Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 69–93 | Cite as

Teachers’ talk about the mathematical practice of attending to precision

  • Samuel OttenEmail author
  • Lindsay M. Keazer
  • Ruveyda Karaman


The discipline of mathematics values precision and teachers are accountable for promoting and supporting their students in attending to precision (ATP), which in the USA is an explicit standard for mathematical practice included in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. This study used thematic discourse analysis to examine how eight middle and high school teachers understand and interpret the mathematical practice of ATP through discussion within a teacher learning community. Findings suggest that teachers’ talk prioritized the themes of precision with numerical quantities, precision with vocabulary, and precision with symbols. In many cases, these themes were discussed through examples from the teachers’ experiences with students and the focus was on being precise (or not) rather than attending to issues of precision. Their discourse also highlighted the teachers’ influential role in engaging their students in ATP and the relationship between ATP and student learning, with some teachers articulating a direct relationship of teachers explaining ATP to students and other teachers articulating a complex relationship of experiences via ATP. Overall, teachers’ perspectives on ATP provide insight into how they create opportunities for students to engage in ATP in their classrooms and may inform the development of shared meaning about ATP across the field.


Attending to precision Mathematical practices Teacher knowledge Discourse analysis 



This study was supported by the University of Missouri Research Council and the University of Missouri System Research Board (Grant No. URC-13-071). We thank Christopher Engledowl and Vickie Spain for their assistance on the project, and the participating teachers, who made this work possible.


