Learning to Enact Social Justice Pedagogy in Mathematics Classrooms

Feb. 15, 2014

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Volume 36, Issue 1, p. 76–95, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to assess the impact the mathematics education course had on teacher candidates' (TCs) ability to enact social justice pedagogy (SJP).
This teacher-research study focused on engaging teacher candidates in activities that would enable them to write mathematics lesson plans and enact teaching practices that are consistent with social justice principles.

In this study, the case is examined from two perspectives.
First, aggregate data on the class as a whole was analyzed to rate TCs’ ability to enact social justice and to describe their beliefs toward teaching for social justice.
Second, three individual cases of diverse TCs were examined to determine how their beliefs about teaching for social justice changed as a result of the intervention.

The study included 23 participants (15 graduate students and eight undergraduate students) who were enrolled in an 8-week mathematics education course as part of an initial licensure program at a public university in the western United States.
Several data sources were utilized in this case study. Qualitative data sources consisted of field notes, teaching episodes, and teacher work samples (TWS) (i.e., pre–post essays).


The results reveal two important findings.
The first finding is TCs in this teacher-research study were successful in enacting social justice oriented mathematics lessons as demonstrated through microteaching episodes.
Moreover, TCs successfully incorporated three social justice principles into microteaching episodes. The microteaching episodes had strong alignment with principles that enabled significant work with communities of practice; built upon students’ prior knowledge; and made inequity, power, and activism explicit.

The second finding is TCs’ beliefs can be changed as a result of taking mathematics education courses. The categories where changes in beliefs were most salient were teacher attitudes/affect and teacher practices. The TCs themselves promoted the ideas that were presented in the texts they read in the literature circles instead of the teacher-researcher lecturing about them. Understanding the importance of student outcomes also helped to influence TCs’ beliefs about engaging in social justice pedagogy.

The number of comments about student outcomes almost doubled among the TCs in the target group, and they clearly understood how student empowerment and individual agency were affected by SJP. It is interesting to note that community issues had the lowest frequency in the aggregate group as well. Community capital must also be tapped to help children to develop critical consciousness and social agency. When place is considered as a learning context, elders and community leaders are called upon to enrich educational objectives. Individual agency alone is not enough to produce change. The community must validate and support individual agency. Enhancing mathematics teacher education courses with presentations from community members and scholars who work closely with the community may add to TCs’ knowledge base and further enrich practices that focus on teaching mathematics for social justice. In future mathematics education courses, emphasis should be made on the importance of place and community involvement when it comes to enacting SJP.


Teaching for social justice requires teachers to examine their beliefs and identities— personal identity, teaching identity, and identity as an agent of political change as well as mathematics identity. As TCs participate in communities of practice in mathematics education courses that focus on teaching for social justice, they should become apprentices who are better able to see how SJP could be enacted in their own classrooms.
Teaching for social justices allows children to see for themselves just how critical mathematical knowledge is when it comes to informed citizenship, higher education, and access to economic power. The results of this study have shown that teacher candidates’ beliefs about teaching for social justice as well as their practices are malleable. Democracy in education will be evident when teachers use social justice pedagogy to engage students in contextually rich and meaningful mathematics tasks that empower students to think critically and take action in their school or community.

Updated: May. 31, 2016