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Keywords

adult numeracy, discourse analysis, deficit discourses about competencies, PIAAC assessment, social practice theory, functional numeracy, situated numeracy, mathematics education, classroom mathematics

Abstract

The role of dominant discourse in constructing a deficit view of adult numeracy is examined, using reports from recent international surveys of adult skills as illustrative examples. Social practice theory is introduced as an alternative perspective for examining the ways adults actually use numeracy in their daily lives and work. This perspective suggests the test items used by large-scale surveys such as PIACC are only proxies for real-life numeracy skills, and that performance in such tests may misrepresent the numeracy skills of adults. Instead, social practice theory suggests that adults may have informal, situated numeracy practices that serve them adequately in their daily lives. However, it also draws attention to the difficulty of transferring mathematics from the classroom to everyday numeracy situations, while it recognizes that adult numeracy learners may be motivated by other goals than functional numeracy, such as personal fulfillment or a gateway qualification. Alternative approaches to classroom teaching for adult students are suggested which acknowledge and draw on adults’ rich and varied experiences; the challenges and tensions of such approaches are explored.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

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