Vernacular numeracy practices - an exploration of the numeracy resources young people bring to their learning

  • Nuala Broderick

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


Current narrow definitions of numeracy and mathematics within the functional mathematics agenda, conceptualised as the autonomous model (Street 1984,1995; Street, Baker and Tomlin 2008) of numeracy, offer students entering further education limited and deficit subject positions and may contribute to a continued lack of success in college mathematics and numeracy. Drawing on New Literacy Studies theory (Barton and Hamilton 1998; Baker and Street 2004; Heath 1983; Gee 1996; Ivanic et al 2009; Street 1984, 1995, 1998, 2000) and a funds of knowledge perspective, (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez 1992), I suggest that adopting a social practice approach to numeracy teaching and learning provides affordances to reframe these deficit positions through an examination of students’ everyday numeracy practices. A social practice theory of numeracy constructs it as numeracy embedded in social purposes, context dependent and reflective of students’ everyday social practices. It also recognises the importance of power in structuring relations between people and ideas within practices. In an effort to avoid reifying the distinction between home/school, formal/informal, I propose the term vernacular numeracy practices as a way of conceptualising students’ out of college numeracy practices. Using focus groups, classroom observations and interviews, the research explores students’ vernacular numeracy practices embedded in a range of purposes and across different settings of students’ lives. The invisibility of students’ socially situated, vernacular numeracy practices, both to themselves and their teachers is revealed. However, students were willing to engage with the research practice which provided opportunities for them to access and share their vernacular numeracy practices. These vernacular numeracy practices are not readily understood across learning contexts and the challenge for tutors and students is how to access and use them to challenge the largely deficit subject positionings available and taken up by students. Within the research, students’ vernacular numeracy practices were ‘translated’ into the language of the adult numeracy core curriculum as a way of supporting students and tutors to ‘see through to the maths’ (Coben 2003). The purpose of extracting the mathematics which was embedded in students’ out of college practices, was to support students to engage in the process of ‘repairing their mathematical identity’ which Gee (2007) suggests, needs to take place before students can move on to become successful learners of mathematics. The research concludes that valuing and using students’ vernacular numeracy practices may provide opportunities for students with low or no qualifications in mathematics to recruit ‘identities of participation’ (Solomon 2009) in place of identities of exclusion.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJulian Williams (Supervisor) & Helen Gunter (Supervisor)

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