Identity struggles in the mathematics classroom: On learning mathematics as an interplay of mathematizing and identifying

Einat Heyd-Metzuyanim, Anna Sfard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The view of learning as a particular type of the activity of communicating with others and with oneself has already been shown to unify the once separate lines of study devoted to cognitive and to social aspects of learning. This approach is now extended so as to include the study of affect. In this article, emotional expressions are treated as an aspect of communicational activity and are thus metaphorically described as emotional hue of utterances. Accordingly, the study of emotions becomes grounded in special types of discourse analysis. Our empirical example, featuring a small group of 7th graders grappling with an unfamiliar mathematical problem related to fractions, illustrates our basic assumption, according to which learning can be seen as an interplay between the activities of mathematizing (talking about mathematical objects) and of identifying (talking about participants of the discourse). As will be shown, mathematics classroom may become an arena of intensive identifying, made conspicuous through its prominent emotional hues. In the present case, this highly emotional identifying activity revolves around issues of leadership in discourse. As this one example seems to suggest, the activity of identifying can prevent the student from taking advantage of what appears as a particularly promising opportunity for learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-145
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Research
StatePublished - 2012


  • Affect
  • Commognitive theory
  • Discourse analysis
  • Emotions in learning mathematics
  • Identity
  • Social interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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