Foregrounding the voices of students
: extending the Listening Guide in a feminist poetic inquiry into identity work in the context of low attainment in mathematics

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis focuses on empirical findings as a well as innovating with methods, with a thread of my development as a feminist researcher. The aim of the study is to examine the identity work of students labelled as low attaining in mathematics, leaning in to listen carefully to the stories they tell about their experiences of learning mathematics. I explore the concept of mathematical identity work, as well as the marginalisation of the voices of students labelled as low attaining. By engaging with literature, I develop a model of the web of meanings that support discourses in the context of low attainment in mathematics, including narrations about what counts as success and failure in mathematics; narrations about students labelled as low attaining; and narrations about others.
Giving attention to methods, through the journey of data collection and analysis, I develop two innovations to the Listening Guide method of analysis. Firstly, I introduce a poetic structure called a “they poem” to give attention to the stories told, about a student, by a significant other, such as a teacher. Extending the method of analysis enables me to re-examine identity work in a way that gives attention to context. Secondly, in response to issues with inconsistency, I develop a rubric, which supports the creation of pronoun poems within the Listening Guide method.
Utilising the extended method, I examine the stories of five students, and their teacher, demonstrating the complex picture of identity work in the context of low attainment in mathematics. Although there are echoes of dominant discourses in the stories told by students, there is also evidence of a counter-narrative, evidence of students re-narrating the dominant discourses. Students did not necessarily talk passively about themselves and their mathematics, with evidence of disassembling and reassembling within their stories told within identity work.
Date of Award21 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorAlf T Coles (Supervisor) & Laurinda C Brown (Supervisor)

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