  1. Adler, J. (1999). The dilemma of transparency: Seeing and seeing through talk in the mathematics classroom. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 30, 47–64.Google Scholar
  2. Adler, J. B. (2001). Teaching mathematics in multilingual classrooms. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  3. Bieda, K. N. (2010). Enacting proof-related tasks in middle school mathematics: Challenges and opportunities. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 41, 351–382.Google Scholar
  4. Cuoco, A., Goldenberg, E. P., & Mark, J. (1996). Habits of mind: An organizing principle for mathematics curricula. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 15, 375–402.Google Scholar
  5. Ellis, A. B. (2011). Generalizing-promoting actions: How classroom collaborations can support students’ mathematical generalizations. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 42, 308–345.Google Scholar
  6. Gibbons, P. (2009). English learners, academic literacy, and thinking: Learning in the challenge zone. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  7. Halliday, M. (1978). Language as social semiotic: The social interpretation of language and meaning. Baltimore, MD: University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Halliday, M., & Matthiessen, C. M. (2003). An introduction to functional grammar. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Herbel-Eisenmann, B. A. (2002). Using student contributions and multiple representations to develop mathematical language. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 8, 100–105.Google Scholar
  10. Herbel-Eisenmann, B., & Cirillo, M. (Eds.). (2009). Promoting purposeful discourse: Teacher research in mathematics classrooms. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.Google Scholar
  11. Herbel-Eisenmann, B., Johnson, K. R., Otten, S., Cirillo, M., & Steele, M. D. (2015). Mapping talk about the mathematics register in a secondary mathematics teacher study group. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 40, 29–42.Google Scholar
  12. Herbel-Eisenmann, B. A., & Otten, S. (2011). Mapping mathematics in classroom discourse. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 42, 451–485.Google Scholar
  13. Herbel-Eisenmann, B., Steele, M., & Cirillo, M. (2013). (Developing) teacher discourse moves: A framework for professional development. Mathematics Teacher Educator, 1, 181–196.Google Scholar
  14. Hill, H. C. (2001). Policy is not enough: Language and the interpretation of state standards. American Educational Research Journal, 38, 289–318.Google Scholar
  15. Johnson, R., Severance, S., Penuel, W. R., & Leary, H. (2016). Teachers, tasks, and tensions: Lessons from a research-practice partnership. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 19, 169–185.Google Scholar
  16. Joint Commission of the Mathematical Association of America and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1940). The place of mathematics in secondary education. New York, NY: Teachers College, Columbia University.Google Scholar
  17. Kaplan, J. J., Fisher, D. G., & Rogness, N. T. (2009). Lexical ambiguity in statistics: What do students know about the words association, average, confidence, random and spread. Journal of Statistics Education, 17(3), 1–19.Google Scholar
  18. Kidd, D. H., Madsen, A. L., & Lamb, C. E. (1993). Mathematics vocabulary: Performance of residential deaf students. School Science and Mathematics, 93(8), 418–421.Google Scholar
  19. Koestler, C., Felton, M. D., Bieda, K. N., & Otten, S. (2013). Connecting the NCTM process standards and the CCSSM practices. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.Google Scholar
  20. Lakatos, I. (1976). Proofs and refutations: The logic of mathematical discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Lampert, M. (1990). When the problem is not the question and the solution is not the answer: Mathematical knowing and teaching. American Educational Research Journal, 27, 29–63.Google Scholar
  22. Lannin, J. K. (2005). Generalization and justification: The challenge of introducing algebraic reasoning through patterning activities. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 7, 231–258.Google Scholar
  23. Lemke, J. L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. Norwood, NJ: Greenwood Publishing.Google Scholar
  24. Males, L. M., Otten, S., & Herbel-Eisenmann, B. A. (2010). Challenges of critical colleagueship: Examining and reflecting on study group interactions. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 13, 459–471.Google Scholar
  25. Martin, J. R., & Rose, D. (2005). Working with discourse: Meaning beyond the clause. London: Continuum International.Google Scholar
  26. Moschkovich, J. (2002). A situated and sociocultural perspective on bilingual mathematics learners. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 4, 189–212.Google Scholar
  27. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core state standards for mathematics. Washington, DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, & Council of Chief State School Officers.Google Scholar
  28. Nowlin, D. (2007). Precision: The neglected part of the measurement standard. Mathematics Teacher, 100, 356–360.Google Scholar
  29. O’Halloran, K. L. (2005). Mathematical discourse: Language, symbolism and visual images. New York, NY: Continuum.Google Scholar
  30. Otten, S., Gilbertson, N. J., Males, L. M., & Clark, D. L. (2014). The mathematical nature of reasoning-and-proving opportunities in geometry textbooks. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 16, 51–79.Google Scholar
  31. Paulos, J. A. (1997). A mathematician reads the newspaper. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday.Google Scholar
  32. Powell, S. R., & Driver, M. K. (2014). The influence of mathematics vocabulary instruction embedded within addition tutoring for first-grade students with mathematics difficulty. Learning Disability Quarterly, 38(4), 221–233.Google Scholar
  33. Putnam, R. T., & Borko, H. (1997). Teacher learning: Implications of new views of cognition. In B. J. Biddle, T. L. Good, & I. F. Goodson (Eds.), The international handbook of teachers and teaching (Vol. 2, pp. 1223–1296). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  34. Remillard, J. T., & Heck, D. J. (2014). Conceptualizing the curriculum enactment process in mathematics education. ZDM The International Journal on Mathematics Education, 46, 705–718.Google Scholar
  35. Reys, R. E., Rybolt, J. F., Bestgen, B. J., & Wyatt, J. W. (1982). Processes used by good computational estimators. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 13, 183–201.Google Scholar
  36. Rowland, T. (1999). Pronouns in mathematics talk: Power, vagueness and generalisation. For the Learning of Mathematics, 19(2), 19–26.Google Scholar
  37. Rubenstein, R. (1985). Computational estimation and related mathematical skills. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 16, 106–119.Google Scholar
  38. Schleppegrell, M. (2007). The linguistic challenges of mathematics teaching and learning: A research review. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 23, 139–159.Google Scholar
  39. Sowder, J. T., & Wheeler, M. M. (1989). The development of concepts and strategies used in computational estimation. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 20, 130–146.Google Scholar
  40. Spillane, J. P., Reiser, B. J., & Gomez, L. M. (2006). Policy implementation and cognition: The role of human, social, and distributed cognition in framing policy implementation. In M. I. Honig (Ed.), Confronting complexity: Defining the field of education policy implementation. Albany, NY: The State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  41. Voskoglou, M. G., & Kosyvas, G. D. (2012). Analyzing students’ difficulties in understanding real numbers. REDIMAT Journal of Research in Mathematics Education, 1, 301–336.Google Scholar
  42. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Webel, C., & Platt, D. (2015). The role of professional obligations in working to change one’s teaching practices. Teaching and Teacher Education, 47, 204–217.Google Scholar
  44. Wilson, S. M., & Berne, J. (1999). Teacher learning and the acquisition of professional knowledge: An examination of research on contemporary professional development. Review of Research in Education, 24, 173–209.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Central Connecticut State UniversityNew BritainUSA
  3. 3.University of MissouriColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations