Write a winning formula

16th October 1998 at 01:00
WRITING MATHEMATICALLY: The Discourse of Investigation. By Candia Morgan. Falmer Press. Pounds 14.95.

It is 10 years since the introduction of GCSE coursework in mathematics and now nearly all pupils are assessed, in part, on the basis of their written accounts of mathematical activities they have undertaken.

It is therefore surprising that little attention has been paid to students' use of writing in maths.

Candia Morgan, in this latest in the Studies in Mathematics Education series, draws on established linguistic theories to explore the nature of mathematical writing in various forms, including professional academic research reports, school textbooks and students' accounts of investigations. She analyses in some detail the investigation write-ups of a sample of pupils and looks at the way their teachers have interpreted this evidence.

The author makes clear that the factors which influence the choices writers make in constructing their accounts are complex, as are those which influence the reader's interpretation of them. There are many concerns to which we as teachers ought to pay attention. How do we offer pupils models of mathematical writing which help them gain an understanding of appropriate conventions? Textbooks, after all, do not model investigation write-ups. Do we always make the purpose and audience clear when we ask pupils to produce written accounts? Is it helpful or, as the author suggests, sometimes confusing for pupils to suggest a fictitious audience ("write as if you were explaining to a pen-friend in America")? She highlights tensions that arise from the dual purpose of much of the writing pupils produce for GCSE:is it a log which helps them keep track of their ideas or an account by which they will be formally assessed? There are similar concerns arising from the dual role of teachers: mentor and guide versus monitor and judge.

The author was motivated in her research by the recognition that many pupils may not truly reflect their mathematical ability through this form of assessment. The book convincingly synthesises academic findings, personal research and teachers' anecdotal accounts. It does not provide simple answers for teachers but does convincingly makes the case for further research.

Linton Waters is Shropshire adviser for mathematics

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today