The Lexicon Project: Teachers talking about their classrooms

Year: 2019

Author: Mesiti, Carmel, Clarke, David, van, Driel, Jan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Our engagement in socio-cultural practices and our reflection on those practices are mediated and shaped by available language. The professional vocabulary of mathematics teachers profoundly shapes their teaching and their capacity to reflect on their teaching. Research teams from Australia, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Korea and the USA documented the lexicons employed by different communities speaking different languages to describe the phenomena of the mathematics classroom.

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.

We see and hear . . . very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation (Sapir, 1949, p. 162).

Local teams of researchers and experienced teachers in ten countries viewed a common set of video records of eighth-grade mathematics lessons drawn from all participating countries. The key prompt used was: “What do you see that you can name?” The essential point was to record single words or short phrases that are familiar and widely used with a consistent and agreed meaning. A process of local and national validation was subsequently pursued to refine and ratify each lexicon.

The Australian National Lexicon consists of 61 terms that are familiar and in widespread use. In consultation with practising teachers, the lexical items were organised into six categories: Management activity; Affect-related Activity; Student Activity; Instructional Activity; Learning Activity; and, Assessment-related Activity. One feature of the Australian National Lexicon is that none of the 61 terms identifies a practice unique to the mathematics classroom. The generic character of the Australian Lexicon content suggests that the lexicon might also be applicable to other school settings besides the mathematics classroom.

The construction of national lexicons representing the naming systems employed by educators using different languages to “name what they see” in the middle school mathematics classroom represents the starting point for the deconstruction of pedagogical histories and norms of practice enshrined in the languages by which classroom phenomena are described, studied and theorised in different countries. The documentation of these lexicons has significant practical value to each participating community and to the international community of mathematics education practitioners and teacher educators for enhancing teachers’ professional development.

Sapir, E. (1949). Selected writings on language, culture and personality.Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.