be approximated in English (e.g., “Teacher Feedback” adequately names 教师反馈 which is “jiào shī fǎn kuì” in Chinese pinyin - a phonetic rendering of Chinese characters using the Latin alphabet), but there are those that have no simple equivalent English term or phrase but can only be represented in pinyin and an extended English description (e.g., 课堂生成 which in pinyin is “kè táng shēng chéng” and which refers to “when the teacher makes full instructional use of an unexpected event beyond the intended plan for the lesson”). Similarly, the Czech term “S cílem objevit” (literally, “with the aim to discover”) refers to the occasion when “by solving the problem students discover something new.” Comparison of the lexicons reveals both commonality and distinctiveness.
The four presentations offer perspectives on the generation, structure, function and practical utility of the four national lexicons that constitute the basis of the symposium. Generated with fundamentally the same research design within the same project, the four presentations demonstrate the cultural specificity of teachers’ professional language and the insights afforded by the comparison of their lexicons.
Marton, F. & Tsui, A. (2004). Classroom discourse and the space of learning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Sapir, E. (1949). Selected writings on language, culture and personality. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
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