An analysis of the discourse of written reports of investigative work in GCSE mathematics
The focus of this study is students' written reports of mathematical investigations carried out for examination at 16+. These coursework texts are produced within a discourse of 'investigation' that involves the students, their teachers and an official, practical and professional literature. This discourse has been examined through analysis of written and oral texts produced by the different groups. A method of analysis of mathematical texts has been developed, based on Halliday's functional grammar, using techniques of critical discourse analysis. This takes into account the ways in which mathematics, mathematical activity and the relationships between writer, reader and subject matter are constructed in the texts. The method was applied to a set of students' written reports of investigations, revealing some variety in the types of text and in the ideational and interpersonal functions served by the texts. The fact that coursework texts are examined by the student's teacher is a significant aspect of the context of their production. The assessment process was therefore investigated through interviews with mathematics teachers reading and assessing student texts. Tensions were identified between the stated aims of investigative work, the values of the assessment process and those of the traditional practices of mathematics and school mathematics. These tensions were manifested in the teachers' readings and assessments of the student texts and were resolved in various ways by different teachers. Textual features significant to the teachers' readings were identified and described although the teachers themselves generally appeared unable to describe explicitly the forms they would value highly. Teachers' responses to unusual or erroneous aspects were also explored. Variations in teachers' readings indicated that students' texts cannot be taken as transparent representations of their thinking.