How many of me are there?

Rebecca Photo PortraitRebecca Turvill is undertaking a PhD at the University of Brunel in the School of Sports Science and Education. Her research “How are children developing number sense, post national numeracy strategy?” is supervised by Dr Gwen Ineson and Dr Heather Mendick. You can follow Rebecca via twitter @RebeccaTurvill

 

 

How many of me are there?

                I am in a wonderful position to be researching something I am passionate about and believe needs detailed further research. Working as a primary mathematics consultant in a London borough, with a stark achievement gap between the highest and lowest achieving pupils in mathematics, I was interested in the fundamental way children learn mathematics. At the same time my supervisors were looking for someone to undertake a PhD in how children develop number sense. It was a marriage made in heaven.

                To begin with (and I mean perhaps the first week) the mathematics consultant in me was happily undertaking a literature review around number sense, looking at policy and pedagogy documents with great interest and some critique. The neuro-psychological literature is heavily influential here, so I moved further into this area. Fortunately, having a psychology degree seemed advantageous.

                However, a major feature of my early work has been to examine the concept of number sense from a range of theoretical perspectives. So, whilst my previous studies have been useful, I have also had good guidance to broaden this focus with a sociological perspective. This has had the fantastic outcome of acquainting me with Bourdieu. This is an acquaintance I am still nurturing, but which has already had a major effect on me. The idea of working reflexively to study a field I am very familiar with is a central issue for my ongoing work. But starting this reflection has had a far deeper impact than just a practical, methodological one. By the end of my second month of study, I was feeling a bit split – not about whether to continue, but about who should be continuing? Unbeknownst to me, I have been building quite a repertoire of versions of myself.

                So far, I have introduced you to the mathematics consultant who saw the need for the study and the psychologist who supported a neuropsychological explanation for the phenomena being explored. But it also turns out that the teacher in me (who predates the consultant) has an opinion. In brief this equates to a child-centred pedagogy when there is time to carry it out, and whatever fits when tests / Ofsted are looming – and much soul searching was needed to finally admit it. Beyond that, I am also a parent. I have been surprised at how strong this voice has been. I have used parenting examples to illustrate some of my key theoretical critiques; yet my concern is with the school system’s influence on number sense. I am not planning to include parents in my research design; yet many of my thoughts seem personally salient in the home context.

                There are then, of course, the more fundamental sides to me, which I have never previously questioned, but feel naive not to have done so. I am a female primary teacher – a common sight – but one who is running the gauntlet of post-graduate study. My decisions to study maths at A-Level and take a “mathematical” route through my B.Sc. seemed quite easy when I took them, but as I look back and reflect more my gender seems somehow more relevant. But I have been lucky, I was a third daughter of supportive parents who through occupation (Army) sent me to private boarding school. How many sides to me proliferate in that one sentence alone!

                So, I return to my earlier question, who is taking this research forward? The motivation and the interpretation appear different from each angle. In truth, I may be some way from answering that and I suspect I haven’t even met all my forms yet. I feel like I’m walking through a hall of mirrors – I wonder if we will all make it to the end!

 

I wish to acknowledge the support of Dr Gwen Ineson and Dr Heather Mendick for their supervision and guidance and the whole EISI group at Brunel University for allowing the many sides of me to emerge. I am grateful for a studentship from Brunel University to allow me to undertake this research.

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