Original Research

Towards empowering learners in a democratic mathematics classroom: To what extent are teachers’ listening orientations conducive to and respectful of learners’ thinking?

Michael K. Mhlolo, Marc Schäfer
Pythagoras | Vol 33, No 2 | a166 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/pythagoras.v33i2.166 | © 2012 Michael K. Mhlolo, Marc Schäfer | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 March 2012 | Published: 11 December 2012

About the author(s)

Michael K. Mhlolo, Mathematics Education Department, Rhodes University, South Africa
Marc Schäfer, Mathematics Education Department, Rhodes University, South Africa

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In an effort to make education accessible, to ‘heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values’, the South African Department of Education claims that a series of mathematics reforms that has so far been introduced is underpinned by the principles of ‘social justice, fundamental human rights and inclusivity’. Critics however argue that the system has remained ‘undemocratic’ in that those groups of learners who were supposed to be ‘healed’ continue to underperform and hence be disempowered. In this study, we conceptualised a democratic and mathematically empowering classroom as one that is consistent with the principle of inclusivity and in which a hermeneutic listening orientation towards teaching promotes such a democratic and mathematically empowering learning environment. We then worked with three different orientations teachers might have towards listening in the mathematics classroom: evaluative, interpretive and hermeneutic. We then used these orientations to analyse 20 video-recorded lessons with a specific focus on learners’ unexpected contributions and how teachers listened and responded to such contributions. The results were consistent with the literature, which shows that teachers tend to dismiss learners’ ways of thinking by imposing their own formalised constructions.


empowerment; democratic classrooms; hermeneutic listening; learner novel contributions


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