School mathematics registers in a context of low academic expectations

Hauke Straehler-Pohl, Saínza Fernández, Uwe Gellert, Lourdes Figueiras

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18 Citations (Scopus)


We investigate the different school mathematical discourses that are made available for students who all share an unfavourable social and economical position and experiences of low achievement in primary school, and who have been streamed into three different ability groups at the very beginning of secondary school. Our investigation is built on the premise that schools distribute different forms of knowledge to different social groups and thus provide different opportunities to develop consciousness. We look at teacher-student interactions as expressions of social structure at the micro-level and as constituents of social structure on the macrolevel. Employing analytic tools from social semiotics, we carried out a register analysis of the school mathematical discourse in each stream. We found systematic differences and linked them to the work of Dowling (1998) on the construction of ability and its implications for social hierarchies. As a result, the upper of the three streams was freed from a discourse of low expectations, while such a discourse was reinforced for the lower stream. Finally, we will discuss our findings in relation to the contemporary debate about the role of mathematics education in social stratification. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-199
JournalEducational Studies in Mathematics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Access
  • Discourse
  • Equity
  • Mathematical knowledge
  • Register
  • Social semiotics
  • Teacher expectations


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