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Monologue and dialogue: the use of journals in an adult math class Friesen, Rebecca Louise

Abstract

For many years I thought that improving my practice as a math teacher of adults meant finding better ways of explaining the rules and procedures of mathematics. This belief resulted in a monologic practice where one voice was heard in the classroom, my own. After examining my views on the nature of mathematics and my theory of adult learning, I realized that to improve my practice I needed to find a way to create a dialogue within the classroom. Therefore, I conducted an educational action research project in which I asked my students to keep daily math journals. This, I hoped, would accomplish three things: (1) help my adult students see connections between the math they were learning and the math they already knew; (2) help me see the connections they were making; and (3) create a dialogue within the class which would help teacher and students explore mathematics together. But more than that, I hoped it would help us look at mathematics and at the teaching and learning of mathematics in new ways. At the end of the three-month Introductory Algebra course which forms the basis for this study, I undertook an interpretive analysis of both my students' journals and my own. As a conceptual framework to aid in the analysis I used Mikhail Bakhtin's concepts of polyphony, chronotope and carnival. I found that keeping daily math journals helped my students connect their prior mathematical knowledge to new learning, helped me to see the connections they were making, and helped create dialogue within the classroom. However, the dialogue was limited in that the students only "talked" to me and not to each other, and those students who were better writers were better able to engage in the dialogue. But the journals did help me, and hopefully my students, to see mathematics in a more descriptive and less prescriptive way. Besides deepening my understanding and improving my own practice, I hope that this study will contribute to knowledge about teaching mathematics to adults and to the debate about what is "good" practice.

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