The research reported in this paper examined spoken mathematics in particular well-taught classrooms in Australia, China (both Shanghai and Hong Kong), Japan, Korea and the USA from the perspective of the distribution of responsibility for knowledge generation in order to identify similarities and differences in classroom practice and the implicit pedagogical principles that underlie those practices. The methodology of the Learner’s Perspective Study documented the voicing of mathematical ideas in public discussion and in teacher–student conversations and the relative priority accorded by different teachers to student oral contributions to classroom activity. Significant differences were identified among the classrooms studied, challenging simplistic characterisations of ‘the Asian classroom’ as enacting a single pedagogy, and suggesting that, irrespective of cultural similarities, local pedagogies reflect very different assumptions about learning and instruction. We have employed spoken mathematical terms as a form of surrogate variable, possibly indicative of the location of the agency for knowledge generation in the various classrooms studied (but also of interest in itself). The analysis distinguished one classroom from another on the basis of “public oral interactivity” (the number of utterances in whole class and teacher–student interactions in each lesson) and “mathematical orality” (the frequency of occurrence of key mathematical terms in each lesson). Classrooms characterized by high public oral interactivity were not necessarily sites of high mathematical orality. In particular, the results suggest that one characteristic that might be identified with a national norm of practice could be the level of mathematical orality: relatively high mathematical orality characterising the mathematics classes in Shanghai with some consistency, while lessons studied in Seoul and Hong Kong consistently involved much less frequent spoken mathematical terms. The relative contributions of teacher and students to this spoken mathematics provided an indication of how the responsibility for knowledge generation was shared between teacher and student in those classrooms. Specific analysis of the patterns of interaction by which key mathematical terms were introduced or solicited revealed significant differences. It is suggested that the empirical investigation of mathematical orality and its likely connection to the distribution of the responsibility for knowledge generation and to student learning ourcomes are central to the development of any theory of mathematics instruction and learning.
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