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Teaching and Learning in Maths Classrooms

Chiara Andrà, Domenico Brunetto, Esther Levenson, and Peter Liljedahl, editors
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Research in Mathematics Education
[Reviewed by
Woong Lim
, on

Mathematics instruction is not always about teaching mathematical content. In fact, teaching can be such a loaded word that meanings can range from presenting content and organizing activities to assessing learning progress and inspiring learners to engage in mathematics. When teaching is more than the delivery of knowledge from the teacher to students, affective elements of learning are relevant to teaching and therefore become a matter of scholarly investigation. Why do students want to study mathematics? What does a student feel when the teacher ask him or her to present a solution to the class? Is it important to do well in a math class? These questions have to do with affective issues that surround the teaching and learning of mathematics.

In light of the need for more research on affective elements in the mathematics classroom, I believe Teaching and Learning in Maths Classrooms (edited by Andra, Brunetto, Levenson, and Liljedahl) is an important book, as it presents a variety of emerging issues in the affective domain of mathematics education. This book is a collection of 25 conference papers, all of which draw in one way or another on affect-related phenomena in the math classroom. For example, one chapter (chapter 2) discusses how one’s view on the roles of explanation could affect his or her beliefs in mathematics and its teaching. Another chapter (chapter 6) looked into elementary students’ drawings to get a sense of the teacher’s activities. Some authors (chapter 3) claim that the preschool teachers in their study had a lower self-efficacy for defining mathematical patterns than drawing or describing these patterns. Personally, I enjoyed Lake’s paper (chapter 7) on the interesting and subtle nature of play (or “serious frivolity”) in secondary classrooms. Thanks to her paper, I began to consider the role of humor, playfulness and laughter as not only filler but also as an important “energy” in the classroom. The book also has a section with seven papers exclusively regarding teacher’s beliefs for those interested in identity and belief issues in the math classroom.

The final 12 chapters contribute to the academic discourse on teachers’ emotional struggles and their challenges in the math classroom. This is a valuable part of the book since emotional experiences, such as tension, are an under-investigated topic in our literature. Rouleau and Liljedahl’s chapter does a nice job, for example, of portraying a teacher’s tension as the teacher engages in a complex task of “dealing with” a number of individual students with multiple needs. This chapter provides interesting ideas for further studies and, more importantly, gives validation to research on teacher’s tensions arising from the teacher’s professional identities, readiness, and his or her pedagogical realities.

Other papers in the collection dwell on affective issues such as fear and perfectionism. In addition, a couple of chapters are dedicated to the issue of assessment and its implications. Given the public perception of the role of summative assessment in mathematics as “objective”, especially the view that standardized testing is the sole criterion for student performance, studies regarding formative assessment practices that impact student learning are important. Additionally, research regarding the distressing psychological influence stemming from the reckless use of assessment data for “teacher accountability” is critical in understanding the affective issues that mathematics educators face.

This book is not a comprehensive handbook for the affective issues facing mathematics education. The book lacks (although it attempts to provide) a systematic approach to theorize a body of affective constructs; most studies in the book are experimental (a good thing!) rather than theoretical or informative. Nonetheless, this book provides a rare and valuable glimpse into the serious and creative endeavor of emerging and non-U.S. based scholars in the mathematics education research exploring affective issues. The research sites in the book include Israel, Sweden, Japan, Finland, UK, Italy, Germany, Australia, Canada, USA, Poland, and Switzerland. I recommend this book to researchers in an early stage of their career, those who need a fresh perspective towards affect-related research and those looking to learn more from various research designs and analyses.

Woong Lim ( is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at University of New Mexico. His research interests include mathematics teacher education; and discourse, language, and equity in the mathematics classroom.

See the table of contents in the publisher's webpage.