Date of Award

Spring 1997

Project Type


Program or Major

Mathematics Education

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Joan Ferrini-Mundy


Mathematics reform efforts are gaining attention and support in the years since the dissemination of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards documents. Encouraging student interactions in small and large group settings, and promoting discussion and argumentation of mathematical ideas among students are two possible implications of the vision presented in the Standards. The goal of having mathematics discussions, however, can present a variety of classroom challenges. Many factors influence classroom discourse and need to be addressed in ways that inform teachers as they work toward creating a more interactive, discussion-based mathematics classroom.

The study examines the development of mathematics discourse in a fifth grade classroom. Through extended observations, documentation and collaboration with the classroom teacher, various aspects of the classroom, the mathematics, and the participants' interactions were investigated to determine those characteristics that play a part in the development of the interactions and the discourse.

It became evident that classroom interactions were regulated by the teacher, and in some cases by the teacher together with the students. In these cases, explicit discussion with students allowed the teacher and students to establish modes of interaction, to develop models for question posing and problem solving, and to negotiate expectations for participation within group discussions. Differences in the roles students assumed during whole class or small group discussions over the school year indicated that the development of discourse is linked to the development of the student as a learner and as a responsible participant in the mathematics community. A closer analysis of the setting and its changing characteristics revealed other factors influencing the development of the mathematics discourse including the choice of mathematical tasks, students' social and mathematical roles, and the classroom environment.

The findings suggest that classroom teachers wishing to promote classroom interactions and discourse must be aware of the many aspects influencing or contributing to the discourse. Implications for mathematics pedagogy and suggestions for further research are given.