Numeracy encompasses the capacity to cope with the mathematical demands of life. The context in which mathematics is used is an important dimension of numeracy; so one way that schools can provide opportunities for students to develop this capacity is to take advantage of numeracy learning opportunities across the curriculum. Teachers need to be able to identify these opportunities, and design and implement appropriate tasks in their classrooms for this approach to be successful.
Research interest in numeracy is increasing internationally because of growing recognition of the impact of low levels of numeracy: on the economic and social well-being of individuals, and on the economies of countries. Researchers have investigated professional development interventions that support an across the curriculum approach to numeracy but this research does not appear to have examined factors that influence how teachers implement learning from such interventions. This study responds to the question of how teacher identity can be used as an analytic lens to identify factors that influence the ways in which teachers promote numeracy across the curriculum, in order to ascertain ways to assist them in this endeavour.
A framework for teacher identity situated in the specific context of promoting numeracy learning across the curriculum was developed and evaluated in this study. Thus, the research was conducted in two phases: a theoretical phase and an empirical phase. A framework for identity as an embedder-of-numeracy along with an adaptation of Valsiner’s zone theory was proposed as a way of capturing and understanding both the complexity and dynamic nature of a teacher’s identity in this context. An extensive review of literature informed the theoretical phase of the research. Case studies of seven teachers were utilised to re-examine the proposed framework and the sociocultural approach employed. This empirical phase was conducted over a two-year period, with teachers recruited because their participation in a larger study indicated that changes in their identity in relation to promoting numeracy learning were likely over this period. Data sources drawn on to develop the case studies were semi-structured interviews and lesson observations conducted during visits to teachers’ schools. The focus of each case study was on the teacher’s identity as an embedder-of-numeracy when teaching science or history.
The proposed framework for identity as an embedder-of-numeracy was organised by five Domains of Influence: Life History, Knowledge, Affective, Social, and Context. Characteristics that have previously been shown to influence a teacher’s identity were included in the framework if it could be argued that they were likely to influence how teachers promote numeracy learning through the subjects they teach. This framework captures the complexity of identity as an embedder-of-numeracy and could guide the design of empirical studies, but does not reveal how specific identities are formed and possible trajectories these identities might take. For this reason, an adaptation of Valsiner’s zone theory informed analysis to understand how the various characteristics interact to produce distinct teacher identities and how these identities might change over time. Re-examining the framework for identity as an embedder-of-numeracy, in light of the case studies, resulted in additional characteristics being added to two of the domains, re-naming some of the characteristics to better reflect what was meant, and more explicit descriptions of each characteristic. The case studies helped illustrate how the proposed sociocultural approach could be employed to identify ways to support teachers to promote numeracy learning across the curriculum. The framework for identity as an embedder-of-numeracy when used in conjunction with an adaptation of Valsiner’s zone theory addresses the issue of capturing the complexity and dynamic nature of teacher identity in a way that is practically viable. The approach taken in this research provides a mechanism that could be used for investigating teachers’ other situated identities.
Promoting numeracy learning across the curriculum requires appropriate mathematical, pedagogical, curriculum, and subject knowledge as well as a range of affective attributes, including a rich personal conception of numeracy and motivation to embed numeracy. However, the way in which teachers promote numeracy learning through the subjects they teach is also influenced by social interactions and the teachers’ professional context. Explicit links between numeracy and subject learning goals has potential to provide motivation for teachers to embed numeracy into the subjects they teach. Further research is needed to investigate how numeracy can enhance subject learning, including the nature of the necessary pedagogical content knowledge. Two related issues emerged as warranting further research; the use of boundary objects to promote numeracy learning, and the additional challenges faced by out-of-field teachers in contexts where numeracy is seen as an across the curriculum responsibility.